WV In the News
February 21, 2017 The Lens – Episcopal News Service
Priest in America’s ‘murder capital’ brings public-health approach to gun violence prevention
Episcopal diocese aims to mobilize parishes as St. Louis’ homicide rate spikes
The Rev. Marc Smith, at an Easter service in 2016, was vicar at Church of the Ascension in St. Louis before being named the Diocese of Missouri’s deputy for gun violence prevention. Photo: Church of the Ascension.
[Episcopal News Service] St. Louis has been called America’s “murder capital” after a recent spike in gun violence that resulted in more killings per capita than any other major U.S. city.
Chicago recorded the most total homicides in 2016 at 762, but for a smaller city like St. Louis, its 188 killings last year are part of an alarming local trend that has prompted a renewed focus – including by the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri – on the causes and possible solutions of such violence.
“One death is too many,” the Rev. Marc Smith said, but developing a plan of response to 188 deaths defies easy answers. “Looking for the elegant, simple solution is wrong,” he said. “It is an incredibly complex problem.”
Smith is the Diocese of Missouri’s point person in the search for answers. Last year, he was named by Bishop Wayne Smith to the newly created position of deputy for gun violence prevention, and this year, the diocese and community are beginning to see some of the early fruits of his efforts.
One of his tasks is to help 36 community organizations coordinate more effectively on the issue of gun violence, but he’s also trying to mobilize Episcopalians at the parish level to work toward a tangible first goal: giving away gun locks to gun owners.
Accidental shootings and suicides often are overlooked in the debate over gun violence, Smith said, but this danger is “probably the easiest to solve.” He sent a letter to clergy in the diocese earlier in February outlining the diocese’s new partnership with Washington University’s School of Medicine and a group called Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice to support the group’s Lock It for Love initiative.
Barbara Finch of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice demonstrates a gun lock at a Lock It for Love booth in October. Photo: Women’s Voices Raised
Lock It for Love aims to reduce the frequency of suicides and accidental shootings by children by distributing gun locks for free. Since April 2015, Women’s Voices Raised has given out about 1,500 gun locks to families, mostly at health fairs and similar events, president Lise Bernstein said.
“Sometimes the issue of gun violence can just seem overwhelming and frustrating and depressing,” Bernstein said. The focus on gun locks was a way to rally the community around a hands-on solution to one slice of the larger problem.
“We are very much interested in engaging as many people in the community as possible in addressing this issue of kids and keeping kids safe,” Bernstein said, “so the interest of the diocese is very welcome.”
Bernstein and Smith also share the belief that gun violence should be tackled as a public health issue, an approach that draws on Smith’s experience as a health care administrator, including more than a decade as president of the Missouri Hospital Association.
Smith, who grew up in the St. Louis area, left the health care industry to become an Episcopal priest and was assigned in 2011 to his first congregation, the Church of the Ascension on St. Louis’ north side. About six months into the job, he remembers attending the wake and funeral of a woman who was killed in a drive-by shooting. It was a somber scene he would witness again and again in the city.
“The sense of desperation and hopelessness and powerlessness is crippling,” he said.
The opportunity to tackle the issue directly for the diocese grew out of ongoing conversations he was having with Bishop Smith about gun violence and public health solutions. The bishop asked last year if Smith would work toward those solutions in a new role with the diocese, and Smith agreed to take it on.
“Preventing gun violence is a critical issue in the communities of Eastern Missouri, especially St. Louis City and County,” Bishop Smith said in a written statement to the Episcopal News Service. “I am glad that parishes in our diocese can find a focus for mission in this work, and Marc Smith, with his passion and experience, is well-suited to provide leadership for it.”
National concerns, local solutions
Much of the national attention has been focused on Chicago’s dramatic surge in homicides, which even prompted President Donald Trump to suggest he would send in federal authorities if the trend isn’t reversed.
But while Chicago may have outpaced the United States’ other largest cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Houston, smaller cities like St. Louis, Detroit and New Orleans have suffered from much higher rates of homicide per capita. St. Louis recorded nearly 60 homicides per 100,000 people last year.
The national murder rate, despite remaining under the elevated level seen in the 1990s, also has risen over the past two years, and the possible causes, from gang activity to policing policies, are hotly debated.
At the local level, gun violence prevention often emphasizes the practical. In St. Louis, for example, Smith said there is a group of black clergy known as “homicide ministers” who reach out to victims’ families, attend funerals and provide assistance as it is needed. The Episcopal diocese is developing a plan to partner with the ministers.
Smith also is looking for additional, simple ways for Episcopalians to get involved.
“So many people have expressed a desire to help, and yet most people are not inclined or well equipped to be homicide ministers,” he said.
He has asked each congregation to identify one parishioner to serve as a liaison to the diocese as it coordinates efforts. Each congregation can support Lock It for Love in its own way, such as by holding fundraisers for the money to buy the gun locks or by sending volunteers to help promote the campaign at health fairs.
Smith hopes this initial project will inspire Episcopalians in the St. Louis area to get active on the issue of gun violence and eventually help expand the diocese’s outreach in ways that will address some of the underlying causes.
“Regardless of the debate over gun safety and constraints on guns, young people are still going to kill young people,” he said. “And toward that end, I want our limited resources to try to minimize that from happening, to help families pick up the pieces and not get caught in a cycle of retaliation.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Riverfront Times Reports on Our Gun Violence Virtual Vigil
December 12, 2016 read article here
Fox 2 News Interview Regarding Gun Safety
December 12, 2016
see interview with Andrea Bauman of the Common-Sense Gun Solutions Committee here.
