…And We March

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by Rev. Kim Wood, Conference Minister

On Monday, April 16, 2023, I had the privilege of marching with Rev. Dr. William Barber, clergy from Tennessee and around the country, and members of organized advocacy groups against gun violence, including Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action. We gathered at McKendree United Methodist Church, just a few short blocks from the Tennessee Capitol Building, marched four across past the War Memorial Auditorium, and paused across the street from where the Tennessee House of Representatives was meeting. On their docket – Tennessee HB1202.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Tennessee HB1202, if passed, it would allow a faculty or staff member of a school to carry a concealed handgun on school grounds. The bill comes to the floor for a vote just three weeks after the mass shooting at Covenant School in Nashville that claimed seven lives, including three third-grade children, a teacher, a staff member, and the head of the school, as well as the shooter.

Tennessee is, by no means, the only state to consider such legislation. According to usconcealedcarry.com, “there are currently 32 states that may allow teachers or other school personnel to carry a firearm with certain restrictions.” In the Southeast Conference, that includes Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. At a time when there is a widespread call from the public for stricter gun laws outlawing automatic assault weapons and tightening restrictions on permits, requiring background checks, and putting red flag laws into place to minimize the opportunity for people deemed a risk to themselves or others to have possession of firearms, legislators are making more accessible and present in public life. And yet, one place that all five Southeast Conference states do not allow people, except for law enforcement, to carry guns is the Capitol Building, the place where lawmakers go make decisions to let more people carry more guns in more places.

On Monday, as we marched toward the Tennessee Capitol Building, with pallbearers carrying caskets to represent the lives lost to gun violence, the community of Dadeville, AL, was still reeling from a mass shooting on Friday night when two teens and two young adults were killed and 32 more injured when a shooter opened fire at a 16th birthday party. That same night, two people were killed, and four more were rushed to the hospital when someone started shooting into the crowd at a park in Louisville, KY, just five days after a mass shooting at Old National Bank in Louisville left six people dead, including the gunman, and eight more people injured. These numbers don’t even address the drive-by, domestic violence, suicide, accidental, and other gun-related deaths. All while lawmakers continue to make guns more available to more people in more places, and the death toll rises. As Bishop Barber proclaimed, “This is political murder…it is legislative murder!”

We cannot be silent. Children are dying. Chairs sit empty at family dinner tables. Communities are living in fear. And so we pray to God, and we lament. We write letters and make calls to our elected legislators. We vote to put leaders in office who are more responsive to the needs of the people than to the dollars and deals of the gun lobbyists. We take to social media to call for safe gun law reform and to find and share resources that teach us how to live as a community together without violence and greed as viable building blocks to peace…and we march. Isaiah 4:2 tells us that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” Now is the time for us to beat our guns into garden tools, assault rifles into playground equipment. May God who guides us compel us to a more excellent way.