Philadelphia-area clergy took time to express their sorrow over the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting at a news conference Dec. 19, but emphasized that the tragedy was just one among many caused by firearms, that people die because of guns in Philadelphia every day.
The gathering organized by Heeding God’s Call, an organization dedicated to ending gun violence, saw leaders from the Jewish, Christian and Islamic communities present a common message of frustration over a lack of gun control that allows violent crimes to occur.
The speakers called for increased pressure on legislators, but also for transforming the issue of gun control from a political issue to a moral and religious one.
Rabbi David Straus, of Main Line Reform Temple, speaking on behalf of the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia, described modern society’s connection to guns as “idolatry.” He encouraged leaders to organize activist efforts in their congregations and to inundate their legislators with thousands of handwritten letters demanding action on gun control.
“We need to see this cause not as a political problem but as a solemn religious obligation,” said Straus, who also heads Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council.
Bilal Qayyum, president of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, an organization that focuses on problems in the African-American community, walked to Harrisburg in 2006 — a trek of more than 100 miles — where he lobbied legislators to create jobs and offer social services for at-risk residents. He called for similar sorts of actions in regards to gun violence.
“We must stop worshipping at the idol of profit at the expense of our children,” said Qayyum.
Rabbi Linda Holtzman, of Mishkan Shalom, held a Heeding God’s Call banner in front of the podium where leaders spoke. She participates in a vigil with other members of Heeding God’s Call near Delia’s Gun Shop in the Northeast on the first and third Tuesdays of every month to pressure the business to tighten, what the clergy says, are loose restrictions that allow for the straw sale of weapons. The organization held similar demonstrations near Colosimo’s gun shop on Spring Garden Street — because of the same concerns over illegal weapons sales — until the business had its license revoked in 2009.
“I spend as much time as I can doing gun violence work,” said Holtzman. She said that her hope was that “the horrible tragedy” in Connecticut “will be a wake-up call for people.”