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KIM LAWTON: It was Easter Sunday 2011. Joel and Cheryl Seay and their family had just finished a big holiday dinner in their Philadelphia home when there was a knock at the front door. A group of young men asked for the Seays’ 18-year-old son Jarell in an apparent misunderstanding. Jarell talked to them a few minutes, then, as Joel watched, his son turned to go back in the house.

JOEL SEAY (Jarell Christopher Seay Love and Laughter Foundation): Next thing you know I saw, I see a gun coming around and I heard two shots, bam, bam. It happened so fast. I go over it all the time in my mind. What could I have done to save my baby boy?

LAWTON: But Jarell couldn’t be saved. The Seays were devastated. They say it was their Baptist faith that pulled them through.

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JOEL SEAY: I don’t know what just happened but I’m going trust God, and from the moment I said that I was going trust God, it seemed like God intervened into our lives.

CHERYL SEAY (Jarell Christopher Seay Love and Laughter Foundation): It never goes away. But you have to take that pain and turn it into something positive or else you will die.

LAWTON: The Seays established the Jarell Christopher Seay Love and Laughter Foundation to combat gun violence.

JOEL SEAY: Kids are dying every day in the city of Philadelphia, and people need to come together and stop the violence. We need to pray for these children. We need to get these children the help that they need and as parents, you know, we would not want anybody to feel what we felt.

LAWTON: While the Sandy Hook massacre that killed 20 school children horrified the nation, more than twice as many children and teens are killed by guns every week.

REV. JIM ATWOOD: Kids are not to be shot whether they're in the city, whether they're in a rural area, wherever they are. Human beings are not to be killed.

LAWTON: Retired Presbyterian Pastor Jim Atwood travels around the country urging religious congregations to get involved. He’s part of a growing faith-based movement that is ramping up efforts to support new restrictions on buying and owning guns.

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REV. JIM ATWOOD (Author, America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose): People in the churches, in the faith communities, are talking about the issue as they have never talked about it before. We have a movement today, we’ve never had a real, broad based, focused movement before, but we’ve got it now.

LAWTON: But the movement faces strong opposition, including from other people of faith, such as longtime gun rights lobbyist John Snyder.

JOHN SNYDER (Gun Rights Policies): I’m not criticizing their intentions. These people may very well be very well meaning—simply do not know what they are talking about because it is necessary to be able to use force, to be able to combat evil on the personal level and on the social level.

Pastor: Every child is God's way of saying "I believe in you." Hope. Keep the faith.

LAWTON: Still, people from across faith traditions have been joining the cause. The nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund has made gun violence against young people one of its top priorities. The group urged its local partners to sponsor interfaith Children’s Sabbath services focused on the issue. This Sabbath took place in Philadelphia, where the African-American community has been particularly hard hit. One of the participants was Dorothy Johnson-Speight. She founded an anti-gun violence group called Mothers in Charge after her 24-year-old son Khaaliq was shot to death in 2001 during an argument over a parking spot.

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DOROTHY JOHNSON-SPEIGHT (Mothers in Charge): There needs to be more outrage about what is happening. You know, everybody needs to be involved.

LAWTON: Heeding God’s Call, is a national interfaith group that urges public action to prevent gun violence. Many in the movement are lobbying for what they call “common sense” new restrictions, such as more rigorous background checks before gun sales and banning military-style assault weapons.

Pastor Atwood says they aren’t trying to take away all guns. He’s been hunting since he was 22.

REV. JIM ATWOOD: I like to get out in the woods, I enjoy hunting, I enjoy watching wildlife, and if a deer comes along, my heart pumps, I get excited, and I love venison, and I always eat what I shoot.

LAWTON: In the 1970s, Atwood and his wife went to Japan as missionaries. He brought a rifle, hoping to do some hunting there. The authorities confiscated the gun and wouldn’t return it until he got a statement from a doctor, took a safety course and purchased two licenses.

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REV. JIM ATWOOD: The regulations, or the loopholes, that I had to go through to get my gun back in Japan, first irritated me, but then I realized that I was reading no articles in the papers about gun deaths because they just did not have them.

LAWTON: Atwood became an activist on the issue when he returned to the US and saw the large numbers of people killed by guns, including one of his church members. He wrote a book called America and its Guns: A Theological Expose. Atwood believes some American support for gun ownership rises to the level of idolatry, something he says violates basic religious teachings.

REV. ATWOOD: Every single person is regarded as a child of God, every one of us is born in the image of God. All the religions of the world declare that we are all neighbors; each of us is a brother or sister in God’s family.

LAWTON: But John Snyder, a committed Catholic, cites theology as the basis for his opposition to gun control. He takes his inspiration from Saint Gabriel Possenti, a 19th century Italian seminarian who used fire arms to rescue villagers from a gang of cutthroats.

John Snyder

JOHN SNYDER: People should realize that you know when you turn the other cheek and somebody hits you on that maybe then it’s time to wop ‘em.

LAWTON: Snyder argues that the constitutional right to bear arms guards all American freedoms, including religious freedom.

