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Gun violence discussion sparks laments, but also hope at screening of Trigger


Written by Paul Seebeck. Originally published by General Assembly News, June 18, 2014.

As they gathered in one of America’s major cities with a reputation for violence, some of those attending the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) watched a denominationally produced documentary on gun violence, and then tackled how to address the issue.

“It’s insane really,” said Saul Green of Ceasefire Detroit, which works together with law enforcement and community service groups to impress upon young people the price they will pay for criminal activity. “Why are young people killing each other over mundane things like shoes, or cell phones?”

“We have them talk with victims of gun violence, like the mother in Trigger who suffers because her daughter is gone forever,” he said.

Green was speaking about Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence, produced in part as a response to the 219th General Assembly (2010) resolution “Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call” and to shed light on the growing issue. The documentary is the result of a collaborative effort of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Compassion, Peace, and Justice Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Tuesday’s screening and discussion was sponsored by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and featured a six-member panel including Detroit Police Officer Kevin Briggs, a member of Broadstreet Presbyterian Church.

“Forgive me, but watching this just now, it catches me,” he said, choking back emotion. “Kids are killing kids. I see dead people every day.”

The panel listed their laments: No background checks on gun purchases. Gun trafficking. Stolen guns. The “straw purchases,” one person buying a gun for somebody else. The National Rifle Association lobbying effort on behalf of the gun manufacturers.

“As Christians, when we allow politicians to be bought for guns to flow freely, we are directly opposed to the values of Jesus Christ,” said J. Herbert Nelson, director of the church’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C.

“I can say this as an African-American man: When white children are killed and no gun legislation is enacted, the political spheres have been shut down in this country.”

The panel also spoke about dealing with poverty – the lack of education and economic opportunities – and the difficult issue of mental illness.

I’m struck by the lack of value that Emmet felt for his life
Yet the panel exuded hope, and belief in the resiliency of the human spirit.

Emmet Mitchell, founder of Milestones Agency, which serves African-American males from 5 through fatherhood, was shot at for the first time when he was 15.

“It was my badge of honor,” he said.

Mitchell dropped out of school, joined a gang and did drugs. Even though someone tried to take his life when he was 19, he was willing to take the chance of getting killed.

“How much value did I place on my life?” he asked.

Gradually Mitchell realized his violence was a learned behavior; it didn’t have to be a response to conflict resolution.

He grew in relationship to God, began to reflect on the kind of legacy he wanted to leave his children, the impact he wanted to have on his community.

“The women in prison tell me that long before crime happens, guns are a huge part of their lives,” said Mary Lynn Stevens, a volunteer sponsor for National Lifers of America who works with individuals in prison to reform their lives and prison culture.

Stevens said that women also told her that being threatened by guns, and the fear of being targets, was normal to them.

“I’m struck by the lack of value that Emmet felt for his life,” said Laurie Kraus, coordinator for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, which works with first responders to communities suffering after mass violence shooting.

“There’s always an initial outpouring that comes, shattering any differences we have,” she said. “It gives me hope. But we must find a way to translate this into will and courage to sustain change – and then do the hard transformation of addressing the gun violence which has become such a part of daily life –in our inner cities, and across America.”

TRIGGER coming to Detroit June 17th!

As part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 221st General Assembly in Detroit, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program will host a screening of Trigger followed by a panel discussion on Tuesday, June 17th, from 7:00 – 9:30 PM.

The panel discussion, moderated by Kevin Johnson, pastor of Detroit’s Calvary Presbyterian Church, will include voices from Detroit as well as the PC(U.S.A.)’s national staff:

• Officer Kevin Briggs, Detroit Police Department
• Saul Green, J.D., Ceasefire Detroit
• Mary Lynn Stevens, National Lifers of America at Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Ypsilanti, MI
• Rev. Laurie Kraus, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
• Rev. Dr. J Herbert Nelson, PC(U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness

You won’t want to miss this powerful and inspiring night of learning and dialogue. To reserve your ticket to this free event, please RSVP to trigger@pcusa.org.

