“There is so much overlap between advocacy for gun violence prevention and what Quakers believe in,” says Peter Murchison. “It’s easy to make that connection and sometimes hard to do the work…. Being pacifist isn’t easy, but with it comes the responsibility to take actions that make our society less violent, and I just think we all need to get off the bench a little bit.”
Peter’s nephew Daniel Barden was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012, which prompted him to begin taking gun violence prevention seriously, but “it probably took four or five years before I actually started to get active about it.” He was spurred, he says, by the activism of the teen survivors of another school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“In my head, I write headlines for op-eds that I don’t get around to writing and one of them is that Sandy Hook knocked us off our feet, but the Parkland kids got us up off our asses.”
Read Peter’s Friends Journal article, “A Quaker Response to Gun Violence.”
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There’s an old Quaker story, probably apocryphal (probably never happened) about a meeting between William Penn and George Fox. William Penn, at that day, was wearing the clothes and customs of the day, including wearing a sword, and it occurred to him to ask George Fox about this wearing of the sword. And he asked him, “How long should I keep wearing– should I keep wearing this sword?” or whatever and the answer was, “You should wear it as long as you can,” and after a while William Penn got rid of his sword. And the point was that Fox didn’t say, “Yeah, I’m telling you as an authority that you shouldn’t have that sword because we’re trying to eliminate violence, not carry around obvious tools of violence.” Instead it was, “the power of that decision needs to come from your heart,” and I love that, and that sort of powers some of my approaches to this.
A Quaker Way Toward Ending Gun Violence
Hi, my name is Peter Murchison. I live in Ridgefield, CT, and I’m a member of the Wilton Quaker Meeting in Wilton, CT.
Gun violence prevention I think of as a big umbrella and “gun control” is a very small element in there. Gun violence prevention can mean that people have a change in heart and decide that they don’t want to have a gun, that a gun doesn’t make them safer, and to me that’s the ultimate way to get there. If magically everyone decided they didn’t need a gun anymore in the United States then the Second Amendment could still be there gathering dust on the shelf and it wouldn’t matter because people decided how they want to behave.
VA Personal Connection to Gun Violence
Well when Sandy Hook happened that’s where we lost my nephew who’s name was Daniel Barden, and that was the start of everything. It probably took four or five years before I actually started to get active about it, it was really after Parkland. In my head I write headlines for op-eds that I don’t get around to writing and one of them is that Sandy Hook knocked us off our feet but the Parkland kids got us up off our asses, and I really think that the students from Parkland really showed the activism that could come out of those experiences and for me that was sort of the motivational inspiration to get started on something, so I did.
Is There a Quaker Responsibility to Ending Gun Violence?
Being a Quaker naturally leads to this kind of work in the sense that one of the fundamentals that we’re trying to do is to eliminate violence, is to– in recognizing and respecting that of God in every person, how can you take a person’s life? How can you try to get along with someone in a way that is just coercive, with weapons to get your way? There is so much overlap between advocacy for gun violence prevention and what Quakers believe in. It’s easy to make that connection and sometimes hard to do the work.
In this country, we have the privilege to say we’re Quakers, we’re pacifists, etc. and with that comes responsibility. In other words, there’s hard work that follows. Being pacifist isn’t easy (I’m not even very good at it) but with it comes the responsibility to take actions that make our society less violent and I just think we all need to get off the bench a little bit.
Getting Involved with Gun Violence Prevention Work
So if people want to be involved in gun violence prevention, again I would say just get started. The first thing to do is just to show up, the first thing to do is to look for where people are needed, but it just starts with participating. Every state also has groups that are working on gun violence and to go online and educate yourself on what’s going on, and then from there try meeting with your legislators perhaps. Try meeting with other faith communities, and again just try to use your stories. Everyone has a story– it doesn’t have to be as tragic as the one that I came from, but stories move people and to get communication among folks that generally don’t agree on things I think we have to move each other.
- How has gun violence affected you and your community?
- Do you believe it’s a Quaker responsibility to end gun violence? Why or why not?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.