The memorial on the little stone church in Treme is known by the public as “The Murder Board”. Since 2007, as pastor of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, I have been researching and then posting the names of victims of violence on our Victims of Violence Memorials. For a time, the memorial was a worthy backdrop for stories about murder in New Orleans. Today, a certain kind of passivity and exhaustion has embraced our community.
Our records indicate that well over 2,000 victims of violence have been memorialized. In fact, a new display is being designed and installed soon that will recall a decade or more of these tragic deaths. Each victim has a name, an age, and manner of death. It is a multigenerational litany of names that began on January 1, 2007 with Corey Hayes age 28. Names include Todriana Peters age 12, shot; Isaiah Adams age 3, shot; Linda Paquette age 66, shot. Over 95% of the deaths record “Shot” as the cause of this tragic and overwhelming loss.
“Shot”. Just absorb the sound of that for a moment. There can only be one conclusion as you stand and see the image of so many names of our fellow humans.
The weapon of choice is a gun. Yet, the State Legislature and one Senator Jay Morris suggest that we eliminate any restrictions to gun ownership with what is dubiously called the “Constitutional Carry” law or more properly SB 118. He argues spuriously that the current law(s) encumber only law-abiding citizens, that criminals sidestep them and so we must, he argues, open the armory for any and all comers.
This permissiveness will encourage greater loss of life. In a letter signed by both Fabian Blache of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police and John Gallagher of the Louisiana Municipal Association asking that this bill be killed, they cite a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research which shows that a liberalized gun law (in an already liberal gun law state) has the effect of increasing violent crime by 10-15 percent over the following decade. Is that where we are going with this gun rights bill?
The market of legitimate and illegitimate weapons is already flooded. Should we make it easier for someone to simply go buy a gun without any training, without any background check, without registration? If the answer is “Yes”, then how much better are we as a state and society than the black-market dealers that sell weapons out of the trunk of a car?
The entire notion of what this bill says about us should sicken us. We are saying that we don’t care anymore. We are saying that legitimate responsible gun ownership is somehow a distant memory.
I am not going to dispute the Supreme Court’s decision which allows private gun ownership as a constitutional right. There are limitations, however, on virtually all of our Constitutional Amendments. A gun bought during a spontaneous moment of anger in a spousal abuse situation will come to no good end. Disturbed individuals, some of whom have access to gun ownership, should be subject to red flag laws rather than opening the armory.
Has our collective memory forgotten MAD, “Mutual Assured Destruction” as a policy of statecraft in the 1960’s? Did we not learn that deescalating, not escalating, made the world a safer place? Should that not be the direction that our local, state, and national policies take us?
Whether our legislature overrides Gov. Edwards’ veto or not, we need stronger gun laws as a matter of conscience and as a symbol of our anthem that “Love Wins.” That anthem can and should mean more than same sex marriage. It should mean that we live that reality, “Love Wins.” For the sake of the over 2,000 names that have been read in churches all over New Orleans as victims of violence these past years, SB 118 should not be made into law. When is enough, enough?
[Note: On July 20, the LA Senate’s motion to override the Governor’s veto of SB 118 failed to pass.]Fr. Terry has been Rector of Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans since 2003. He is also currently Adjunct Faculty at the Tulane University School of Medicine and has for over a decade been the primary spokesperson for the Victims of Violence Memorial. Fr. Terry is a graduate of both Tulane and Loyola Universities and is a native of New Orleans. He was also awarded a Kellogg Fellowship in 2019 and he continues to promote issues of social justice and equity within the community. He has been featured on CNN’s 360°, NPR’s State of the Re:Union, the documentary film Shell Shocked as well as numerous other news and media outlets.