PC(USA) documentary on the ripple effect of gun violence shown as part of MLK Week

Trigger audience 2

Community gathers in the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church during MLK Week in Atlanta for a screening and discussion on gun violence.

As part of a weeklong celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence was shown to more than 100 attendees at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta last week. The hour-long documentary, which was developed with funds from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), aims to shift the conversation about gun violence prevention from the polarizing extremes that often dominate the debate and to frame the dialogue as a public health issue that needs to be addressed from various angles.

Last week’s community-wide screening brought together leaders from across Atlanta to participate in a post-screening discussion about local issues of gun violence and to facilitate conversations about how groups can begin to work together to address the issue. Panelists included:

  • Lucy McBath, mother of gun violence victim Jordan Davis and spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America;
  • Sgt. Corey Andry, Atlanta Police Department (APD);
  • Local rap artist and community organizer Mike “Killer Mike” Render;
  • The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church Horizon Sanctuary; and
  • Alice Johnson, executive director of Georgians for Gun Safety and Community Affairs Liaison (APD)

The screening and discussion in Atlanta was one of more than 100 events that have taken place across the country in the last year.

“We were encouraged by the thoughtful dialogue, which included a discussion about responsible gun ownership, and we believe our efforts were advanced by the event. We know that many in the audience expressed their desire to become involved,” Johnson said.

Trigger was produced in part as a response to the 219th General Assembly (2010) resolution “Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call” to shed light on the growing issue in an effort to “take responsibility to build public awareness of gun violence and the epidemic of preventable gun-related deaths.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s gun violence prevention initiative, including the production of Trigger, is a collaborative effort of PDA, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Office of Public Witness, which are all programs of the Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry of the PC(USA).

To learn more about how to host a similar event in your community, order a screening kit.

audience member in church

Attendees were given the opportunity to ask panelists questions about gun violence prevention in their community.


L to R: Rev. Raphael Warnock, Lucy McBath, Sgt. Corey Andry, Alice Johnson, Ronnie Mosley of Georgia Millenial Movement, PC(USA) Filmmaker David Barnhart, Mike “Killer Mike” Render, Sara Lisherness, Director of PC(USA)’s Compassion Peace and Justice Ministry.


Trigger in Iowa City: Ripples 2 Waves


In April of 2013, members at First Presbyterian Church of Iowa City viewed the documentary, Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence, as part of an adult education study. Moved by the film, members of the church’s peace and justice committee began discussing how they could initiate a conversation about gun violence within the wider community.

To accomplish this, they formed a committee called “Ripples 2 Waves,” after a Mother Teresa quote: “I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” President Obama’s remarks on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre also inspired their movement: “We can’t lose sight of the fact that real change won’t come from Washington. It will come the way it’s always come – from you. From the American people.” In building this grassroots movement, Ripples 2 Waves soon became an interfaith coalition, drawing members from Presbyterian, Methodist, Jewish, and agnostic backgrounds. They knew that a meaningful conversation would require having many voices at the table.

One founding member, Martha Schut, noted, “In the beginning I too thought, let’s just get rid of assault weapons and high capacity magazines.” However, through the committee’s research and discussions with community members, it became clear that responsible gun owners weren’t the enemy. “I would recommend having responsible gun owners as part of the process,” Schut stated. After all, Ripples 2 Waves wasn’t seeking to eliminate the Second Amendment, but to find middle ground. For this reason, they adopted the slogan, “A Community Effort for Sensible Gun Use.”

