Photo from Maine Gun Safety Coalition

Dozens of Episcopalians were among the hundreds of Mainers gathered at the Maine State House in Augusta on January 3—the first day of the new legislative session—to press for gun safety reform. Among them was The Rt. Rev. Thomas J. Brown, Bishop, whose photo, along with other local clergy, appeared on the front page of the January 4 edition of the Portland Press Herald.

Supporters of reform carried signs demonstrating that they came from a wide variety of perspectives: “Retired Farmer/Educator for Gun Safety,” “Nana + Nurse for Gun Safety,” “Gun Owner for Gun Safety.” They heard from Arthur Bernard, whose son, Arthur Strout, was killed in the October 25, 2023 shooting at Schemengee’s Bar and Grill in Lewiston—one of the two Lewiston locations where 18 people were murdered and 13 were injured in the country’s worst mass shooting last year.

The January 3rd Gun Safety Day of Action was organized by the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, founded in 2000 in response to the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. The Episcopal Diocese of Maine’s Director of Public Advocacy John Hennessy and Director of Faith Formation Emily Keniston led the effort to urge clergy and church-member participation. “The diocese has been advocating for common-sense gun safety reform in the legislature for years,” said Hennessy. “Unfortunately, the tragedy in Lewiston has brought the issue home in ways that some people thought it never would.”

Photo from Maine Gun Safety Coalition

On a national level, The Episcopal Church has been lobbying for stricter gun laws since at least 1976, when resolution 1976-C052, Urge Congress to Adopt Effective Hand Gun Control Legislation, was adopted at the 65th General Convention. “Religious Americans overwhelmingly support common sense policies aimed at gun violence prevention,” said Hennessy. “One study found that most Americans affiliated with a religious community—84 percent of Buddhist, Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim—support background checks for all gun sales.”

Since the Lewiston massacre, several Maine legislators have proposed bills addressing reform, although details of the proposals are not yet available. Despite its relatively low rate of gun violence, Maine ranks twenty-fifth in the nation and second-lowest (in front of New Hampshire) for gun law strength, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. 

“I do believe the environment is different now. More people realize that doing nothing is not an option,” said Hennessy. “Our policymakers have the opportunity to craft Maine-specific solutions to gun safety reform that will make us safer. We need a balanced portfolio of solutions that include meaningful behavioral health initiatives as well as thoughtful gun safety legislation.”

While the turnout for the Gun Safety Day of Action was impressive, it was just the first step on a road that Hennessy, and other advocates hope will lead to real change. To further advance the cause, the Episcopal Diocese of Maine is partnering with the Maine Gun Safety Coalition to collect stories from people about why they are passionate about gun safety. If you are interested in participating, reach out to the diocesan communication team by fill out the form below.

Gun Safety Stories

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