Build a nonviolent future

Members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace Leadership Team and staff wear orange June 7 to stand for a future free from gun violence. (Provided photo)

We live in the midst of violence. Gun violence. Domestic violence. Violent language. Violence in media. Violence to Earth, our common home. Our senses are overrun with so much violence that we take it for granted as an inevitable part of the fabric of our lives, not even noticing its pervasive presence. Until, that is, stark and very real violence impacts someone we know, a loved one, or even ourselves. Suddenly, its hold on us is crystal clear, and we know: The time is now to build a nonviolent future.

Last year, someone I knew and loved went out one night dancing with friends, as you are apt to do in your early 20s. It was November 7. The bar in question was the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California. My loved one was my niece, my eldest sister's eldest daughter.

Thankfully — no doubt due in large part to knowledge drilled into their muscle memory by active-shooter drills at school — my niece and her companions escaped with their lives. Twelve innocent lives were lost that night, however, including one of my niece's classmates.

I've written about gun violence before, even calling it a social sin, but this time it was my family that was impacted. As I wrote on my personal blog at the time:

Yes it's a cliché that it's different when something like this happens close to home. And this certainly did. My other niece lives down the hill from the club. My sister is a professor up the hill from the club. The shooter is from the town where they went to high school and where their little sister goes to middle school. Given the lack of common sense gun laws, this will happen close to you one day too. We must pray. We must act. We must join together. We must make gun violence stop. Now. Seriously. Now.

My Auntie resolve was high then, and I still firmly believe in the urgency of the call to end gun violence. But how? What are we to do when violence is so entrenched?

Adrian Dominican Sr. Judy Byron has been working to end gun violence by focusing on the corporations that manufacture and sell guns in the first place. I was privileged to spend four years working side by side with Sister Judy at the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center in Seattle. She is unassuming but determined in her corporate responsibility work, using shareholder resolutions and dialogues to effect powerful change, part of a wider coalition of faith based investors. Little by little, victory by victory, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility — a coalition which now includes over 300 responsible investors — has moved the needle on injustice in areas such as climate change, human rights, corporate governance and access to health care.

Two years ago, Sister Judy joined with other investors to focus on gun violence by purchasing stock in companies that manufacture or sell guns. As a result, they were in ongoing dialogue with Dick's Sporting Goods about gun safety in the months prior to the Parkland shooting. When the CEO made the sudden announcement after the shooting that the company would stop selling assault rifles and high-capacity magazines as well as raise the minimum age of purchasers to 21, it was in large part because of the work of this little group of investors. They continue to file shareholder resolutions, raise awareness and engage other shareholders in their activity to promote gun safety.

Last Friday, I joined my co-workers in wearing orange to stand for a future free from gun violence.

The next morning, I logged on to social media only to discover that Anika Browne, my own high school classmate, had been killed, a victim of gun and domestic violence.

To be honest, I had not encountered or even thought of Anika in decades, having lost touch after leaving school. Time and distance became insignificant, however, as I absorbed this sad reality. In my mind's eye, I immediately saw her as I once knew her, a fresh-faced teenager, dressed in our plaid, Catholic school uniform, standing tall and smiling, ready to take on the world.

I was happy to read online that she had in fact made a difference, becoming a special education teacher. I was heartbroken to read that her life was cut short at the age of 46, through gun violence. She was killed by her boyfriend at home in her bedroom in an apparent murder-suicide.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that almost 1,000 women were killed by domestic partners in 2015. An abuser's access to firearms increases the risk of femicide by 400%. Domestic violence incidents involving firearms are 12 times more likely to result in death than incidents involving bodily force or other weapons.

Stark statistics indeed. And yet, I cannot help but look at the recent pictures of Anika in news stories and wonder about how it could have been different in a world free of gun violence. She would still be a presence among us, a strong woman, a caring woman, a woman still ready to take on the world. Instead, hers is a life cut short. I cannot help but think of the special needs students who have lost their teacher. I mourn the loss of this vibrant life to our broken world.

At the same time, I echo the words of the statement of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, "Mourning is Not Enough": "There is much to mourn, but mourning is not enough. Prayers and condolences are not enough. The killing must stop. It is well past time that we enacted sensible gun violence prevention legislation. This is not about protecting the second amendment. It is about protecting the most precious resource we have, the gift of life."

We must stand against violence in all its forms. We must end easy access to guns. Now. Seriously. Now.

[Susan Rose Francois is a member of the Congregation Leadership Team for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. She was a Bernardin scholar at Catholic Theological Union and has ministered as a justice educator and advocate. Read more of her work on her blog, At the Corner of Susan and St. Joseph.]

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