Ripples 2 Waves decided to use Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence to start the conversation. They planned a free community screening and panel discussion at the Coralville Performing Arts Center and devised a promotional plan that included newspaper ads, letters to the editor, invitations to partner organizations and community leaders, a website (ripples2waves.org), and interviews with local television and radio stations. They invited panelists representing sectors of the community that deal with gun violence on a regular basis:

• Kristie Doser, Executive Director, Domestic Violence Intervention Program
• Joe Bolkcom, Iowa State Senator, 4th District
• Jim Claypool, Attorney/gun owner
• Bernie Frank, Co-pastor of Gospel Explosion Ministry/gun violence victim
• Joan McMillan, Retired substance abuse counselor/gun owner,
• Lonny Pulkrabek, Johnson County Sheriff
• Stephen Trefz, Executive Director, Community Mental Health Mid-Eastern Iowa
• Mike Willey, MD, UIHC Orthopedic Surgeon.

On a cold January night, over 265 people turned out to view the film, hear the panelist, and connect with local organizations. The evening’s program was filmed and shown on the local public television channel several times the following week. Since then, the committee has received a strong, positive reaction from the community. Ripples 2 Waves members believe the event was a success, but also know that their work has just begun. To follow their progress, visit ripples2waves.org.

Panelist Bernie Frank recounts her experience as a gun violence survivor

Panelist Bernie Frank recounts her experience as a gun violence survivor

After the film, viewers were encouraged to connect with local organizations, like the Domestic Violence Intervention Program

After the film, viewers were encouraged to connect with local organizations, such as Iowa’s Domestic Violence Intervention Program

10 Things You Can Do To Prevent Gun Violence

The disaster caused by gun violence can be seen in almost every community. We may hear briefly about the victims and survivors of these shootings, but what happens after the media attention moves on and the wider public becomes numb to “just another shooting”? Here are just a few things you, your organization or congregation may consider to help put a stop to gun violence in and around your community:

  1. Contact your representatives in Congress and ask that they:
  2. Support universal background checks and waiting periods for all gun purchases.
  3. Support a ban on semiautomatic assault weapon, armor piercing handgun ammunition and .50 caliber sniper rifles.
  4. Identify the organizations in your community engaged in gun violence prevention and get involved.
  5. Attend a peaceful demonstration or public prayer service to end gun violence.
  6. Contact your mayor and city council members and demand that steps be taken in your community to prevent gun violence.
  7. Help close the gun show loophole that allows purchases with no background checks.
  8. Schedule a screening of Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence for your group or organization.
  9. Join or form a local chapter of Heeding God’s Call, a faith-based movement to end gun violence. Check out www.heedinggodscall.org for more.
  10. Ask the leaders of your worshiping community to address gun violence in worship services and education classes.
  11. Learn about your state’s concealed carry laws, which may allow guns to be carried openly. Encourage your places of work and worship to prominently display signs that prohibit carrying guns on their property.
  12. Encourage those you know who regularly handle weapons properly to be wise examples in reducing risks and teaching how to prevent the misuse of deadly force.

What are some other ways you, your church or other community organizations may be able to help end gun violence in and around your community?

The Ripple Effect

With headlines around the country and the globe bring seemingly endless attention to gun violence – in schools, in movie theaters, in homes or on the streets – one often begins to wonder, “When will enough be enough? When will the violence end and things finally change?”

The PC(USA) found these questions surfacing frequently within various ministry and program areas of the church. As a result, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program set out to create an hour-long documentary focused on drawing attention to the far-reaching and long-lasting impact of gun violence on individuals, families and communities. Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence frames gun violence as a disaster and public health issue, and is told entirely from the perspective of those who have experienced, or respond to gun violence on a daily basis.

Most people think gun violence happens “someplace else” or to “someone else” but this disaster – gun violence – can happen anywhere. “Trigger was intended to wake people up,” said the film’s producer, David Barnhart. “Gun violence should not be the norm in our society.”

Have you or someone you know been touched in some way by gun violence? Have you thought about ways you might help prevent gun violence in your community?

Common Ground: Preventing Gun Violence

After the mass shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, some members of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta were inspired to learn more and speak out against gun violence.

