Presiding bishop to visit communities marking one year since mass shootings, as US death toll rises

By David Paulsen
Posted May 11, 2023
Tennessee anti-gun protest

A young child holds a sign April 3 inside the Tennessee State Capitol for an end to gun violence and support stronger gun laws after a deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry travels to Buffalo, New York, this week to join the Western New York community in marking one year since May 14, 2022, when a racist rampage at a grocery store left 10 dead – one of the deadliest in a year full of deadly mass shootings in the United States.

Curry, a native of Buffalo, will participate in a morning panel discussion May 12 as part of a series of remembrance events planned for the weekend.  The panel, discussing the theme “Beyond Hate,” also will include Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, State University of New York Chancellor John King Jr. and Spellman College President Helene Gayle.

“The loss of any human life is tragic, but there was deep racial hatred driving this shooting, and we have got to turn from the deadly path our nation has walked for much too long,” Curry said last year after the attack. “As baptized followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we are called to uphold and protect the dignity of every human child of God, and to actively uproot the white supremacy and racism deep in the heart of our shared life.”

The Buffalo massacre was the first of nearly 50 shootings in the United States in the past year in which four or more people died, according to the database maintained by the Gun Violence Archive. There have been 21 such shootings so far in 2023 alone.

The 18-year-old white gunman, most of whose victims were Black, pleaded guilty in November to murder and hate crime charges and was later sentenced to life in prison. The attack drew comparisons to other racially and ethnically motivated massacres, including the 2015 shooting at Mother Emanuel African Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that killed nine Black church members.

Buffalo is far from the only community marking a year since an outbreak of deadly gun violence. The community of Uvalde, Texas, is preparing its own remembrances after a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, killing 21, including 19 children.

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde is inviting the public to a community prayer service this May 24, and the church will be open to all “for prayer and reflection” throughout the week.

“One of the things I’ve learned about grief is that there are very few, if any, answers. There is only the next step. We are about to take a big next step – the first anniversary,” the Rev. Michael Marsh, St. Philip’s rector, said in a message announcing the prayer service. “If you are grieving, searching, or questioning you are more than welcome. We are here for you.”

Curry also is scheduled to travel to Vestavia Hills, Alabama, next month to join St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church as it marks one year since three parishioners were shot and killed while attending a church potluck dinner on June 16, 2022. Since that attack, the congregation has sought to reclaim the church as “a place of pilgrimage and healing,” and construction is underway on a memorial labyrinth.

The United States, with an estimated 400 million civilian-owned guns – or more than one gun per person – has a gun ownership rate that far exceeds every other country in the world.  Per capita gun deaths in the U.S. also are disproportionately higher than in any other large, high-income nation. More total people in the U.S. die from homicide or suicide by gun than in any other country except Brazil. The U.S. death toll from gun-related injuries in 2021 was more than 48,000, including more than 20,000 gun homicides.

By comparison, in England and Wales, where gun ownership is strictly regulated and very few of the nearly 60 million people own guns, only 35 deaths were attributed to homicide by gun in the most recent reporting year, ending March 2021.

The Episcopal Church has advocated at least since the 1970s for legislation seeking to reduce the risk of gun violence in the United States, though efforts to pass new gun restrictions and safety measures routinely face insurmountable barriers in Congress, where pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association have been successful in blocking them.

The meaning and intent of the Constitution’s Second Amendment, sometimes down to the placement of its punctuation, has been hotly debated in recent decades as gun rights groups have advocated for fewer limits on an individual’s right to own and carry firearms. The Second Amendment, ratified in 1791, reads in full: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

In the past year, the federal response to gun violence has pushed in two opposing directions. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the rights of gun owners to carry firearms in public by striking down a New York law. Two days later, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill that that had been praised for directing the most significant new federal gun safety measures in nearly 30 years.

Since then, the death toll from gun violence has continued to increase. On July 4, 2022, seven were killed and 30 injured at an Independence Day parade in suburban Highland Park, Illinois. In November, five were killed and 19 inured at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And in January, a gunman killed 11 and injured nine at a ballroom in Monterey Park, California.

Two more deadly mass shootings occurred two weeks apart in spring 2023, both carried out by gunmen who purchased their guns legally under existing laws.  Three children and three adults were shot and killed March 27 at a private Christian School in Nashville, Tennessee, and five people were killed and eight wounded in an April 10 shooting at a bank in Louisville, Kentucky. Tennessee and Kentucky are known for having some of the weakest gun laws in the country.

Some Episcopal dioceses have stepped up their advocacy for changes to state laws, including in Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania, and Bishops United Against Gun Violence is hosting an advocacy gathering and workshop on May 17 and 18 in Washington, D.C., to bolster the church’s efforts to stop gun violence and improve gun safety.

While mass shootings regularly generate headlines, they make up a small portion of annual firearm deaths. Most homicides by guns are single-victim killings, while an overall majority of gun deaths result from suicide. More than 26,000 people killed themselves with guns in 2021, according to the latest available data. Guns also are now the leading cause of death for American children and teens.

A full list of The Episcopal Church’s positions on gun violence can be found online. Join the Episcopal Public Policy Network for regular updates and to get involved.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at