Presbyterian Church favors removing handguns, assault weapons from homes Policy-making body asks its 2.6 million members to protect 'our children'

June 20, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

In a strong statement about personal responsibility and guns, the top policy-making body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has passed a resolution calling on the denomination's 2.6 million members to move toward removing handguns and assault weapons from their homes.

The resolution, passed by a 4-1 margin at the church's annual General Assembly late Thursday afternoon, is in keeping with a three-decade stream of declarations by several major Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish organizations favoring restrictions on handguns and assault weapons.

But Presbyterian officials and other church leaders said that the assembly's resolution takes a different tack in asking for individual action by church members, rather than seeking a legislative remedy.

The resolution, which comes after a recent series of schoolyard shootings around the country, says the General Assembly should "call upon all Presbyterians to intentionally work toward removing handguns and assault weapons from our homes and communities."

The resolution also said church members should "develop community strategies and create sanctuaries of safety for our children."

"Its new ground is in speaking directly to Presbyterians to do something," said the Rev. Kathy Lancaster, a Presbyterian official who specializes in criminal justice issues for the church, the nation's largest Presbyterian denomination.

Noting that some of the boys accused in the recent shootings had been involved in local churches, the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell said, "Maybe we're not doing all we could as church people to teach people a lifestyle of living nonviolently."

Though strictly advisory, the resolution sparked about 40 minutes of debate at the church's annual General Assembly, being held in Charlotte, N.C. The vote in favor was 393 commissioners, as Presbyterian delegates are called, to 120.

Those who opposed the amendment said it would have little practical effect.

Robert Harley, an attorney from Springfield, Ohio, said, "If you look into history, you'll see the first thing totalitarian dictatorships have done is disarm its citizenry."

But Ann Holt, a retired teacher from Raleigh, N.C., who voted for it, said it was "the church's responsibility to make a response" to gun violence.

Asked for her response to the resolution, Tanya Metaksa, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said that organization was sorry the Presbyterian assembly "would suggest to their parishioners that self-defense is no longer an option."

Pub Date: 6/20/98

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