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March 25, 2013

Talk in Elkhart focuses on gun violence

ELKHART — What can we do about gun violence in this country and in our own back yards?

That question set the framework for an informal community discussion held Saturday evening in Elkhart on the topic of gun violence and trafficking in Elkhart County and beyond.

Hosted by Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes, the small event kicked off at 7 p.m. at the Hively Avenue Mennonite Church, 800 E. Hively Ave., Elkhart, and featured the Rev. Fred Kauffman, MCC Philadelphia program coordinator and gun violence specialist.

A strong advocate against gun violence for years, Kauffman shared personal stories regarding his past work on gun violence, most recently in the city of Philadelphia, where he currently resides. Kauffman also augmented his talk with a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation detailing some surprising statistics related to gun violence around the country.

During his talk, Kauffman pointed to the fact that in 2011, Philadelphia police confiscated more than 4,600 illegal guns. At a cost on the street of about $250 per gun, Kauffman noted that the total street value of those guns reached more than $1.1 million — one reason why the sales of stolen and illegal firearms remains a huge business in many communities.

While purchasing a gun legally in Indiana requires numerous steps to try and keep felons and other criminals from purchasing guns, Kauffman pointed to what he calls “straw purchasing”, or having someone who can legally purchase a gun purchase it for someone who cannot, as another big reason why illegal gun sales continue to be a problem in this country. Kauffman said it is very uncommon for gun shops known to sell guns to suspected straw purchasers to be held accountable for those sales.

Kauffman also pointed to the strength of gun advocacy organizations such as the National Rifle Association as a reason for lack of comprehensive gun laws in the United States.

As an example, Kauffman mentioned a defeated Pennsylvania law, the “Lost or Stolen Reporting” law, which would have required a person whose handgun is stolen to report it to police within a certain period of time or face possible liability if the gun is found to have been used in a crime.

A poll, taken in 2007, reportedly found that 96 percent of voters supported the bill. However, when the House of Representatives went to vote on the bill, two-thirds voted against it.

“Why?” Kauffman asked. “Because of the organized power of the gun lobby, in particular the NRA. So (the House) went with the four percent (who opposed the bill).”

In another statistic, Kauffman noted that typically just 15 percent of all gun shops account for all crime gun traces.

“A very small number of gun stores are the source of crime guns,” Kauffman said. “The vast majority of gun shops are really sporting shops.”

And according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, just 1 percent of gun shops make up 57 percent of crime gun sales.

In discussing what can be done to try to curb the growing gun violence in this country, Kauffman said his first suggestion is to get the illegal gun trafficking under control by getting gun shops on the right side of the issue.

“I really think the key is holding gun shops and managers accountable... so this kind of illegal trafficking doesn’t happen,” Kauffman said. “Someone is making a lot of money off of it. I think that’s the real issue.”

Kauffman said he feels it is incredibly important for religious institutions such as MCC to continue to recognize gun violence as one of the prevailing trials of society today, and to do what they can to stop it, whether that’s holding peace vigils at murder sites, contacting local politicians or even volunteering at local schools and youth organizations to try and spread the word that there are other options out there for solving problems than gun violence.

“I think the church recognizing gun violence as a peace and justice issue is just so important,” Kauffman said. “We’ve got junk in our backyard that we just have to take care of.”

Karen Hoover, a Goshen resident and attendee of Saturday’s meeting, agreed.

“I’m very against guns,” Hoover said. “I came tonight because I’m anti-gun, and anything that has a discussion of violence and guns I want to be involved in, because I’m very concerned. So I’m just here trying to absorb as much information as I can, because this is everybody’s problem, and I think people are finally starting to wake up to that fact.”

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