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May 9, 2000 GC-046

General Conference calls for ban on handguns, other weapons

CLEVELAND (UMNS) – The United Methodist Church adopted a resolution calling for a ban on a wide range of weapons, including handguns, on May 9.

The inclusion of handguns in the ban made the resolution one of the most debated pieces of legislation voted on by the delegates to the 2000 General Conference. The 992 delegates are meeting through May 12 to enact legislation and policy statements for the United Methodist Church, which has 9.6 million members worldwide.

Delegates voted 724 to 205 in favor of the statement on weapons, which will be included in the church’s Book of Resolutions. Before adopting it, delegates rejected a proposal to remove handguns from the list of weapons that the church would like barred from private ownership.

The attempt to remove handguns from the list prompted several delegates to voice concerns on both sides of the issue.

Comments in favor of taking handguns off the list centered on defense of self, home and family.

"If someone breaks into my home in the middle of the night to do bodily harm to myself or my wife, I can’t pull out the Book of Resolutions and say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a United Methodist. I’ve got a position on this,’ " said the Rev. Scott Kelso of Pataskala, Ohio.

Other delegates, who wanted handguns included in the list, cited the high levels of gun violence and the frequency of accidental shootings among children.

"If we’re really the disciples of the Prince of Peace, shouldn’t we speak against guns? Guns are destroying our society," said Jeremiah Thompson, a student from Kankakee, Ill. "They’re destroying my generation. They’re destroying future generations."

The Rev. Beverly Wilkes of Springfield, Ill., rose to say that handguns should be included in the ban because they are a cause of accidental deaths of many children. "We are calling for America to disarm itself for the sake of our children and for the sake of too many others who died too soon." She urged leaving policing to the professionals and limiting private gun ownership to those who hunt.

Delegates approved a proposal to modify the resolution by directing it to the U.S. government and to the governments of other countries where the United Methodist Church is present.

The full resolution calls for governments to outlaw "ownership by the general public of handguns, assault weapons, automatic weapon conversion kits and weapons that cannot be detected by traditionally used metal-detection devices."

During the same morning session, delegates rejected a proposal for eliminating the denomination’s Board of Church and Society, the agency that works on social issues such as gun control. Almost 70 percent of the delegates refused to abolish the organization after a discussion.

One delegate said he wanted the board eliminated because it voices positions with which he does not agree. He cited the board’s stance against the Boy Scouts’ ban of gays and its involvement in setting up a fund to pay a lawyer for Elian Gonzalez’ father. Another delegate responded that people must get the full story about such issues before they condemn the board.

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-- Joretta Purdue

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