Officers from the United Church of Christ expressed outrage in the U.S. Senate’s inability to vote in favor of bipartisan legislation to expand background checks for gun sales. Seen as a major setback for gun control advocates, the proposed measure fell six votes short of the required 60 votes late Wednesday, even though there seemed to be a path toward an agreement in the Senate.
The Manchin-Toomey amendment would have expanded background checks for gun buyers, and would have allowed exceptions for inter-familial gun transfers. Sandy Sorensen, the director of the UCC’s offices in Washington, D.C., said the measure was modest in expanding background checks to commercial and online sales, and that the Senate has ignored public opinion with its vote on Wednesday.
In a statement released late Wednesday, the UCC National Officers said they are disappointed to learn that the Senate voted contrary to public opinion. "It is deeply troubling that our elected officials have rejected a measure that has the support of over 90 percent of the American public, gun owners among them," the letter reads.
"For the first time since 1994, Congress had the opportunity to take bipartisan, sensible, responsible legislation on reducing gun violence by approving the Manchin-Toomey amendment to the gun violence bill now on the floor for consideration," Sorensen said. "The amendment already represented a compromise step back from universal background checks, so the fact that such a modest, bipartisan proposal could be defeated is all the more disappointing."
Passage of the background check amendment had been seen as key provision in the gun law plan because it represented a bipartisan agreement in a highly polarized debate. It also would have preserved a major part of the overall bill that many advocates against gun violence saw as a minimum step toward stemming gun massacres. Stronger measures up for a vote also failed, including a ban of assault weapons.
Two women in the Senate gallery shouted "Shame on you!" after the vote. One of them, Patricia Maisch, was the woman who grabbed the third clip from the gunman who shot then-Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011. The other was a woman of a Virginia Tech student who was injured in a shooting on campus six years ago.
Regardless of Wednesday's outcome, Sorensen said UCC advocates remain focused on the work ahead. "Despite today’s deeply disappointing vote, the faith community remains resolute and steadfast in working for common sense legislation to reduce gun violence," she said.
The UCC is working with interfaith coalitions to advocate for tougher gun legislation that includes universal background checks, an assault weapons and high-capacity magazine bans, and prosecution of unlawful gun trafficking. The UCC also urged members to take action on Faith Call-In Day April 9, and there were a total of 10,000 calls from 75 different denominations to Congress.
Here is the complete text of the pastoral letter released by the United Church of Christ National Officers concerning the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment:
As the names of thousands of women, men, and children lost to gun violence echo across the grounds of the U.S. Capitol today, we are deeply disappointed by the failure of the U.S Senate to move forward with sensible, responsible legislation to address the scourge of gun violence by expanding backgrounds checks on commercial gun sales. Despite today's Senate vote against the Manchin-Toomey amendment to the Senate gun violence bill, we stand resolute and unwavering in our commitment to continue the work of ending gun violence in our society.
We simply cannot accept gun violence as the norm in our nation. It is nothing less than a moral imperative that our public policy reflects a commitment to lessening the toll that gun violence takes in communities throughout our country. While we recognize that no one piece of legislation in and of itself address the complex and multilayered context of gun violence, such common sense gun violence legislation can save lives, and we must take every action we can to keep our children, families and communities safe.
As people of faith, we know all too well the terrible toll that gun violence takes in our communities, year after year, day after day. The wounded, family members and friends of victims are members of our congregations and our local communities. We hold them in our arms, sit with them in hospital emergency rooms, share the tears and the ache of loss, offer prayers of accompaniment, and gather in candlelight vigils.
It is deeply troubling that our elected officials have rejected a measure that has the support of over 90% of the American public, gun owners among them. We are heartened by the hopeful signs of bipartisan dialogue and partnership that have been evident in this debate, and we encourage lawmakers to summon the political courage to continue such efforts.
The faith community has come together many times in the aftermath of gun tragedies over the years to urge legislators to pass laws that would further prevent gun violence, and we will not falter in this critical work. We will continue to advocate for sensible, responsible gun violence prevention that strengthens background checks on gun purchases, addresses gun trafficking, bans military-style assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips.
Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, over 3,000 women, men and children have been lost to gun violence. Words from the Gospel prod us, "Would that we knew the things that make for peace."
The UCC Collegium of Officers:
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, General Minister and President
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
The Rev. James A. Moos, Executive Minister, Wider Church Ministries
The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, Executive Minister, Justice and Witness Ministries
W. Mark Clark, Associate General Minister
While the Senate was voting, names of people who have been killed by gun violence were read on the National Mall. One week earlier a makeshift grave with more than 3,300 markers, representing each person shot since Sandy Hook, lined the lawn outside the Capitol as a reminder of gun violence victims whose lives were lost.