Editor’s Introduction: Guns, Violence, Security in the U.S.: What Might the ELCA Say Now?

[1] The April issue of JLE publishes the papers and proceedings from The Lutheran Ethicists’ Network Gathering that was held in January. The conference topic in 2023 was “Guns, Violence, Security in the U.S.: What Might the ELCA Say Now?”

[2] This issue is released the same week as the mass shooting at The Covenant School, in Nashville.  The first funeral for the six victims, for 9 year old Evelyn Dieckhaus, was held Friday, March 31, 2023.  Our hearts break for these 3 children and 3 adults killed, their parents and families, the survivors, and for all those children in other schools who are yet again frightened to realize anew their vulnerability to gun violence even, and especially, in places where they should be safe and secure to learn and to play.

[3] That there would be a mass shooting the same week as this issue is released is statistically predictable.  Indeed, mass shootings have become statistically normal in the United States. (gunviolencearchive.org) Shootings in school have become also common.  There were 46 shootings in schools during school hours in 2022 in the United States, and 74 people have already been killed or injured by guns in American schools in 2023.[1] In 2020, gun violence became the most frequent cause of death for children under 19 in the United States. It has remained the most common cause of death for children for the last three years. We know we ought to find a way to keep our children safe. The question, “What can we do?” reverberates.

[4] Gun violence is not a new topic for JLE or the ELCA.  In 1994 the ELCA created a social message on gun violence[2] which was developed after social policy resolutions were passed at churchwide assemblies in both 1989 and 1993.  In 1996 a memorial was passed by Women of the ELCA that addressed gun violence against children.  In 2013 the Conference of Bishops issues a Pastoral Letter on Violence, and between 2013 and 2019, there were at least eight public messages from the Office of the Presiding Bishop in response to specific gun attacks and mass shootings.  In 2016, the ELCA adopted an additional social policy resolution on Gun Violence Prevention.[3] In 2020, JLE published an October/November issue on Gun Violence and Childhood Trauma.[4] In 2021, Bishop Eaton issued a statement on gun violence following mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. In 2022, the ELCA issued a response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

[3] At the LEG conference, there were two papers presentations, a panel, and a group discussion aimed at providing notes for the ELCA to consider as notes for further conversation in the ELCA and as reference material if the church considers a social message on the topic.  In this issue, we are publishing the two papers and the collected notes from the dialogue. The LEG conference was organized by the Lutheran Ethicist Network.

[4] The first paper, given by Per Anderson, is titled “An Assessment of ELCA Social Policy and Public Witness.  Anderson suggests new opportunities for reframing the conversation about gun violence.  In the United States, he explains, much of the focus on gun violence has been concentrated on a debate about access control.  However, he notes, there is wide spread disagreement about who should have access to guns and what guns. Anderson argues that we, in the ELCA, ought to broaden the discussion to include a focus on community responsibility and public health rather than simply on individual rights to access.

[5] The second paper, “Understanding and Misunderstanding American Gun Culture and Violence,” was given by David Yamane. Yamane explains several common views concerning gun culture that Yamane argues are misunderstandings.  He believes that to address the problem of gun violence in America, we need better to understand gun culture and its relationship to violence and to consider paths forward that view gun owners as part of the solution.

[6] The panel was given on the topic of Gun Violence Prevention, Locally & Beyond.  Presenters included Amy Lawless, the Chicago Metro leader in Industrial Areas Foundation, Sheri Williams, the leader of the Northwest Chicago Suburbs—Moms Demand Action, and Yolanda Androzzo who is the Coalition and Programming Director from OneAIM Illinois. These three activists brought vital perspectives and practices, providing insights from local communities and on the ground organizations.

[7] Finally after the annual meeting, the group worked together to identify elements to reframe conversation and action. The notes, which Rebecca Ninke and I compiled, make up the final part of this issue. These notes do contain suggestions for further action.

[8] In the wake of this last shooting, we find ourselves, yet again on our knees praying for peace for the families and friends of the victims, whom the God who knows the pain of crucifixion surely has in his care.  But we also pray that the light of insight might inspire us and the courage of the Spirit might ignite us to make the necessary changes to make our nation safer.



[1] Manuela Lopez Restrepo.  74 people have been killed or injured by guns at Americans schools this year. March 29, 2023.  Npr.org

[2] elca.org/faith/faith-and-society/social-messages/community-violence

[3] http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Gun_Violence_Prevention_SPR16.pdf

[4]  October/November 2020: Gun Violence and Childhood Trauma (Volume 20 Issue 6)

Jennifer Hockenbery

Jennifer Hockenbery serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics .  She is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at St Norbert College. She attends Grace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.