After the prayers, a call to action
Soon after the mass shooting at the Covenant School in Memphis at the end of March, in which six people were killed including three children, members of the Norwich Area Interfaith Association gathered for our monthly meeting. We, as with so many Americans, expressed both grief and anger at yet another senseless act of gun violence in our nation. We received calls to organize a prayer vigil, but we declined. As faith leaders, we felt our community and nation did not need another prayer vigil but real action and advocacy to reduce gun violence.
We asked ourselves how we might lead a community-wide conversation about reducing the potential for gun violence in our own city. In what ways could we, faith leaders and citizens of Norwich, make Norwich a gun-safe city? We reached out for guidance to CT Against Gun Violence, whose mission is to draft, pass and protect common-sense gun laws; support non-legislative violence prevention programs; and ensure effective administration of Connecticut gun laws. We agreed our immediate task is to initiate a citizen-based violence prevention program. We began to think and plan and pray.
Then we heard the news of the tragic death by gunshot wound of 19-year-old Camaury Jabezz Norman-Clack outside his home on Sandy Lane in Norwich on May 10, and we felt a vigil for the family and friends of Mr. Norman-Clack absolutely needed to be organized — and we surrounded his family and friends with prayer and song at a gathering at Greeneville Playground the following Saturday. We grieved also for 19-year-old Stancovich Fabre, the alleged shooter, whose life is lost in another way as he faces justice for his action. The vigil was not an end but a beginning. After the prayers were prayed and the songs were sung, the call to action rang clearly and urgently.
Despite Connecticut’s strict gun safety laws and enforcement, we are not immune to gun violence in the neighborhoods where we live. Gun violence happens in Norwich, and we fear the next incident. We are heartened, therefore, by the recent Connecticut House of Representatives and Senate votes, at the urging of Gov. Ned Lamont, to further tighten gun laws, adding another measure of safety for citizens while respecting the rights of registered gun owners. We look forward to the signature of the governor.
Now, as faith leaders and citizens of Norwich, we must do our part to reduce the potential of gun violence in our city. Our next step is to become better informed. We are hosting an information session with Jeremy Stein, Executive Director of CT Against Gun Violence, on Tuesday afternoon, June 27, at Park Congregational Church, 283 Broadway, tentatively scheduled at 1 o’clock. City and state officials, members of faith communities, business leaders, medical professionals, public health and mental health workers, members of law enforcement, educators, youth advocates, and members of neighborhood and school groups are all welcome.
While mass shootings and murders get the most public attention, we are aware that suicides account for the majority of gun deaths in the U.S. Data confirms that firearms are the leading cause of death for children. Accidental gun deaths are prevalent as well.
We have no illusions about the immenseness and risks of this task, so we are guided by the 2,000-year-old wisdom from the Jewish tradition, “the day is short, the task is great, the workers are tired, and God is nevertheless insistent. You may not be obliged to finish this task, but neither may you allow that circumstance to excuse you from your responsibility to commence doing so.”
For all of us in Norwich, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, leaders and citizens, we must work together to reduce and prevent gun violence in all its forms. The healing and strengthening of our diverse community requires each and all of us to do our part.
Rev. David M. Horst, the Minister of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Norwich, is a member of the Norwich Area Interfaith Association.
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