Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Great Lakes organized an educational storytelling tour with Fred Kauffman, MCC Philadelphia Program Coordinator who has spent years working with gun violence prevention. Kauffman met with schools, churches and small groups in both the Chicago and Goshen/Elkhart areas.
This tour emerged out of MCC U.S.’ three-year “Fear not: Seek peace” campaign that focuses on domestic violence, community violence (mostly from illegal guns) and national militarism. A similar tour took place in the MCC East Coast region earlier this year.
Kauffman gave sermons and led discussions at Centro Cristiano Vida Abundante in Aurora, Illinois, and Faith Mennonite Church and Iglesia Menonita del Buen Pastor, both in Goshen.
On Saturday, March 23, Kauffman led a workshop for Goshen and Elkhart pastors, including a conversation with Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers. In small groups, the pastors and several MCC staff members visited three local gun shops – two in Goshen and one in Elkhart. The exercise was meant to be a learning experience for pastors, most of whom had never previously been in a gun shop. The goal was to learn how gun shops operate and engage in discussions not about gun control, but about how gun shop owners can be allies in the fight to keep illegal guns off the streets.
Kauffman also led a public discussion at Hively Avenue Mennonite Church in Elkhart where concerned citizens gathered to learn and brainstorm. As Kauffman emphasized in each of his presentations, most gun shops are operating in a legal manner. However, guns are getting into the hands of the wrong people through “straw purchasers” who buy multiple guns at legal gun shops on behalf of traffickers who are unable to pass a background check. The traffickers then turn around and sell the guns to anyone on the street with enough money.
Reports indicate that 86% of the United States’ licensed gun shops had zero crime gun traces back to their shops between 1996-2000, the last time these statistics were released. This means that 14% of gun shops accounted for all traces of guns used in crimes. Indiana topped the list of states for numbers of gun shops with at least 200 crime gun traces with 14, and Illinois was a close second with 13 shops.
Working for methods to hold gun shops accountable for knowingly selling to “straw purchasers” is one tangible way to work at gun violence prevention. Legislations such as the “lost or stolen reporting” law and the “one handgun a month” law have been proposed, but lawmakers have failed to pass them.
When talking about these proposed laws, Kauffman makes it clear that legally owned guns are not the focus, but rather making it harder for illegally trafficked handguns to wind up on the streets. “I compare it to stop lights,” said Kauffman. “They’re a pain, and they affect everyone. But we need them.”