Presbytery of Philadelphia

Resolution on ‘One-Handgun-a-Month’ Legislation in Pennsylvania -

Adopted by vote of the Presbytery of Philadelphia on July 25, 2006

WHEREAS:  A rising tide of handgun violence affects all corners of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:  to wit, in the year 2005 Philadelphia endured 380 homicides, the highest total since 1997, the vast majority of them by handguns; York experienced seven handgun deaths in six days; Allentown exceeded its annual record for homicides by September; and neighborhoods in Pittsburgh have exploded in gun violence; and

WHEREAS:  According to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 76% of the guns used in the commission of a crime in Philadelphia that were recovered and successfully traced, and 81% of those used in the commission of a crime in Pittsburgh that were recovered and successfully traced were originally legally purchased within the Commonwealth; yet nearly 87% of those traced guns in Philadelphia and over 91% of those traced in Pittsburgh were not in the possession of their original, legal purchaser when used in commission of a crime; and

WHEREAS:  The Commonwealth’s existing gun laws make multiple handgun purchases easy and cheap; and encourage the illegal trade in handguns and the cruel and vicious violence that results.  The linchpin of the illegal handgun distribution system in our Commonwealth is “straw purchasing” of handguns in bulk by technically eligible individuals who actually are stand-ins for prohibited felons gun traffickers, who then resell them across kitchen tables to drug dealers, on street corners to violent teens, and out of the trunks of cars to gang members; and

WHEREAS:  By limiting purchases to no more than one handgun in a 30-day period, this legislation would seriously disrupt straw purchasing in bulk and drive down the availability of handguns on the street.  All of which would make handguns far less prevalent and thereby reduce handgun injury and death in our region.  There is substantial evidence that laws limiting handgun purchase by individuals to one handgun a month have effectively reduced illegal handgun trafficking, without negative impact on lawful gun ownership, in Virginia, Maryland, and California; and

WHEREAS:  A recent survey demonstrated that most Pennsylvanians (78%) and even most Pennsylvania gun owners (61%) support enactment of a “one-handgun-a-month” law; and

WHEREAS:  The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a nearly forty-year history of support for gun control legislation stemming not only from a concern for peace and justice, but also from Biblical imperatives; to wit,

  1. The sixth commandment, “Thou Shall not kill,” not only forbids killing; it also implies that we are obligated to prevent harm and to preserve life and the well-being of human life;
  2. Both Isaiah and Micah call us to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks; and
  3. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers by saying “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Children of God”;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED:  That the Presbytery of Philadelphia call upon the House, the Senate, and the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to enact and sign a moderate limit on the purchase of handguns by individuals.   Colloquially known as the “One- Handgun-a-Month Bill” (in the 2005 Legislative Session, House Bill No. 871 and Senate Bill No. 1002), the purpose of this bill is to disrupt the illegal distribution system that makes handguns available to felons, drug dealers, and violent teens in the Commonwealth and other states and encourages gun violence. 

BE IT FURTHER RSOLVED:  That the Presbytery instruct the Stated Clerk to communicate this resolution to the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, the chairs of the House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary, and to the Senators and House Representatives who represent a geographic area within that of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:  That the Presbytery of Philadelphia urge the Presbytery staff and appropriate committees to work vigorously and continually towards enactment of the aforesaid One-Handgun-a-Month legislation, until such time as it is signed into law.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:  That the Presbytery of Philadelphia encourage its appropriate committees and individuals to provide educational materials and resources to Congregations in the Presbytery to make them aware of, and to educate them about, the epidemic of gun violence besetting the Delaware Valley and the Commonwealth, its causes and effects, and how enactment of One-Handgun-a-Month legislation will reduce the illegal trade in handguns and resulting gun violence, and to encourage the Congregations to seek enactment of said legislation, corporately and individually.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:  That the Presbytery request appropriate presbytery staff and committees to contact the moderators of other Presbyteries in Pennsylvania to seek their active and vigorous support for the enactment of the One-Handgun-a-Month legislation.

AND FINALLY BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:  That the Presbytery request appropriate Presbytery staff and committees to contact the Judicatory leaders of other denominations and faiths in the Commonwealth, as well as other appropriate groups, to urge them to take similar action to that memorialized by these RESOLUTIONS among their institutions, congregations, and congregants.