Albuquerque Forum on Gun Violence

(After Fr. John Dear’s talk, a panel responded with there reflections, then questions from the audience. The Panel included a city council member; a state senator; the district attorney; the head of the NAACP; the head of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence; and a leading church pastor in Albuquerque.)
Dear friends, for my part I’d like to share a few thoughts on faith communities, gun violence and the culture of violence, some basic convictions about peace and nonviolence; and then propose a vision for Albuquerque and New Mexico, before we hear from our great panel.
Faith communities are supposed to bring people together in love and peace, to help heal one another and uphold a vision of love and peace. We all love Albuquerque and New Mexico and want to help end gun violence, and we’re all reeling from the gun violence here and around the country and the world, such as the shootings in Orlando; of the unarmed African American men killed by police in St. Paul and Baton Rouge; the killing of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge; along with Sandy Hook and Aurora and Charleston and massacres elsewhere and our ongoing drone attacks and bombings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. We’re in an epidemic of violence, with permanent war, racism, executions, poverty, hunger, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, and if we don’t end it, it will destroy us.
Gun violence, in particular, is so unnecessary. 30,000 people are killed by guns in our country every year. Ninety people are shot every day in the U.S. There are more guns than people in the U.S. If guns make us safer, as we’re told, we’d be the safest country in the world, but we’re not. Americans are 20 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than people in other countries. So we have these daily killings and massacres and no legislation to stop it. New Mexico, as you know, is ranked the eighth worst state for death by gun violence. Gun violence here has been 40% higher than the national average; it’s a favorite state of gun traffickers; from 2001 to 2010, 2932 people were killed by guns in New Mexico; in 2010 NM was the number one state where women were killed by men with guns. In 2013, the third leading cause of death for children was homicide by guns. Of course, gun violence comes within the whole context of New Mexico. We usually rank the poorest state in the country, number one in domestic violence, suicide, drunk driving, child hunger, worst education, and number one in nuclear weapons and military spending.
Albuquerque, in particular, has almost daily gun-related violence; violent crime is nearly double the national average; and police violence is recognized as some of the worst in the country. The NY Times recently published a devastating article called, “Goodbye Albuquerque, the land of violence,” about the brutality and killings by police, especially on the homeless and mentally ill.
What do we do? We all have to do what we can to end gun violence, which means we have to organize and mobilize and join NM for Gun Safety and speak out and work for sane, reasonable legislation to register and restrict guns, to train our police not to use guns first, to get at the roots of our violence, and ultimately, to work for a new Albuquerque, a new New Mexico, not as a land of violence, but as a land of nonviolence. So I’d like to invoke Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez who taught that we can reject violence, that there is a better way forward, the way of nonviolence. They call us to become people of nonviolence who work for a new culture of nonviolence where not one child, not one person is killed in Albuquerque or New Mexico or anywhere, where we do not spend our money on preparations for war, but for food, housing, education, healthcare, employment, dignity and nonviolent conflict resolution.
Dr. King’s nonviolence says that we are all sons and daughters of the God of peace, which means we are sisters and brothers of one another, and we could never hurt or kill anyone, or sit back and do nothing in the face of this epidemic of violence. Nonviolence means standing up and getting involved publicly to end the violence and working for a new culture of nonviolence. It’s a way of life; a methodology for positive social change; and a spiritual path to the God of peace. So nonviolence is power. Nonviolence is not passivity but active love and truth that seeks justice and peace for everyone; resists systemic violence; persistently reconciles with everyone; and pursues unconditional, all-inclusive love, with the bottom line that we do not kill anyone any more. We work to stop the killings and we pursue a new future of peace for all.
In my book, “The Nonviolent Life,” I propose that nonviolence requires three simultaneous attitudes—first, being nonviolent to ourselves; second, being nonviolent to every other human being, all creatures and the earth; and third at the same time, being part of the global grassroots movement of nonviolence. I hope you will get a copy and my other books in the back.
Let me add, too, that nonviolence is at the heart of every religion. Islam means peace. Judaism upholds the magnificent vision of shalom. Hinduism is exemplified by Gandhi’s nonviolence. Buddhism is all about compassion toward all living beings. And brace yourselves, despite what you might think, even Christianity is about nonviolence.
Gandhi said Jesus was the most active practitioner of nonviolence in history, and the only people who don’t know that Jesus was nonviolent are Christians. Jesus taught and practiced active, creative nonviolence. He called us to love our neighbors, love our enemies, offer no violent resistance to one who does evil; turn the other cheek, and take up the cross in the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace. His last words to his faith community before he was killed were, “Put down the sword.” A modern translation would be: “Put down the gun.” Christians are followers of the nonviolent Jesus, which means, Christians are people of nonviolence, which means Christians are not allowed to be violent, or engage in gun violence, or build bombs or wage war; Christians pursue Jesus’ vision of nonviolence. So all of us, all the faith communities in Albuquerque, all Christians in Albuquerque, need to practice nonviolence and work to end gun violence and all violence.