JOHN SNYDER: I like to say the Second Amendment is the linchpin of rights. Without the Second Amendment, and the ability to use guns, and the ability to use force to protect the other civil rights we have, we can never feel free.

REV. ATWOOD: I as an individual, and you as an individual, have a right to live in a society which is free from gun violence; that’s a constitutional right. You have a right to life, liberty and happiness. You have a right to live in domestic tranquility, as our Constitution declares in the Preamble.

LAWTON: Many in the movement believe solutions need to go beyond legislation. Cheryl and Joel Seay want the foundation in their son Jarell's memory to promote positive alternatives to violence.

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CHERYL SEAY: It’s going to be unifying families, connecting communities, while protecting our children through gun education, safety, and prevention.

JOEL SEAY: We’re going to forgive these boys that killed our son. That way we won’t be held down with the evil and trying to revenge somebody or take something back. We already gave that to God, God will handle this. So now we have to go out and save some children, in love and in laughter ‘cause that’s what we got from Jarell is love and laughter.

LAWTON: Johnson-Speight urges all people of faith to consider what they can do.

DOROTHY JOHNSON-SPEIGHT: They think that the issue is so overwhelming that maybe they’re sitting back wondering what to do, instead of trying to just roll up their sleeves and find a way to get involved.

JOEL SEAY: This is a very, very, very important issue. You know? Your child could be next. Your mother, your father, your sister, somebody that you love dearly could be next.

LAWTON: And despite the challenges, many in the faith community say they will continue working so that doesn’t happen. I’m Kim Lawton in Philadelphia.

Gun Violence and the Faith Community

While the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut horrified the nation last year, every month even more children are killed by guns. Since Newtown, some faith leaders and religious groups have supported new gun restrictions. Others have advocated a need both to use force and to have the guns to do so.

  • TopCat_Texas

    I guess that pastors have a range of opinions, not sure that is bad. Of the ones that I know have more guns than most people, and carry everywhere, Many, openly encourage people to be armed in the services.
    I do not think everyone is prepared to be armed and many may never reach that place. I just want people to know enough so that they can make a decision on logic and not “emotional political hype”

  • Alex

    There are enough gun laws already-they just need to be enforced. Keeping guns from the general public would be a big mistake as criminals will always have them—there are ways to get guns illegally and they will always be available to those who want them. I see no way to regulate guns.

  • Chris

    Arnt more children abused by so called faith leaders than involved in any shooting other than gang violence each year? Just a thought for Bible thumpers

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dean-Weingarten/100001245070606 Dean Weingarten

    “Gun Violence” is a propaganda metric. Violence can be for good or evil. It is neutral, like gravity. Unjustified, or criminal violence is what is desired to be measured. Using the propaganda metric “gun violence” simply prejudges the debate by initial terminology. It is fraudulent to assume that a reduction in “gun violence” will result in an overall reduction in unjustified violence.

  • D.G. Williams

    Guns are inanimate objects. We need to focus on the mentally ill and violent criminals. It’s often the same people committing crimes over and over again. Help the mentally ill and be tougher on the criminals.

  • ramrodd

    Mental health is the avenue to gun confiscation – it worked for the Nazis..

    define what you believe as mental illness… would it be people diagnosed with anxiety, depression or even ADHD..

    this can be a very dangerous and dishonest attack when it comes to self defense
    for millions..

    http://fff.org/explore-freedom/article/who-is-mentally-ill/

  • ramrodd

    Mental health is the avenue to gun confiscation – it worked for the Nazis..

    define what you believe as mental illness… would it be people diagnosed with anxiety, depression or even ADHD..

    this can be a very dangerous and dishonest attack when it comes to self defense
    for millions..

    http://fff.org/explore-freedom/article/who-is-mentally-ill/

  • ramrodd

    Every pastor who refuses to repudiate forces that are attacking our Freedom, is selling out the cause of Liberty..

    http://www.newswithviews.com/baldwin/baldwin779.htm

  • ramrodd

    Every pastor who refuses to repudiate forces that are attacking our Freedom, is selling out the cause of Liberty..

    http://www.newswithviews.com/baldwin/baldwin779.htm

  • D.G. Williams

    Ramrodd: I didn’t make myself clear. I would never include people suffering from routine mental problems such as anxiety, depression, and so forth. I am referring to those whose mental conditions cause them to be violent and out of touch with reality. Of course it would be very difficult to ascertain the condition of each human so I would always err on the side of gun ownership. I agree with you completely.

  • Greydog

    The minister says something along the lines of “I like being outdoors. I like watching animals. I like eating venison.” There was a curious missing beat in this chain of thought that might have logically pointed to: “I like killing. I like putting chunks of lead into God’s beautiful creatures for my own amusement.”
    And, just what exactly do these people need a gun for? I find irrational fear behind these claims for potential self-defense. Who among those who has a gun has ever used one in their entire lives in a situation of self-defense? What exactly are they afraid of? Drug crazed proletariat pouring out of the inner cities into suburban cup-de-sacs?

