A day after returning from the Taizé Pilgrimage of Trust in St. Louis, I received an email from the Wisconsin Council of Churches asking me, with other religious leaders, to write relevant state senators to oppose a bill, currently in committee, that would remove the legal requirement for a permit in order to carry a concealed firearm. I find it particularly challenging to make space to articulate distinctively Christian positions on legislative proposals like this one succinctly. Isn't it enough, some would say, to simply register your voice as for or against? Of course the answer is "No, that is not enough. In and by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have come to believe that more is possible. Come and see." Additionally, abandoning the public articulation of how faith informs these issues, like gun violence, only serves to underwrite the prevailing public assumption that faith is at the heart of problems like violence, an assumption that serves the interests of the State so well that the State would be foolish to question the assumption's veracity without prompting. This is my attempt to write my senator on the relevant bill and provide such a prompting through the lens of the Christian resources that shaped our time with the brothers of Taizé.
Dear Senator Risser,
Grace and peace!
My name is the Rev. Jonathan Melton. I am an Episcopal priest and the chaplain director of a campus ministry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, St. Francis House, a ministry with a long and active history of civic engagement. As your constituent and a person of faith, I want you to know how grateful I am for your service to the common life of this country and its people. I thank God for you, and I look for God in you.(1)
I want you to know you and your work are daily in my prayers, especially at a time in which tensions across differences make dialogue and decisions that transcend the binary and reactive difficult. In such a time, claiming thoughtfulness and nuance that the soundbite cannot convey requires uncommon courage. I believe each of us is loved by a God who can call us into and sustain us in uncommon ways of being in this world, as reflections of God's love and for the good of one another.
To that end, I am writing today to let you know that I oppose SB 169, the permitless concealed carry bill. Will you join me, and so many others, in opposing this bill?
My colleagues have sent me talking points that they encourage me to include here. I'll include them at the end, in case they are right that statistics like this one - "since 2011, over 18,000 concealed carry permits were denied or invalidated because the applicant could not pass a background check or had violated state or federal laws" - are new to you. But I suspect these statistics are not new to you.
I trust my colleagues who have been at this work longer than I have to know which statistics will command your attention, but I think we all - they, you, and me - long to set our sights higher. After all, what is a concealed weapon except an accessory of fear and mistrust against another person? As a person of faith, confident in the power of liturgical rituals to shape persons, people, and communities, I grieve the daily formation our communities undergo as bearers of concealed mistrust and fear. Every cleaning of such a gun, locking of such a gun, remembering to carry such a gun reinforces a posture of mistrust for one another. Yes, we should oppose this bill, but we should also engage every local and political opportunity to call out our habituated hates and suspicions and invite us into spaces of developing trust.
Obviously, such a call is beyond the scope of this bill, and yet you cannot credibly call for such opportunities later after having supported this bill. What I am asking is that you consider your opposition to this bill as a first step in claiming trust as an essential part of the common good.
I realize that naming a particular and positive vision of the common good requires uncommon courage. We're not just talking freedom from but freedom for - positive freedom(2) - and we are talking about the hard and patient work of building trust in our communities. And so I pray for you to the God of uncommon courage, who is worthy of our trust, and I offer my support as one committed to walk and work with you and our neighbors as you risk speaking a vision of communities of trust.
In the joy of the risen Jesus,
This bill would endanger the public by removing the common-sense protections that the Wisconsin Legislature put into place when it decided to allow people to carry concealed weapons. We should not remove reasonable requirements for background checks, training, and licensing for persons to carry concealed, loaded firearms in public places.
Surveys show that most people, including gun owners, believe that a person should need to pass a background check and have training in order to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Without permitting requirements, dangerous, irresponsible, and untrained people would be allowed to carry hidden, loaded weapons in public.
Since 2011, over 18,000 concealed carry permits were denied or invalidated because the applicant could not pass a background check or had violated state or federal laws.
Educators and safety experts agree that allowing civilians to carry weapons in schools is not a good security practice.
Please oppose SB 169 as a dangerous bill that would weaken the public safety protections that are already in place in Wisconsin's conceal carry permitting law.
(1) The Book of Common Prayer, p299
(2) William Cavanaugh on freedom (short video).