ELKHART — “There is something that is undeniable in the soul of our nation that is very violent.”
So said Fred Kauffman, a man on a mission to slow down the flow of illegal guns in the U.S., and to educate communities about the underlying issues related to gun violence.
Kauffman is a Mennonite pastor from Philadelphia, and on Saturday, March 23, 2013, he gave a presentation at Hively Avenue Mennonite Church, where a group of more than 30 people gained new perspectives and then discussed what could be done to make a difference.
“We have to jump in our backyards. Vigils are important,” said Kauffman.
“This has to stop, this is ridiculous,” Kauffman and other religious leaders from the Philly area came to realize as gun trafficking and violence was getting completely out of control. Together, they became involved in an attempt to establish a responsible firearms-retailer partnership among local gun shop owners.
Their vigilant efforts eventually led to a demonstration and arrests in front of one Philadelphia gun store, whose owner refused to sign a “Code of Conduct” to reduce illegal trafficking of guns.
Kauffman is the MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) Philadelphia Program Coordinator, whose congregation partners with Kingdom Builders Anabaptist Network of Greater Philadelphia, a group of 28 congregations and 12 ministries, and their goal of constant vigilance to inspire hope, raise voices, and take action to end gun violence is “Heeding God’s call.”
Handgun trafficking has become a major problem in America, and “straw purchasing” has compounded the problem. Kauffman talked about how the girlfriends of criminals and others who are unable to pass the required background checks are able to walk into gun shops and purchase multiple handguns, which their boyfriends will then distribute. “Gun shops are rarely held accountable for selling guns to straw purchasers,” said Kauffman.
Indiana has 1,334 licensed gun dealers — “twice as many as post offices” according to Kauffman — and on Saturday Kauffman and other religious leaders visited several shops within our area. The group visited Midwest Gun Exchange in Mishawaka to talk about “straw purchasing,” and were told “that most illegal guns are stolen.”
According to “Fear not: Seek peace” a MCC campaign that focuses on domestic violence, community violence (mostly from illegal guns), and national militarism, 85 percent of shops don’t have guns traced back to them, 15 percent do and the top 3 percent have most of the traces.
Kauffman told the group about the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts distribution of information on gun crime traces. “It prevents the public from knowing where crime guns were traced to original sale,” he said.
“The number of people that die from assault weapons is small,” said Kauffman during his presentation. “The majority of gun deaths are by illegal handguns.” The pastor said that 50 percent of gun related deaths in his hometown are because of disputes, and both parties are carrying illegal handguns.
“One thing we can do is let our senators and representatives know how we feel,” said Kauffman, who in conjunction with MCC Great Lakes will continue to seek ways to establish peace within our communities.
The “Gun Violence Prevention Storytelling Tour” will include stops at schools, universities, and churches.