Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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March 21, 2013

Pastors, public will talk about local gun violence, trafficking

GOSHEN — Two events, one for local pastors and one for the public, will look to shed light on the issues of gun violence and trafficking in Goshen and Elkhart County.

The Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes will host a pastors workshop on gun trafficking and violence in Elkhart County with the Rev. Fred Kauffman, MCC Philadelphia program coordinator and gun violence specialist. The workshop will be Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at MCC Great Lakes office at The Depot, 1013 Division St., Goshen.

The event is free. Pastors are asked to take their own lunch or plan to purchase one at the event.

The community presentation will be Saturday night at 7 at Hively Avenue Mennonite Church, 800 E. Hively Ave. in Elkhart.

The event will include a statistical analysis with information on gun violence and the availability of guns in Elkhart County.

Jorge Vielman is the peace and justice coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes and this is the first year for a local event.

“This is the second such event we’ve done, “ said Vielman. “The first was in Philadelphia. Goshen was chosen as the location for the Great Lakes Region. I think it is very relevant to talk about ways to have a more peaceful community,” said Vielman

Les Gustafson-Zook, constituent relations coordinator for MCC Great Lakes, said the event was being held in Goshen because it made sense logistically more than to address any rising gun violence in the area.

“With the MCC being in Goshen and with a lot of interested parties in the area, it made sense,” said Gustafson-Zook. ”We know Goshen isn’t a high-crime area.”

According to the Goshen Police Department, in the last five years there have been 17 arrests in incidents involving firearms.

Pastors will look at gun violence information before heading out into the county and visiting local gun shops as part of the day’s events.

Gustafson-Zook said the gun shop visit shouldn’t be construed as political or a form of protest.

“I think very few pastors have had the opportunity to visit gun shops,” said Gustafson-Zook. “This gives them a chance to build relationships with people who are selling guns in the community. This is not meant to be antagonistic.”

Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman said it was important to look at gun violence and trafficking issues. Though the mayor noted that he didn’t believe there has been a steady rise in either.

“I’d say it ebbs and flows,” Kauffman said.

“When you have instances like the recent murder-suicide or the murder of the professor (who was beaten and stabbed in 2011), those are a horrible set of circumstances,” said Kauffman. “But it doesn’t indicate a trend. My gut tells me (gun violence) is down.”

Mayor Kauffman has been vocal about his support of gun control legislation. Namely, the mayor is in favor of tracking all gun purchases, closing private purchase and gun show loopholes, to help eliminate straw purchases. He said that he would also support such measures as eliminating high-capacity ammunition magazines.

David Capp, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, said that gun indictments in the greater South Bend area have gone down a bit. Project Disarm, a task force aimed at lowering gun violence in the area, has yielded 560 gun prosecutions and removed 2,100 firearms off the streets in northern Indiana over the last eight years. The average sentence for those convictions is four years.

The South Bend area, which includes Elkhart County, has seen 70-plus firearms convictions. Capp didn’t have number specific to Goshen or the county.

Capp said the task force has shifted focus to organized street gangs and that may account for a drop in numbers.

Capp said events like the ones Saturday are a way to engage more people on a vital issue.

“I think it’s important for all citizens to understand this,” said Capp. “We need a dialogue regarding firearms.”

For more information on both of Saturday’s events, contact Vielman at jvielman@mcc.org or Gustafson-Zook at lmg@mcc.org or call 574-534-4133.

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