Bishops, youth working to end gun violence unite in Louisville rally

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jun 27, 2024

Members of Youth Working to End Gun Violence spoke at Bishops United Against Gun Violence’s General Convention Witness Against Gun Violence rally at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, during the 81st General Convention. June 27, 2024. Photo: Janet Kawamoto

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] After three students were killed and five others were injured in 2023 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, T.J. Rapson, a high school student in the Diocese of Michigan, feared for his friends’ lives. He kept checking the news to make sure they were safe.

But that wasn’t Rapson’s only traumatic experience with gun violence.

“When I first saw that there was an opportunity to advocate for gun violence at General Convention, I immediately flashed back to sitting in the back corner of my biology classroom during a six-hour lockdown, thinking there was a very real possibility that I or some of my friends could die,” Rapson told Episcopal News Service, following a gun-safety rally.

Members of Bishops United Against Gun Violence and members of Youth Working to End Gun Violence gathered at the Kentucky International Conference Center June 27 to begin the General Convention Witness Against Gun Violence event. The two groups – with some members of the youth delegation holding a Bishops United Against Gun Violence sign – marched to nearby Jefferson Square Park to pray and speak out in favor of gun safety. Many of the bishop attending the rally wore orange stoles – the color of gun violence prevention.

Bishops United Against Gun Violence is a network of more than 100 Episcopal bishops working to reduce gun violence. Michigan Bishop Bonnie Perry, former Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas and Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez are co-conveners. Members of Youth Working to End Gun Violence include 45 young people and 20 youth leaders from 13 dioceses.

Several teenagers from the youth delegation and Perry spoke at the rally. Douglas and Gutiérrez led prayers. Members of Moms United Against Gun Violence and Incarceration and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence also attended the rally and distributed educational materials.

As of June 27, 254 mass shootings have occurred nationwide, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an American nonprofit that catalogs every gun-related death in the United States. A mass shooting is defined as one in which at least four people are shot, either fatally or non-fatally, excluding the shooter.

“This has become an increasingly serious issue, as the leading cause of death for people my age is gun violence,” Sophie Gable, a youth delegate, said in front of a crowd of hundreds of people.

Earlier this week, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies passed Resolution D014, “Declare Gun Violence a National Health Crisis,” which calls for the Office of Government Relations to promote legislation aimed at reducing gun violence and to urge U.S. officials to declare gun violence a national health crisis.

The deputies adopted D014 one day after a mass shooting occurred 2.5 miles from downtown Louisville. Eight people were shot at a nightclub, leaving one person dead. The cause of the shooting is unknown, and police are still looking for the suspect

“Gun violence is completely, utterly avoidable,” Perry told ENS. “We need to give young people tools – a platform, a voice – to be heard and organized to change our systems, which many of us who are adults seem not to be able to quite change.”

The bishops and deputies also voted this week to adopt Resolution D011, “The Prohibition of Assault Weapons,” which calls on The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations to “strongly urge” Congress to ban the personal possession of all military-style assault weapons, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.

Bishops United Against Gun Violence aims to curtail gun violence by supporting laws requiring handgun purchaser licensing, background checks on all gun buyers, classifying gun trafficking as a federal crime, and funding gun violence prevention strategies, safe gun storage research, and other measures.

Presiding Bishop-elect Sean Rowe also addressed the crowd at the rally. He spoke about the 2022 mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, that left 10 people dead, all of whom were Black. The perpetrator, a white 18-year-old, is a self-proclaimed white supremacist. Despite making up 14% of the U.S. population, Black people account for 60% of firearm homicides annually.

“I commend you, the lay leaders and the clergy and my colleagues, bishops who are doing this work – laying the foundation to end this epidemic, to rid us of this plague, to take our stand and to take our place as people of peace,” said Rowe, who is currently bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and provisional bishop of the Diocese of Western New York. Buffalo is in the Diocese of Western New York. He is also a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence.

Melaina Magnusson, a youth delegate from the Diocese of Michigan, told ENS she thinks the bishops’ efforts to reduce gun violence and listen to young voices are genuine.

“Seeing the bishops and The Episcopal Church listen to the youth and the things we have to say about gun violence has been really important and meaningful to me, because for a long time, I felt like I had no way of changing anything until I became an adult,” she said. “I think that this event – and many others like it in the past year, specifically – have really helped show me that I can make a change.”

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.


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