Church leaders after Vegas shooting: Don't just mourn. Do something different.

Thursday , October 05, 2017 - 6:20 PM

JANAE FRANCIS, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Peace requires more than prayer. It requires action.

Such were the words of some area church leaders Tuesday as they reacted to a mass shooting in Las Vegas Sunday, Oct. 1, that so far has resulted in a death toll of 59. 

Witnesses described seeing dead and wounded lying on the ground and people in panic trampling on those who fell down trying to escape when a gunman opened fire in rapid succession on an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas.

At a Tuesday vigil at Congregational United Church of Christ, the Rev. Gage Church said the concept of faith requiring action is outlined in the Bible.

“Remember, over and over in the Bible, God tells us He doesn’t think much of our prayers if there is no action with it,” he said during the vigil.

Each individual must decide for his or her own self what that follow-up action must be, Church said. For Church, it will be pushing for better gun control.

A December 2015 poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates showed that 76 percent of Utahns “strongly” or “somewhat” support changes in gun sales law to require background checks on people buying a gun legally over the Internet or from a seller at a gun show.

A 2013 survey by a Brigham Young University student found that while 92 percent of those polled nationally supported universal background checks, 82 percent of Utahns supported them. Another study published that same year ranked Utah the lowest in the 50 states for gun control legislation.

State District 28 Rep. Brian King, D, said the Howard School of Public Health currently is studying Utah culture to determine what laws may be most effective in addressing gun issues here. He was behind 2017 bill that would have made it illegal for a person convicted of domestic violence to own a gun in Utah.

King sponsored a 2016 law addressing gun-related suicide that requires the state suicide prevention coordinator to conduct a study on violent incidents that involve guns.

Nationally, the rhetoric for stricter gun control started as soon as the news of the Las Vegas event broke Sunday. However, say editorial writers for the Washington Post, if past mass shootings didn’t spur Congress into action, neither will this one.

“There is arguably no issue on which the two sides of the American political debate simply don't understand or empathize with one another more than guns,” says the editorial.

Similar arguments were made following the June 2016 mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 

Gays Against Guns, an advocacy group that formed in direct response to the Pulse nightclub shooting, responded to the Las Vegas shootings by saying politicians aren't doing enough to prevent more shootings.

The pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, the Rev. Shelley Page, said she also was urging gun control as a result of the shootings, saying now was not the time for silence.

“This is not something we are going to stop working toward — sane gun policies that will prevent not only mass gun violence but other types of gun violence that happens every day in our country,” Page said of gun control legislation. 

Weber State University Political Science Professor Leah Murray said the Sunday shooting may prove to be a “focusing” event for policy changes in this country. She said it be one of those “big events” that changes positions.

However, she doesn’t believe those changes will be in the area of gun control.

“I think we’ve had a number of these kinds of events and there hasn’t been much change at least nationally,” Murray said. “After Sandy Hook, some states made laws but not nationally. It did not open conversations for national gun control.”

The difference between Sandy Hook and the Las Vegas event, she said, may be that people may possibly start seeing mass shootings as a pattern.

In the area of addressing improved access to health care for mental illness, Murray said the Las Vegas shooting may have an impact. 

“Everything happens in this country very incrementally and very slowly,” Murray said. “Things take a long time to move.”

Once in while, Murray said, an event will come along that “opens the window” for policy change to happen more quickly. 

“The conversations we are hearing from political leaders say it might have been a result of mental illness,” Murray said. “The way we talk about mental illness may change.” 

Rev. Vanessa Cato, rector at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, also believes Christians may have an opportunity to bring about change in mental illness policies as a result of the shooting.

Having heard reports of the perpetrator’s poor mental health and possibly an addiction to gambling, Cato said the incident may bring such issues into light.

"We need to be more caring of those who are suffering because of mental health," she said.

MJ Munger of Huntsville, facilitating manager of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, said her takeaway from the shooting will be more passion for better conversations with those of differing backgrounds.

“This is such a big problem, this level of violence,” Munger said. “It’s the reason we got together to try and do something with Mormon Women for Ethical Government.”

The shootings, she said, are one symptom of “terrible divisiveness” in society.

“We need to start talking to people who disagree with us politically,” Munger said. “We need a place where we can talk civility, where we can talk without calling each other names and writing people off like they are the devil.”

Increasing civility in the country is something everyone can do, she said. “Our focus needs to be in creating a society that has more love for one another,” she said. “Each person can look in their heart and see that there is a gap of civility and care and love.”

You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at jfrancis@standard.net or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or like her on Facebook at facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis. 

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