Faith-Based Coalition in Colorado Seeks to End Gun Violence
Colorado, like many states, has faced its share of tragedies involving gun violence. The devastating consequences of such incidents as the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 and the Aurora Theater shooting in 2012 shocked the entire country. Outrage grew when, later that same year, children and their teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. These and other senseless killings sparked a growing movement demanding sensible gun control measures needed to protect their communities.
The power of collaboration between faith communities can be formidable. By joining forces, they amplify their message, and provide a moral and ethical perspective on the issue of gun control. This united front can significantly influence elected officials and public opinion and drive meaningful change in gun control policy, ultimately making communities safer.
Examples of Colorado Organizations Working Together Toward Gun Safety
What can be accomplished by joining forces? A coalition of Colorado faith communities can provide a blueprint for how to mobilize collective power and influence to legislate for a safer community.
Here’s their story:
After the Sandy Hook tragedy in Dec. 2012, Rev. George Anastos and Rev. Eric Smith at First Plymouth Congregational Church in Denver challenged their congregation to take action. A representative from First Plymouth met with representatives from First Universalist and B’nai Havurah congregations.
Jerry Arca, the spokesperson from First Plymouth, remembers, “I think we were all outraged when the Newtown shootings took place. And I went to that first meeting not expecting to do much more than to listen to people express their frustrations. But next thing I knew, I was a part of this committee that was trying to see if First Plymouth would take a stand on gun violence… And it’s very much a part of my own faith. I think the whole First Plymouth community felt the same way; that every life is valuable, every life is sacred, and how can we stand by when 30,000 people are being killed by guns every year and not do something?”
The Power of A Few Becomes the Power of Many
The three original groups formed a faith-based organization: Colorado Faith Communities United to End Gun Violence (CFCU). Soon other congregations joined.
“It’s a part of my faith and I think all of our beliefs and the value of human life leads us right down that path,” continues Arca. “And I thought we were done when suddenly other congregations came to me and said, let’s do it, get a coalition going. And so now we have 20 to 24 congregations working together on this same terrible issue.”
The now sizable coalition immediately got to work supporting safe firearm legislation in Colorado.
Many Faiths, One Purpose
Guided by their beliefs, congregations of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Quakers, and more, shared outrage, compassion, and an unwavering commitment to change the laws to make a safer Colorado.
First Plymouth member Doug Brown explains “The gun violence episode was a wonderful example of people saying, this is not the Christian way to do things. This is not the way of love. And we are going to step out, and we are going to express ourselves publicly. We’re going to become a voice against gun violence, a religious voice against gun violence. Now that’s, I think, an important message. And it definitely reflects courage and commitment and the willingness to walk the talk.”
Partnering With Community Organizations Magnifies Power
In the decade since the Sandy Hook shootings, CFCU has partnered with Colorado Ceasefire and Colorado Coalition Against Gun Violence, or CCAGV, local gun violence prevention organizations, to reach out to state legislators. Seeing gun violence as a community health issue, members testify at the capitol in person or virtually, write emails, letters, and postcards, and call their representatives. The coalition supports important firearm safety bills and they oppose bills that negatively impact the safety of Colorado residents. This powerful partnership was instrumental in getting 17 major gun safety bills passed and signed into law by the Colorado legislature, while overturning 12 bills that work against common sense firearm regulations.
Creating Projects that Promote Community Safety
CFCU has grown into a force of almost 55 congregations in Summit County, Boulder, Ft. Collins and metro Denver. Together with their community partners, CFCU has helped develop a number of innovative projects in these communities. Here are some examples of what a dedicated partnership can achieve;
- HIP – Handgun Intervention Program is a City of Denver, Juvenile Parole Department program that supports young people who have been arrested for illegal firearms possession. Required to attend a 6-month program to learn about living without firearms in their possession, they must create and present a plan for changing their lives and making better choices. There have been 7 cohorts of this program and the recidivism rate is very low.
- Guns to Gardens and Raw Tools are programs that provide opportunities for people to have their firearms dismantled and turned into gardening tools. In this instance, Christians may appreciate the biblical quote, “…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks.” (Isaiah 2:4).
- Extreme Risk Protection Orders, or ERPOs offer families a way to identify and help a gun owning family member who is a danger to themselves and the community. It is often called the Red Flag Law. After the concerned family members go to court for an ERPO, the weapons will be removed from the home of the troubled family member until their issues have been addressed and situation is deemed safe. The law was enhanced this year to allow teachers and therapists to support a family as they seek an ERPO.
- QPR is training in suicide prevention. Question, Persuade and Response is a nationally developed training program for acquiring the skills to initiate a conversation with a family or community member who may be depressed, acting erratically, and/or contemplating suicide. Suicides comprise nearly three quarters of Colorado gun deaths each year, and the primary victims are middle-aged men. QPR training is appropriate for adults, church staff, parents and older teens.
Working Together is the Key
Colorado faces the ongoing challenge of gun violence; it is essential for faith communities and local organizations to work together.
Cities and towns across the country, despairing after yet another mass shooting, can look to this state for inspiration. Growing in numbers and influence, the interfaith community and their partner organizations demonstrate what is possible when they combine their resources, influence, and moral guidance. Together, they can create lasting change.