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2000-03-21 00:19
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We must halt America's gun scourge, says ecumenical leader
ENI-00-0096

By Chris Herlinger
New York, 17 March (ENI)--Declaring that the United States must
end the "scourge" of gun-related violence which has brought a
series of multiple killings in recent years, the US National
Council of Churches (NCC) has come out in support of legislation
in the US Congress aimed at limiting the ownership of guns.

Expressing support for a new interfaith campaign for gun
control, Robert Edgar, the NCC's new general secretary, said that
because gun violence affected the lives of children - many of
whom have been killed in the recent attacks - his agency had
decided to make the issue one of its top advocacy and legislative
priorities this year.

"We are aware that new laws alone will not end the wave of gun
violence sweeping the nation," Edgar said at a news conference in
Washington DC on 15 March, which was organised to announce the
campaign, the Interfaith Call to End Gun Violence. "But we are
convinced that the number of shootings will be reduced by making
it harder for individuals to purchase the kinds of guns which
have no function except to injure and kill humans."

The US Congress in Washington is considering proposals that
include waiting periods for the purchase of guns, along with
mandatory background checks before purchases can be approved. The
"Interfaith Call" supports these proposals, but goes further by
supporting efforts to ban the sales of handguns and assault
weapons.

Guns and gun control have long been a volatile issue in the US.
Supporters of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), the
country's leading gun lobby, say that the US Constitution
protects the right of citizens to bear arms. While the NRA has
carried enormous political clout through the years, it is facing
an increasingly uneasy public outraged by an epidemic of gun
violence, particularly affecting children.

In recent years, shootings at schools here have become all too
common. Last month, for example, a 6-year-old boy in the state of
Michigan killed a classmate with a handgun.

In recent weeks, President Bill Clinton, a critic of the NRA and
a supporter of the bills before Congress, has publicly argued
with NRA officials about the gun-control legislation. The
arguments have become so heated and personal that President
Clinton's spokesman, Joe Lockhart, called on the NRA to end its
"sick rhetoric". He was responding to several verbal attacks on
Clinton by NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre

Edgar told this week's press conference that guns were "readily
available in every segment of the society, and the death and
injury caused by their use is rampant".

"More than 200 million guns are in circulation in the US today,"
he said. "Between one third and one half of all households own at
least one. Every day in the US an average of 87 people, 12 of
them children, die as a result of gun wounds, a figure which is
rapidly approaching the rate of deaths through car accidents."

Edgar, a former US Congressman from the state of Pennsylvania,
criticised the US Congress for constantly talking about gun
violence but deciding "against taking substantive action" in the
face "of pressure from advocates for gun ownership and use".

Edgar told ENI that the NCC's call for the banning of certain
guns would not affect the right of hunters to own rifles. The
call was aimed, he said, at banning the use of guns, such as
assault weapons, for which the only purpose was to kill human
beings.

In light of the recent Michigan killing and other school
shootings, and the polarisation in Congress over the issue, it
was time, Edgar said, "for a broad faith-based coalition to move
in new directions. This is the time we in the faith community
have to make a stand."

He pointed out that interfaith appeal was supported by
representatives of mainstream and evangelical Protestant, Roman
Catholic and Jewish groups.

"People are fed up," Edgar told ENI. "A majority of Americans
believe stronger gun control legislation is needed, and the fact
that some politicians and the NRA are setting the agenda has got
to stop."