KMOV TV Reports on Lock It For Love Program
November 28, 2016
See video here
Guns and Children
October 22, 2016
KPLR, Pulse of St. Louis panel discussion included Lise Bernstein, president of Women’s Voices and Ruth Ehresman, board member (speaking on behalf of Vision For Children at Risk)
188 Gun Locks Given at Back to School Event
July 25, 2016
After the NCJW Back-to-School Store at which Women’s Voices gave 188 gun locks, St. Louis Public Radio published an article on our program. It includes interviews with Lise Bernstein, president of Women’s Voices and Barbara Finch, co-chair of the Common-Sense Gun Solutions Committee. Read the article here.
Lock it for Love Featured on FOX 2 & Channel 11
KPLR Channel 11 June 25 Pulse of St. Louis segment on gun violence and children features Women’s Voices president Lise Bernstein; Barbara Finch, co-chair Campaign for Common-Sense Gun Solutions and Bo Kennedy, emergency room physician at Children’s Hospital. Watch here
Fox 2 News, St. Louis featured the Women’s Voices Lock It For Love program on their June 23 newscast. The segment aired several times over a period of days. See it here.
June 15, 2016
Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger credits Barbara Finch of Women’s Voices for encouraging him to write a column on gun violence.
April 16, 2016
KPLR Channel 11 featured 4 Women’s Voices members on a panel discussing the impact of poverty on children.
April 14, 2016
KSDK Channel 5 news coverage of the Women’s Voices program on “Gun Violence Through the Lens of the Law”.
April 1, 2016
Women’s Voices coordinated a gun give away held at St. Louis City Hall. Coverage from the media included an announcement by KSDK Channel 5 and a report on KMOV TV Channel 4
Remember, Reflect, Respond: Candlelight Vigil
December 13, 2015
The St. Louis community gathered to remember victims of gun violence in our community and to commemorate the third anniversary of the Newtown school massacre. See links below to media coverage.
Women’s Voices Speakers on “St. Louis on the Air”
Speakers Richard Baron, co-founder and CEO, McCormack Baron Salazar and Sandra Moore, president of Urban Strategies, talk with radio host Don Marsh about their “Vision for Urban Development: Places & People” prior to the Women’s Voices program held November 12. Listen here
TV Coverage of Lock It For Love Program
August 30, 2015
Following a vigil for Carter Epps, a 2 year old who shot himself in Hanley Hills, Barbara Finch, Co-chair of the Women’s Voices Common-Sense Gun Solutions Committee was interviewed on Channel 2 news. See interview here.
August 26, 2015
Following the news of the death of a 21 month old child who shot himself, KMOV TV interviewed Women’s Voices president Lise Bernstein and gave information about the Lock it For Love program. See the interview here.
August 22, 2015
KMOV TV interviewed Women’s Voices president Lise Bernstein about the Lock It For Love gun safety and gun lock distribution program. See the interview here.
August 13, 2015 – St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Legislative committee is misguided in investigating Planned Parenthood
Having proudly worked in abortion care for many years (not at a Planned Parenthood), I have followed the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood Federation of America closely. Here is what I know. A fake organization infiltrated meetings of abortion care providers for three years, pretending to be colleagues who needed fetal tissue for life-saving research. They secretly recorded meetings, edited those recordings heavily, and used them in a stunning attempt to stop abortion care.
Yet, their efforts are failing. Nearly two-thirds of American voters said they opposed a proposal to strip federal funds from Planned Parenthood (poll conducted by Hart Research Associates in July after release of the videos) and the Department of Justice is investigating the organization that produced the videos.
Meanwhile, here in Missouri — where no Planned Parenthood affiliates sell or donate fetal tissue — the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life is investigating Planned Parenthood. The name “Sanctity of Life” is ironic. If the Legislature were truly pro-life, this committee would be investigating why we have not expanded Medicaid to cover 300,000 low-income Missourians. Why children in Missouri go hungry. Why schools are not required to provide medically accurate sexual health education. And why it is so difficult in high-poverty areas to obtain Pap tests, breast exams and birth control.
The committee’s investigation is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. Imagine the possibilities if instead the committee worked to meet the real needs of Missourians.
Allison M. Hile • Webster Groves
Board secretary, Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice
May: Women’s Voices president Lise Bernstein named a St. Louis Woman of Achievement for social justice. Video featuring honorees here. Her portion begins at about 3 minutes 44 seconds.
May 9: Channel 2 news reports on Women’s Voices Lock it For Love event
April 27: KMOX radio talks about Lock It For Love initiative
April 25: letter to the editor from Women’s Voices president Lise Bernstein
April 19: St. Louis Public Radio article on Eight Months Post-Ferguson program
March 11: St. Louis Public Radio News – Leaders seek to better understand, address emotional toll of violence on children
February 12: St. Louis Public Radio News – White Privilege Seminar Explores Race
January 8, 2015: St. Louis Public Radio News – Investor Advocate: Buy Stock, Gain A Voice
•September 8, 2014: The Missouri Times
•April 30, 2014: St. Louis American
•April 11, 2014: Webster-Kirkwood Times
•April 5, 2014: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
•June 21, 2011: St. Louis Activist Hub
•December 20, 2011: The Occasional Planet
•April 21, 2006: Webster-Kirkwood Times