Remarks from Jennifer Copeland at the Vigil to End Gun Violence in Durham on December 13, 2019
About two years ago, the North Carolina Council of Churches paid for a billboard on I-85 between Durham and Greensboro. It had a huge picture of a huge pile of guns on one side and on the other side this quote that you may recognize from the Decalogue, also known as the Ten Commandments. Commandment 2, as recorded in Exodus 20 says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” Clearly, we struck a chord. I did more interviews in the week the billboard went up than I did for the entire remainder of the year. We got calls from as far away as The Chicago Tribune and CNN, along with all the local stations. But it wasn’t all good. I’ve still got some voicemails saved on my phone because, frankly, some of them are beyond the pale.
But the idolatry label rings true, doesn’t it? Safety has become a preeminent need and guns are marketed as the way to stay safe. The truth is, we’re safer now than humanity has ever been since we stood up straight and started walking on two legs. But you wouldn’t know it based on our daily routines and the constant information fed to us. We walk through metal detectors to get into ball games, the legislative building, and some schools. We install alarm systems in our homes and places of worship. And many people carry guns everywhere they go. Metal detectors and alarm systems can be helpful, but their pervasiveness in our lives reinforces the notion we are never safe, when in reality, we usually are. Guns may even be necessary under certain conditions, but their preponderance in our communities actually makes us less safe. Guns have become the idol we worship in the misguided pursuit of safety.
Truth is, most people don’t understand the real danger is made possible by our current gun laws. Open carry in public places allows guns at the parks where our children play. Pistol permits allow weapons in restaurants where our families gather. And unless each individual place of worship expressly forbids it, concealed carry means guns are entering the places where we gather to worship, where Christians gather to worship the Prince of Peace. The irony is sickening.
It’s time we tell the truth about these laws and the guns they allow. Mass shootings make the headlines. Schools, churches, synagogues, military bases are all places the media love to report on. Meanwhile, we had 7 shootings in 48 hours in Durham—that made the news because it was so much in so little time. And good that it did because that’s where the real gun violence is happening. It’s happening in our homes and on our streets at percentages that dwarf most of what makes the headlines.
Last week I was privileged to be in Washington, D.C., for the National Vigil to End Gun Violence. A young woman stood and told the story of her father, her father who killed himself with a gun. She believes that if there had been an Extreme Risk Protection Order in place, her mother would have temporarily removed the guns until her father’s crisis had passed. He was being treated for depression, but medications ebb and flow. If the gun had not been there, he could not have shot himself. Almost 70% of gun deaths are suicides. Farmers and veterans are most likely to commit suicide with a gun. In the last session of the N.C. General Assembly, a bill was introduced to enact this kind of protection for
North Carolinians. It never made it out of committee, but I hope the bill will be introduced every session until it gets enough traction to become a law that will protect us from ourselves.
The truth about gun violence is what happens every day in our homes and in our neighborhoods—one death at a time, few of which become news worthy. If the same number of people were dying from a communicable disease, we’d marshal all the resources at our disposal to stop that epidemic. But we don’t do that with gun violence because guns are the Golden Calf. We dance around the guns as if they are talismans of protection when all they are is another hunk of metal fashioned into an inert image that can do nothing to protect us or save us.
In my tradition, Christianity, the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament Gospels have a lot to say about putting our trust in false idols, about pledging our allegiance to corrupt promises, about relying on weapons of war to promote peace. As Jesus said on that night when they came out with swords and clubs to arrest him—No more of this.