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LI group urges interfaith unity to curb tide of gun violence

Several speakers Sunday called for addressing mental health issues, and reducing violence in movies and video games

Vivian Viloria Fisher, (from left) Jeff Keister, Marcey

Vivian Viloria Fisher, (from left) Jeff Keister, Marcey Wagner and Burt Benowitz discuss ways to curb gun violence Sunday in Port Jefferson Station. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

An interfaith group of clergy members joined Sunday in Port Jefferson Station to call for more gun control measures after the recent Florida school shooting.

Leaders of Muslim, Jewish, Universalist, and other congregations on Long Island urged people of all faiths to work together to reduce the frequency of mass shootings after 17 people were killed in Parkland, Florida, last month.

“I have to believe we do make a difference today,” the Rev. Gregory Leonard, of Setauket’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, said at the North Shore Jewish Center. “It may be small, but it can add up to something larger.”

Several speakers noted that many religious texts call for weapons to be used sparingly and only in self-defense. They expressed frustration with a culture that seems to value personal freedoms over “the common good,” stalling gun control efforts.

“Every moment that has passed since Columbine is an assault on the inherent worth and dignity of the people who have been sacrificed in our delay in acting,” said the Rev. Margie Allen, of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, referencing the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Several speakers called for a multifaceted approach, including addressing mental health issues, reducing violence in movies and video games and voting for pro-gun control public officials.

Dr. Yousuf Syed, a trustee of the Islamic Association of Long Island in Selden, said school shootings have “become a norm,” showing that people have to find a way to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

“These are issues we have to think about very seriously and jointly,” he said. “A gun in itself is not harmful. It is the behavior of man that is responsible.”

Burt Benowitz, owner of Benson’s Guns in Coram, said that when he started his business 45 years ago, local high schools had rifle teams and allowed students to bring their rifles on the school bus in carrying cases.

“There was never an incident. What happened that things have changed?” he said.

The Rev. Chuck Van Houten, of the Stony Brook Community Church, said he briefly considered carrying a concealed weapon to protect his congregation after reading about a mass shooting in a Texas church, referring to the killings in Sutherland Springs last November. He decided against it.

“I would need to live my life in such a way that it’s an example in my faith in God,” he said.

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