Following the horror of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, two Bethesda religious congregations joined to determine the next step toward preventing gun violence.
Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, North Bethesda, and Congregation Beth El Synagogue, Bethesda, hosted a community forum on stopping gun violence Thursday at Saint Mark.
“This is a question of life and death,” Rabbi Bill Rudolph of Beth El said in his opening remarks. “Individual interests and needs [yes], but not at all costs. What has to be central is the good of the community.”
The Rev. Roy Howard, pastor at Saint Mark, said the purpose of the forum was to engage the community in a conversation as a first step in reducing gun violence.
“Our faith tradition summons us to find solutions that prevent the death of God’s children,” he said. “The followers of Jesus have a spiritual obligation to be makers of peace in a violent world.”
About 150 people attended the forum to hear a panel discussion by law enforcement, school officials, mental health professionals and politicians.
The panel included a number of health and government officials.
Each panelist was asked to answer two questions: What needs to be done to prevent gun violence in our community, and, from your perspective as a leader in your field, how can the community participate in this process of prevention?
The consensus among the speakers was the importance of speaking up, letting politicians know where you stand on funding for mental health services and enacting gun control laws.
“You can make a difference. I know, I’m a politician,” Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) said.
Though, she added, gun violence is not a local issue, the county is pre-empted by state and national government.
“Support national organizations that support your point of view,” she said.
Dr. Gayle Jordan-Randolph, a panel member who is deputy secretary for behavioral health and disabilities for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, pointed out that the most consistent indicator of every mass shooting in recent history was that the shooters were all young men.
“Transitional age youth who lack adaptive strategies,” she said.
Her information supported a call from Dr. Raymond Crowel, chief of behavioral health and crisis services for the county health department, for school-based mental health services.
Assistant Montgomery County Police Chief Russell Hammill shared some county gun statistics.
“Since 2010 there have been 23 murders, 62 percent of robberies are over the barrel of a gun and in the last two years, we have confiscated 93 illegal assault weapons,” he said. “I am not advocating abolishing the Second Amendment but it is not unfettered.”
In answer to the question of what the public can do, he said, “If you see something, say something. If we get a tip on somebody of concern that has a gun we follow up.”
Jerry Lowrie of Potomac, a member of Saint Mark, said he thought the discussion was very effective.
“Beyond being instructive, there were special calls to action. ... The time is now to contact every elected official and tell them where you stand,” he said. “The silent majority won’t win this.”
Louise Winfield, a church member from Washington, D.C., said she was impressed with the number of different organizations working on the issue of gun violence, the schools, police and churches.
“It makes you think if there is a coordinated effort that hasn’t been done before, we are really going to make a difference,” she said.