As President Obama and our representatives in Washington debate gun-violence prevention measures, many in the African American community are saying, “It’s about time!”

While gun violence may be an abstract concept to many in Washington, to many African Americans it is all too real. African American clergy, especially, are on the front lines of this battle, comforting families that have lost their young ones to guns, and healing communities torn apart by violence. Every day, 268 people in America are killed or injured by guns. African American communities bear much of that loss.

This week in Los Angeles, I will join 75 other African American clergy from around the country to sign a covenant in support of policies preventing gun violence. The covenant calls for increased congregational and community dialogue on gun safety and gun-violence prevention strategies; increased education on the tension between legal and illegal ownership and use of guns for protection and for preservation; increased advocacy with other local community-based prevention organizations to show the impact of gun-related deaths and violence on diverse communities; increased role of parents and guardians as peacekeepers as the first line of defense to address and reduce gun violence, and increased communication strategies with legislators at all levels to ensure values-based harm-reduction policies that enhance gun safety and security for all families and communities.

Just as our neighborhoods suffer the most from gun violence, our neighborhoods must provide the seeds for a grassroots movement to overcome it. Just as clergy must comfort the wounded, clergy must be the change agents for a ground-up movement to free our streets from violence.

African Americans know what it means to hold on to hard-won constitutional rights. We know well what it means to protect our homes and our families. But Wild West gun laws have only hurt us. We cannot ignore the reality that, according to the Violence Policy Center, “For the year 2007, Blacks represented 13 percent of the population yet accounted for 49 percent of all homicide victims. Eighty-two percent of the 7,387 Black homicide victims were killed with guns.
The homicide rate among Black male victims is 37.59 per 100,000 while the rate for White male homicide victims is 4.63 per 100,000.”

We cannot ignore the reality, reported by the Children’s Defense Fund, that “eight children were killed each day in 2011 by gun violence, half of whom were Black.” We cannot ignore the reality that gun violence is the leading cause of death among Black teens ages 15-19.

The horror of recent mass murders have, understandably, drawn the attention of the media and politicians. But the attention does not have to be an either/or situation. There is a connection between all lives lost to gun violence, whether at a mass shooting at an elementary school, a neighborhood drive-by shooting, or in any other tragedy. That connection is not about competition but about compassion for all victims and all survivors.

Far too many communities are ravaged daily by individual stories of gun violence and individual stories of heartbreak. Stories that broke through in the media like that of Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago teenager who was shot dead just one week after performing at President Obama’s inauguration, made national news, but the story was sadly all too common for her neighbors and those who live in her city.

African American clergy walk with our congregants from birth to death. Too often, we bury children and young adults whom we recently baptized, prepared for college, or spoke with on Sunday morning only to receive a call on Sunday evening. We know the pain of gun violence. We will help strengthen the movement to reduce, prevent, stop it. We will speak out about our experiences and encourage our congregations to do the same. We will call on our elected leaders to adopt common sense gun-violence prevention measures and encourage our communities to do the same.

Now is the time for this movement to start in the pews and end at the polls to change the story, change public policy and change the future for all American families.
Minister Leslie Watson Malachi
Director, African American Ministers Leadership Council