Last month, Trinity hosted a screening of Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence, a one-hour documentary produced with funds from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Through interviews with lawmakers, emergency room chaplains and surgeons, survivors and victims’ families, law enforcement officers and others, Trigger tells the story of how gun violence impacts individuals and communities. It also explores gun violence prevention by lifting up the voices of those who seek common ground.

The screening, which drew about 200 people, was a good starting point for more dialogue, said Trinity’s pastor, the Rev. Pam Driesell.

“Showing the film isn’t the ending,” she said. “It begins to open up the conversation in a larger arena.”

Since last year, a small group at Trinity began meeting weekly to brainstorm and learn more about gun violence and gun control legislation. The group has now expanded to include ecumenical and interfaith members — the screening was co-sponsored by two synagogues and attended by a theologically, politically and racially diverse crowd.

“We’re trying to find the common ground that crosses party lines,” Driesell said, adding that the common ground seems to be: “We care about this.

“As people of faith, how can we respond?”

One way the group in Atlanta is responding is by speaking out and petitioning against Georgia’s Senate Bill 101, which proposes to allow concealed firearms on campuses, school grounds, government buildings and potentially houses of worship or bars. A major part of the group’s campaign against the bill involves raising awareness and encouraging dialogue and education.

Those who are interested in learning about the complex issue of gun violence and how to prevent it might feel overwhelmed. But it’s important to start somewhere, Driesell said. As an informed group builds, people will begin to share resources and learn more about how their faith compels them to act.

“We are determined not to let the fact that we can’t fix everything stop us from fixing anything,” Driesell said. “God is a God who hears the cries of suffering people … and then sends ordinary people to respond to those cries.”

Trigger spurs conversations on gun violence in a Chicago community

Gun violence is not just a tragedy, it is a disaster with waves that spread in many directions, viewers of the new documentary film Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence affirm.

“Those ripples affect every single one of us,” said David Roberts, a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Hearing the stories and seeing the pictures in this film will “heighten the awareness … of how gun violence affects people everywhere,” he said.

Roberts, who serves on the anti-violence task force of his church’s social justice committee, saw Trigger recently during a screening held at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. The event is one of many taking place since the documentary, a project of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was released nationwide in early November.

The film was produced by David Barnhart of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) and is airing on NBC television affiliates until May 2013. Additionally, the movie is available to others who would like to hold a screening.

“The response has just been overwhelming,” said Barnhart, whose work with PDA has garnered numerous awards over the years. “When we screen this, people are really connected.”

Trigger seeks to shine the spotlight not only on those immediately impacted by gun violence, but also the scores of others who are touched by the disasters. Everyone from chaplains to law enforcement officials to surgeons are touched by the violence, Barnhart said. The film also addresses the issue of gun violence prevention.

“Most people just have this sense that it (gun violence) is someplace else,” said Beth Laurin, a deacon at Fourth Presbyterian Church. But as someone in the screening audience said, “violence comes to you,” she said.

More than 30,000 people are killed each year in the United States from gun violence, and many more are wounded.

“We’ve had shootings on my street, murders on that street,” said Laurin, who lives west of Fourth Presbyterian. “The violence is a disaster.”

For her part, Laurin is a co-facilitator for the Chicago Area Policing Strategy (CAPS) program, a community effort in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department. She would like to see Trigger shown in schools and hopes that can happen through (CAPS).

Roberts also hopes to expand the reach of the documentary and said his church is planning a screening.

“Because of the horrific escalation in gun violence, especially in Chicago, it has become a national story,” he said. People need to hear the stories told in the film, Roberts said.

Lake View Presbyterian Church has been trying to connect the effects of violence with real life for some time, and for a while the congregation was reading aloud the names of children slain. As time passed “it took longer and longer to read the names. It became painful,” Roberts said.

Trigger is intended “to wake people up,” said Barnhart. “This should not be the norm in our society, shootings every day.”