Faith leaders in Springfield push for gun reform after mass shooting

About 40 people gathered Tuesday afternoon in the basement of the building that houses Brentwood Christian Church and Trinity Presbyterian Church to attend the Enough Is Enough: Faithful Steps to End Gun Violence Now event marking the end of the Gun Violence in America Demanded After the Mass Shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas.

“We gather, as we have had to gather on far too many occasions, with a sense of heartache, individually and collectively,” said Rev. Dr. Phil Snider of Brentwood Christian Church. “We know we don’t have to go through that kind of trauma over and over again. We know it’s not right.”

The event was hosted by Missouri Faith Voices, a nonprofit organization led by many faith leaders from across the state that is pushing for various policy reforms, including gun safety measures. Numerous pastors and leaders from the Springfield area spoke.

Rev. Christie Love, the pastor of Connecting Grounds Church in Springfield, spoke about her teenage son and the fear he has of being involved in a school shooting.

“He spoke about the trauma of hiding and practicing and having people bang against walls at his school. He talked about what it was like when his favorite teachers were trying to equip them for survival in a place that was supposed to be safe,” Love said. “I never had to grow up looking at my world from that perspective.”

She added that it was time for change and that the church should take responsibility.

“As a faith leader, I declare that enough is enough,” she said. “We must confront the abuses of faith, theology and scripture that together have created a toxic culture of American Christianity that is willing to sacrifice our own children on the altar of our rights and individualism. The Church should lead the effort to bring about peace and change, but often we are the loudest voice of the opposition.”

Love pointed out certain changes that could be made, including universal background checks, waiting times, closing the “gun show loophole” and many others, adding that something her son said stuck with her.

“He said something to me that I can’t get out of my head,” she said. “‘Guns are not an expression of freedom, love is.”

NAACP Springfield President Kai Sutton also spoke at the event and discussed her recent clash with gun violence when her cousin was killed in a shootout in downtown Springfield in May.

“I have a feeling that maybe that was too early,” Sutton said. “But I also felt I had to be here.”

More:2 men killed, 1 injured in downtown Springfield shooting, police say

Her cousin was only 23, Sutton said, and had two daughters, one about to turn 1 and the other about to give birth.

“You don’t deserve this,” she said.

When it comes to stopping gun violence, Sutton said she’s not sure where to start, but thinks empowering communities is a big part of it.

“How are we progressing? I don’t know,” she said. “I think attitudes like this are a good start. I think community is where it starts, family building and tough conversations are good.”

Rev. Chris Miller of Trinity Presbyterian Church discussed his experiences with guns (he used to compete in shooting) and how his views have changed over the years.

“Things have changed for me over the years,” Miller said. “I don’t know exactly when the scales tipped.

“Are all weapons inherently evil? I do not think so. But I think our society needs to do more than anything that has the ability to do major damage in an instant.”

Miller added that perhaps what scares him most about guns is how easy they are to get. He told a story about how he needed two forms of identification when buying a firearm, but had no other ID besides his driver’s license. He said the store sold him a second ID, a fishing license, and for $12 and about 10 minutes of his time, he was able to buy a gun with two IDs.

“It was terrifying to me how easy it was,” he said. “Compared to when we bought a car and stayed there for hours.”

Miller added that while he likes guns, the benefits for him don’t outweigh the costs.

“I think they’re fun,” he said. “But I’ve made a choice where the fun I find in it doesn’t make up for the danger I know there is.”

Ryan Lindsey cut up an AR-15 Tuesday afternoon at the Missouri Faith Voices event at Brentwood Christian Church as part of his work with the nonprofit organization Raw Tools.

The meeting also acted as a call to action. Those present were asked to contact their representatives to push for a number of things, including bans on assault weapons and ghost weapons, background screening laws and other similar bills, and improving national mental health services.

“We don’t have the luxury of doing one thing at a time,” said Darryl Gray, executive director of Missouri Faith Voices.

Gray went on to say that the road ahead is not easy and will require a lot of work.

“If there was a simple solution,” he said. “I feel like we’ve already done it.”

More:He was shot five times but survived. What one man’s case says about crime in Springfield.

To round off the event, a representative from Raw Tools, an organization that destroys unwanted firearms and converts them into gardening tools, cut up an AR-15 and a handgun. The representative, Ryan Lindsay, said the parts would then be sent to a blacksmith, melted down and made into garden tools.

Lindsay added that the idea is loosely based on a Bible verse from the book of Isaiah that says: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning shears; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and they will learn war no more.”

“We do this with guns,” he said.

However, he added that for those wanting to destroy their guns, it is better to hire someone familiar with the process than to try it yourself.

“You have to be careful, the ATF has very specific guidelines on how to cut up and destroy weapons,” he said. “If you get it wrong, you could make an illegal weapon.”

Snider said the event is just the beginning of a conversation he and other leaders in Springfield want to start about gun violence.

“I hope that acts as a catalyst,” Snider said. “There is so much to do.”

Jordan Meier covers public safety for the Springfield News-Leader. Reach out to her at [email protected] or on Twitter @Jordan_Meier644.

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