About 30 members of Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ hammered hundreds of white crosses into the grass outside the church Sunday, creating a visual reminder of how common mass shootings have become in the United States.
Each of the approximately 650 crosses bore the name of a city or town in the United States where a mass shooting has occurred since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the Rev. J. Gary Brinn said.
“We said, ‘how can we make this visible?’ ” Brinn said of the shootings. “‘How can we educate them [the community] on this issue?’ And this is what we came up with.”
The church also had a sign in the yard with a picture of a handgun that read: “Defend Life, Control Guns.”
“We don’t have the answers to the problem,” said Gail Kieser, of Bohemia, president of the church’s board. “There are people in our church who are members of the NRA. The goal is to make people aware and start a conversation . . . we’re not trying to tell you how to go about it.”
The congregation started working on the project after The Guardian newspaper published a report in October finding that 994 mass shootings — defined as those with four or more victims — had occurred within 1,004 days in the United States, including the Oct. 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, that left 10 people dead.
“We’re bearing witness to the sheer number,” said Sylvia Ramsaywak, 51, of Sayville, a deacon elder at the church.
Since its original report, The Guardian has updated the number of mass shootings in the United States to 1,052 in 1,066 days, including the San Bernardino shooting Wednesday that killed 14.
Several drivers honked and waved in support as they passed by the church, but Brinn said he’s prepared for some angry feedback.
“Of course there’s going to be backlash,” Brinn said. “That’s not going to stop this congregation.”
He said the church was nonpartisan, but officials hope the congregation and community will be motivated by the crosses to reach out to their representatives in Congress, calling for more gun control.
John Cushman, founder and president of the Commack-based Sportmen’s Association for Firearms Education, said further gun regulation won’t stop mass shootings and if guns became illegal in the United States, the only people who would have them would be the government and people willing to obtain them illegally — those most likely to harm others. He said more regulations would take away guns from people who would use them legally.
“You have to allow the people the ability to defend themselves,” said Cushman, also a board member of the NRA, although he said he wasn’t speaking on the organization’s behalf.
Next weekend, Sayville Congregational will be one the houses of worship across the nation to observe the third annual National Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend. The Dec. 10-14 effort includes synagogues, mosques and various churches.
The interfaith vigil for victims of gun violence is projected to include 1,000 houses of worship seeking to educate one another on strategies to reduce gun violence.