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Clergy, Indy leaders urge General Assembly to enact change to gun laws

According to IMPD, eight children were killed and another 49 were shot this year.

INDIANAPOLIS — Eight young people under 18 have been shot and killed in Indianapolis this year. According to IMPD, 49 children under the age of 18 have been shot but survived.

"Behind that, are human lives, are mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and teachers and pastors and caregivers that are grieving, insurmountable amounts of grief over something that's totally preventable," said Rev. Leah Gunning Francis, the vice president of Academic Affairs and the dean of the faculty at Christian Theological Seminary.

Francis and David Mellott, the president of Christian Theological Seminary and a professor of theological formation, said we're in a public health crisis.

"The truth is you don't know whether — when you go into a restaurant or go into a grocery store or to your place of worship or to go to a parade — you might possibly get gunned down," said Mellott. "It seems to me that's a public health crisis."

With the support of clergy across the state, Francis and Mellot penned a letter to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb asking him to use the upcoming special session to address gun violence and repeal HB 1296.

RELATED: These new Indiana laws went into effect July 1

That bill allows anyone 18 and over to carry a gun without a permit.

"We don't need more access to guns," Francis said. "We need to ensure that guns are handled responsibly and are in the hands of the right people. And secondly, it's time to ban assault weapons. We see a direct correlation with the increase in mass shootings then when the ban on assault weapons was lifted some years ago."

For years, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has attempted to implement initiatives to reduce violence.

"We are spending so much time, effort, energy and money into making Indianapolis as safe a place as it can be," Hogsett said.

The city has added peacemakers, more mental health resources, license plate readers, and more IMPD officers have been hired to help curb crime.

RELATED: IMPD makes arrest in deadly shooting of 34-year-old ride-share driver

Hogsett said he can only do so much to bring about change.

"The state of Indiana expressly prohibits local units of government from having any authority, any authority, to having greater gun safety restrictions, greater gun safety common sense laws on the books," Hogsett said.

The mayor said that needs to change.

"It is incredibly frustrating for a mayor like me or mayors throughout Indiana to literally have our hands tied because it's not the General Assembly who gets blamed when those statistics are made ready," Hogsett said. "I know who gets blamed for it. It's the mayor."

Mellot said change needs to happen sooner rather than later.

"We can't allow ourselves to think of this as normal, because this is not normal," said Mellott. "This is not healthy. This is not acceptable. And I think the longer we let this go the longer we allow ourselves to think that this is a normal way of living and it simply isn't."

Clergy letter to the editor

June 30, 2022

Published in the Indianapolis Star:

On March 21, 2022, Governor Eric Holcomb signed HB 1296 into law which eliminates Indiana’s handgun permit requirement. As of July 1st, Indiana residents 18 years or older are not required to obtain a permit to carry a gun in public.

Law enforcement officials from the Fraternal Order of Police, police chiefs’ association, and county prosecutors’ association have all spoken out against the bill to eliminate Indiana’s handgun permit requirement. State Police Superintendent Doug Carter, former sheriff of Hamilton County, strongly criticized this bill during a WTHR interview on February 24, 2022. “It’s often so easy to talk about your support for public safety,” Carter said. “But if you choose to support this bill, you will not be supporting us.” Police will not have the protection of the carry license procedure to help keep guns out of the hands of those who should not be carrying a concealed gun due to their violations of state or federal laws.

This reckless action takes affect during a time when gun violence continues to surge around the country. From mass shootings in schools, congregations, and grocery stores to the rising toll of gun violence in streets and neighborhoods, we have a moral and ethical obligation to protect the sanctity of life and enact laws that will curb this type of debilitating violence, not increase it.

Indiana has not escaped the horrific effects of gun violence. At least thirteen people were shot and eight were killed during the mass shooting at the Indianapolis FedEx facility in April 2021. That same year, Indianapolis saw its highest homicide rate ever with 271 killings, mostly committed with firearms. In 2020, firearms surpassed car accidents and became leading cause of death for children and teens.

Gun violence is a public health crisis that demands a corrective legislative response. We implore our elected officials to enact legislation that would keep our residents safer from gun violence rather than more vulnerable. We put our children in harm’s way when we ease sensible restrictions on access to guns. Assault weapons, which are designed to kill large numbers of people quickly, are legal in Indiana. There are no limits on magazine capacity for these weapons of war.

As leaders of mainline Christian denominations and Christian Theological Seminary, our faith in God and concern for humanity compels us to stand strongly against the relaxed laws that enable the rising gun violence in our country, state, and city. We all have a role to play in curbing gun violence – faith communities, businesses, families, and elected officials; however, we must begin with the unfettered access to these weapons that are wreaking havoc in our country. America has become an exception in the world in gun violence – a preventable disease that has metastasized into every facet of our shared lives.

We call on Governor Holcomb to convene a special legislative session to address the rising tide of gun violence and repeal HB 1296. Additionally, we implore all our U.S. Congressional and Senate representatives to author or support federal legislation that will substantively address the national gun violence crisis.

Now is the time to take action to correct the laws that enable the rising tide of gun violence. Tomorrow may be too late.

Rev. David M. Mellott, Ph.D., President, Christian Theological Seminary

Rev. Leah Gunning Francis, Ph.D., Vice President of Academic Affairs & Dean of the Faculty, Christian Theological Seminary

Rev. Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Dr. Chad R. Abbott, Conference Minister, Indiana-Kentucky Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. Richard L. Spleth, Regional Minister, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indiana

Rev. Tracy L. Jackson, Presiding Elder, Cincinnati- Dayton- Indianapolis District, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Rev. Dr. William O. Gafkjen, Bishop, Indiana-Kentucky Synod ELCA

The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Bishop, The Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis

Rev. Dr. Anthony K.R. Gibson, Indianapolis District Presiding Elder, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Bishop Michael A. Frencher, Sr., Midwest District Presiding Bishop, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Rev. Dr. Elaine P. Gordon, Presiding Elder, Indiana South District, African Methodist Episcopal Church

The Rt. Rev. John Franklin White, Presiding Bishop, Fourth Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church

Rev. Taylor Alan Thames, Executive Presbyter of Whitewater Valley Presbytery (Presbyterian Church USA)

Bishop Julius C. Trimble, Bishop, United Methodist Churches of Indiana

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