What should be the faith-based community’s partnership role in curbing youth gun violence- if any? Faith-based communities must partner with the Memphis community at large to curb youth gun violence in several keys ways. First, the church is often the most critical part of the moral voice of a community, helping families and individuals shape their opinions about issues. The church can significantly assist in this issue by helping families and individuals know the importance of saying ‘no’ to the unneeded prevalence of guns in our society and then ‘having their backs’ as they stand up against gun violence. It is not always politically expedient to stand on a particular issue. Thus, the church helps provide knowledge, courage and a moral foundation for families to stand up for what they believe needs to happen in a particular issue. Youth gun violence is one of those issues. Second, churches must also provide the means (and the place) for young people in our community to ‘live, play and work’ in environments without guns. I don’t believe anyone gets up in the morning and says, “Today, I think I will ruin my life”. No, I believe that happens when one decision after another pushes us into places where we believe we have no other choices but the ‘unhealthy ones’.
Are faith communities equipped to serve as effective partners in curbing youth gun violence? If not, what’s needed? Yes and no. ‘Yes’ in the sense that churches have the ability to make a huge difference in this issue. But, unfortunately, ‘No’ because churches can become very self-centered, worried about our own issues and needs and forgetting that most of our young people experience a world very different from those within our stained glass windows. The Church must be willing to ‘show up’ in the lives of those living in our communities and be present from here out (not just when it is easy or only we agree). That is not always easy or welcome. But, we must keep ‘showing up’, learning from our mistakes, celebrating our successes, and believing that tomorrow can be better than today.
Why do so many young men in our community have so many guns and use them? There seem to be many reasons why guns are so prevalent in the lives of, especially, our young men. The gun issue is just a tool or extension of the other issues. The issues include ‘acceptance’ through having the power guns provide in certain situations. Or it might be that guns offer a symbol of misplaced confidence through a message of defiance or warning. Or it might be that young men are drawn to guns because it gives them a sense of protection or security. Others use guns in certain situations because of status symbols, belonging, and intimidation. When the world someone lives in is out of balance, people (especially the most desperate and unsettled) will grab whatever they can find to give them an extra sense of gravitas. However, it is like playing with fire, because the same person you are trying to intimidate or send a message to is also playing the same game with guns. The outcome is a collision that can only lead to harm.