But people say, no, that’s just not possible, there’s nothing we can do. That’s because one of the casualties of our culture of violence is the loss of our imagination; people can’t imagine Albuquerque or New Mexico without gun violence, or bombs. We have no vision, we can’t see the way forward. Our violence has blinded us. You and I have to help people reclaim their imagination; to help people see the way forward. We have to offer a new vision. That’s what faith communities do. They uphold the vision of where we go, of what we could be. That’s what the Abolitionists, led by faith communities, did. They lifted up the vision of a world without slavery, where everyone is equal, and they built a movement to make that happen. That’s what the Civil Rights movement, led by Rev. Dr. King and the faith communities, the black churches, did, lifting up a dream, and building a movement to end segregation and racism. That’s what we have to do—to lift up a vision of what Albuquerque and New Mexico could be—not a land of violence, shootings, killings, guns, poverty and bombs, but a land of nonviolence.
I work with Campaign Nonviolence, and we teach and promote nonviolence across the country, and every year, we have a week of action in September, this year starting on Sept. 18th, we hope to have 500 demonstrations across the US, in every state, against war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction, and for a new culture of peace. We’ve also launched another national project called “Nonviolent Cities.”
Last year, I was speaking in Carbondale, Illinois, and heard how they were coming together in a city wide movement to pursue a new vision of what their city could be, a nonviolent city. They created a coalition, a steering committee, and a city-wide week of action and called it, “Nonviolent Carbondale,” and now everyone in the city is pursuing this vision. We now have 35 other cities in the US where people are working to make their city a nonviolent city. You can read about this at and see our brochure.
So tonight, I’d like to invite us to do the same thing: to set a new goal and proclaim a new vision, to work for “Nonviolent Albuquerque,” even a new nonviolent New Mexico. For me, this is the only vision worth pursuing, and it is doable. To make this vision come true, all of us need to get involved to end gun violence, to demand reasonable legislation for background checks. But also, we need to connect the dots and seek a more holistic, city-wide, state-wide nonviolence, which means, we work to get at the roots of our culture of violence, and work to end racism, poverty, homelessness, child hunger and violence at every level and in every form; to end police violence and train and institutionalize police nonviolence; to end domestic violence and teach nonviolence between spouses, and nonviolence toward all children; to end gang violence and teach nonviolence to former gang members; to teach nonviolence in every school to every student in every grade; to reform our prisons and educate guards and prisoners in nonviolence and move toward restorative justice; to end environmental destruction and pursue alternative energy; and to get rid of our nuclear weapons.
I remember some young people in one of my parishes asking me, “Why do have to be nonviolent when down the road the government builds nuclear weapons that can kill millions of people?”
That’s a fair question and that’s why we have to be consistent in our nonviolence. There are more nuclear weapons here in this city, down the road at Sandia and Kirkland, perhaps 1900 nuclear weapons, ready to go, than any other city in the world, except a city in northern Russia. The billions going into nuclear weapons right here in Albuquerque are a total waste, not to mention immoral and sinful. We need that money for jobs, education, healthcare, food, housing and a new culture of nonviolence.
Tonight, I call all of us to work to end gun violence, and to uphold a new vision of a nonviolent Albuquerque, a new nonviolent New Mexico; to preach this, teach this and organize for it; to build a new grassroots movement of nonviolence here in our city and throughout our state to make this vision come true; to elect and support leaders who will enact legislation for a more nonviolent city and state. We can do this. We are not powerless. We have power, the power of nonviolence to transform our city and our state.
But everyone is needed. We need everyone, every person of faith, every teacher, every elected official, every young person, every police officer, every reporter, everyone, to work for a nonviolent Albuquerque. No one can do everything but everyone can do something.
Let me end by telling you about my recent experience with New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence when we went to the state Capitol in Santa Fe to speak at an open hearing of the legislature on background checks for gun purchasers at the gun shows where people walk in and buy automatic machine guns.
The room was packed with NRA members. The vast majority of NRA members support background checks, but as I talked with them and listened to them, I was amazed at their anger and their commitment to guns at any price, and I kept wondering why. It could be that they are filled with fear, that they place they trust not in God but in guns. It could be that they felt empowered with guns, that guns gave them power. But I think in the end, guns gave them their identity. So I think our work is much deeper, much harder than we realize. As faith communities, we have to help each other find out who we are, to reclaim our true identities.
Nonviolence means remembering who you are. With violence, we lose our identity. So this work is critically important, it’s the heart of the spiritual life, to help each other reclaim our true identities as the beloved sons and daughters of the God of peace, sisters and brothers of one another, people of nonviolence who are empowered through the power of nonviolence to build a culture of nonviolence right here in Albuquerque and throughout the world.
My hope and prayer is that we will all do what we can to end gun violence, that we will proclaim a new vision of nonviolence for our city and state, and work for a new culture of nonviolence, a new nonviolent Albuquerque, where no one is killed, where everyone practices nonviolence, where gun violence and all violence are a thing of the past, so that Albuquerque and New Mexico become what they were intended to be–a land of nonviolence.
Thank you and God bless you.