  • albert draz

    Religious leader can play a role as they lead these communities in an
    effort to reject the cycle of violence. It has to be a community effort
    along with strong community policing to make it work. There must be
    more job opportunities for kids/teens. The deranged killers that make
    the news are not the norm but must also be addressed in a way that
    doesn’t impact everyone else.

    The majority of teens that are killed are often in poor communities and not in the more affluent communities. The war on drugs is the real root of this problem rather than the lack of gun control laws. Talking about more gun control is not going to solve this but targeted policing can. Often there are just a few gangs that cause most of the death and destruction in these communities. You just need to take the illegal guns away from most of these kids to see a real effect. Drugs and gangs offer kids fast cash where there is nothing else and in the end they loose their future and/or their lives int he process.

  • AD_2008

    Violence can’t be categorized. There are communities which have high levels of violence (not just gun violence). Places such as Oakland California where I own a home. Here you can’t just walk around the place without worry because there are too many criminals. The police do little to prevent crime and often don’t even respond to active burglary calls. You read about gangs taking over people’s homes or forcing them out threw intimidation. You can turn the other check but eventually they are going to kick your butt or kill you.

    This is not Japan so you can’t just make these comparison and expect the same laws to work here. There are big social and cultural difference between the the two. We have more poverty and a vastly more diversified society. I identify as an American and respect all aspect of the Constitution. The 2nd amendment doesn’t give people the right to hunt it give them the right to own and possess them. In places like Cupertino I don’t feel a need to have a gun but in Oakland I do. The only thing the criminals causing the trouble respect is people who are armed and prepared to defend themselves.

  • Bob Smiton

    As a so-called bible thumper and a reverend I reject any and all of the claims and motives of those who would subvert the rights of the citizens to protect and defend themselves and their loved ones. While it is easy for the control advocates to find those in the faith and medical systems who support their abhorrent ruse, rest assured that there are those of us who remain on the side of liberty and what is truly right and just. Keep fighting the good fight.

  • Fal Phil

    Poor misguided fools. Yes, children are dying every day. BUT, there are at least 15 other causes of child deaths before you even get to violence, let alone guns. Wouldn’t their time be better spent focusing on saving the most children? By focusing on guns, they are missing so many opportunities to save childrens’ lives.

  • Barry Hirsh

    “Others have advocated a need both to use force and to have the guns to do so.”

    And, they are correct.

  • Mike

    As a “bible-thumper” and a reverend aren’t you supposed to represent Jesus? Let me ask you then, did Jesus carry weapons and did he fight for “the site of liberty and what is truly right and just?”

    If I remember Jesus preached about love, peace and forgiving your enemy. I thought he preached about compassion and about loving your enemy.

    All you talk about is fighting. Are you sure you are a reverend?

  • Mike

    As a “bible-thumper” and a reverend aren’t you supposed to represent Jesus? Let me ask you then, did Jesus carry weapons and did he fight for “the site of liberty and what is truly right and just?”

    If I remember Jesus preached about love, peace and forgiving your enemy. I thought he preached about compassion and about loving your enemy.

    All you talk about is fighting. Are you sure you are a reverend?

  • Mike

    As a “bible-thumper” and a reverend aren’t you supposed to represent Jesus? Let me ask you then, did Jesus carry weapons and did he fight for “the site of liberty and what is truly right and just?”

    If I remember Jesus preached about love, peace and forgiving your enemy. I thought he preached about compassion and about loving your enemy.

    All you talk about is fighting. Are you sure you are a reverend?

  • Bob Smiton

    Your comment mostly revolves around Matthew 26:52-53. There is considerably more to the bible than that which makes it very clear that there are times that self defense are acceptable though Jesus certainly would have it any other way if possible. The only mention I made of fighting was a reference to the bible, 1 Timothy 6:12 and while there is no record of Jesus taking up arms himself, there are accounts of him showing rage such as Matthew 21:12-13 and Mark 11:15-18.

    Matthew 26:52-53 Jesus said Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?

    Jesus’s intent was to fulfill a prophecy and not lead his brothers to slaughter and He made it clear that if He had need to war then His Father, God could strike down His enemies with more than twelve legions of angels.

    With that said lets look to some other biblical references regarding self defense. The weapon used is of no relevance.

    Luke 22:36 – And He said to them, But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.

    Luke 11:21 – When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe.

    Proverbs 25:26 – Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.

    Psalm 144:1 – Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.

    Exodus 22:2 – If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him.

    To be clear, that one states that to kill in self defense is acceptable but to kill in revenge is not acceptable.

    Romans 13:4 – For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

    Esther 8:11 – the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods.

    Here are a few that could be taken to be directly relating to the gun control advocates or anyone who would seek to disarm an individual or a people.

    Mark 3:27 – But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

    Why is this relevant you? Many gun control advocates seek to bind the strong man’s hands.

    Proverbs 24:11 – Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

    And finally this last one. This is the reason many believers adamantly attempt to hold back those who are stumbling to slaughter. i.e. Those who blindly follow the control cultists.

    So to answer your question regarding my actually being a reverend, yes indeed I am and a well versed reverend at that. I don’t hang on single phrases but rather take the whole of the good book into account.