The smart-gun controversy came to a North Bethesda church Thursday, where several clergy members and others rallied against the gun lobby.
“I think the more people in our faith traditions can stand up publicly and bear witness to efforts to save God’s children is an effort in the right direction,” said the Rev. Roy W. Howard, pastor at St. Mark Presbyterian Church, where the rally was held.
He and others are trying “to prevent gun violence, which is the prevention of death,” Howard said. “In the most succinct way we are speaking for life.”
For several weeks, the church has been hosting a stark outdoor display of T-shirts representing last year’s gun violence victims that has been traveling to various sites.
The rally was held in response to the pressure brought to bear recently on a Rockville gun retailer who initially planned to sell the 10-round Armatix iP1 smart gun, which can be fired only when the shooter is wearing a special watch or ring with a partnering chip. After receiving what he said were death threats against him and his dog if he sold the gun, co-owner Andy Raymond dropped his plans.
“We are for gun-violence prevention,” Howard said. “We believe we can reach that goal by having safe guns.”
Howard said he and his fellow clergy speakers understood that they were not gun experts, but they felt the need to stand up publicly to save innocent people.
Several speakers called some gun deaths unnecessary because the technology exists for creating safer, smarter guns.
One of the speakers was Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God’s Call. His brother, an FBI agent, and his brother’s partner were gunned down in 1994 in Washington, D.C., by a gun that had a 30-round clip.
Miller called for clips of no more than 10 bullets.
“I don’t see that we’re going to end gun violence,” Miller said. “But what we want to do is bring the gun level down. Instead of losing 100,000 people, we can reduce it to only a couple hundred people.”
The speakers made it clear they are not opposed to guns in the general public, but want to reduce gun accidents such as suicide, gun trafficking and children playing with loaded guns.
“We are in favor of saving the lives of children and others who cannot help themselves, Howard said. “We need to maim evil and all efforts preventing safety in guns being sold.”
Raymond, co-owner of Engage Armament, said that since he dropped his plans to sell the smart gun this month, his business has returned to normal. He said he thinks people should have the option to buy a safer gun if they want one, but they should not be mandated.
“These smart guns would prevent some accidental shootings,” he said. “But those guns can be hot-wired like a car. Technology has a long way to go.”
Raymond said he suggests the low-caliber pistol should be used for only shooting range practice.
“An Armatix pistol is only a .22 right now,” he said. “I wouldn’t never recommend it for home defense.”
Raymond isn’t the first gun dealer to drop plans to sell smart guns after resistance from gun rights activists. A California store made a similar about-face. The gun lobby fears that once a store in the U.S. sells a smart gun, a New Jersey law will kick in, mandating that only smart guns be sold there — and that other states may follow suit.
Page Hawk of Washington, a member of St. Mark, said guns make her uncomfortable and she does not walk at night because of them.
“Too many guns are available, and people don’t understand guns kill,” Hawk said. “I don’t see a reason for guns. Too many are in our area and are used for the wrong purpose.”
Howard said he and his fellow clergy are trying to find a way to influence gun owners and manufacturers to allow safe, smart guns to be marketed.
“The obligation is to protect those who cannot protect themselves,” he said. “This is not an ‘us-against-them,’ but coming together to protect the most vulnerable.”
The next stop for the church’s display of 176 T-shirts is Northern Virginia Mennonite Church in Fairfax.