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Newtown Shooting Galvanizes
Religious Gun Control Advocates

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                               ©2012 Religion News Service

The shooting deaths of 26 children and adults at a Connecticut elementary school has revived religious support for gun control, galvanizing a movement that has struggled to gain traction against the powerful gun lobby.

"We are going to win this and save lives, and faith leaders will not need to be pulled into that," said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Washington-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "They will be at the forefront of that."

Everitt said rank-and-file people of faith have flooded his office's email and social media accounts, giving donations and offering to volunteer in their communities following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on December 14.

Even though the gun control debate has been relatively dormant in recent years--despite high-profile mass shootings in Arizona, Colorado, and elsewhere --religious voices have been a key part of the gun control coalition. "Any time this movement has made a push, whether you're looking at the Brady bill, the assault weapons ban or the 1968 Gun Control Act, faith leaders have been at the forefront of that," said Everitt, whose coalition was started by religious activists. "We can't win without them. We need them."

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence worked earlier this year to prevent passage of the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act, which would have made it easier for people to carry concealed weapons, said Vincent DeMarco, the group's national coordinator.

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, DeMarco said "the possibilities are much better" to try again to renew a Clinton-era ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.

"The faith community is committed to doing this and it makes sense and it will happen," he said, "and this sad tragedy in Connecticut is only going to add to the commitment."

His coalition of 39 Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh organizations launched in 2011 after the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that killed six and injured then-Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. It is affiliated with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said religious leaders are already discussing possible next steps after the killings in Connecticut.

"The immensity of the tragedy and the strong religious mandate to protect the innocent and the children clearly have created conversations in the religious communities all across America about ‘What can we do?'" he said.

Religious groups alone cannot move new legislation forward, said Saperstein, a longtime gun control advocate, but, "if political leaders move, the religious community will galvanize to support it."

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