Men and women of faith gathered on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall on Monday, May 30, to remember the victims of recent mass shootings. (Photo Courtesy of Edward Anderson)

A collection of 24 organizations gathered on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall on Memorial Day, May 30 to remember the victims of the mass shootings in Buffalo, Laguna Woods and Uvalde, denounce the evils of gun violence and call for gun reform.

The vigil was attended by numerous organizations, including LA Voice, the Black Jewish Justice Alliance, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the San Fernando Valley chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

“The vigil was in three parts,” explained Rev. Edward Anderson, LA Voice’s South LA Regional Community Organizer and pastor of McCarty Memorial Christian Church, who helped to organize the event. 

“The first part was to mourn and acknowledge the mourning and grieving for communities, and pretty much our nation at this point, with the violence,” Anderson said.

“The second part [was] calling out the evils that caused this to happen. And then the last part was a call to action.”

Some of the evils that cause shootings to happen, Anderson said, include white supremacy, toxic masculinity and the worship of gun culture in the US.

In terms of action, Anderson is calling for the passage of common sense gun laws, like background checks, and holding elected officials who continue to let such violence perpetuate accountable. 

As a man of faith, Anderson knows about the importance of prayer but said it is not enough to stop gun violence.

“Prayer alone is not going to get us to this place where we have peace on earth or a united front or a place where all can thrive and find their fullest self-dignity,” Anderson said.

“Part of one of the speeches had someone talking about evangelicalism. And the call was, ‘you’re Christian too’ …  ‘be bold about what the Bible actually says, and be clear in your message. Don’t allow people to distort your faith and give it a sort of moral narrative.’

“In order to get rid of violence, you need love, you need justice and hell cannot illuminate itself — you need heaven for that,” Anderson continued. “And so we have to become those bearers of justice to actually move forward.”

Anderson believes that violence in all its forms must be eradicated, but said that gun violence should not be a necessary evil for Americans to keep their guns. He said that when the Second Amendment was first written, the landscape of the country was vastly different; musket weapons could only fire one round at a time before they needed to be reloaded. 

And, as he put it, “People weren’t buying cannons for their personal use.”

Anderson said in addition to common sense gun laws, automatic and semi-automatic weapons should be banned in the country, pointing out that other countries don’t have the same amount of gun violence that is seen in the US.

“I think we need to move towards a moratorium on gun sales in America,” Anderson said. “I think we should move toward common sense gun laws in America. And that eventually, we should get rid of all things that will bring harm and violence to our communities. 

“That’s the end goal. We should eradicate and get rid of those things in our society because we don’t need it. We really don’t.”

It makes no sense to him that minors in California can’t purchase alcohol or cigarettes until they’re 21 years old, but — in certain cases — obtain a Firearm Safety Certificate at age 18, which is required to purchase or acquire firearms. He also said an AR-15, which he calls a “weapon of war,” is not meant for recreational use.

“We do this ritual where we’re outraged, we pray, we protest and then it happens again,” Anderson said. “We have to stop the cycle.”

Although Anderson continues to fight for gun control, he admitted that the constant cycle of tragedy and the lack of action does wear him down. He recounted an instance when there was a meeting between approximately 30 clergymen in the room, where they were asked what they wanted to do in the wake of one such tragedy.

Anderson said the room was silent for 30 minutes.

He said that there are moments when these types of tragedies occur when he feels empty and almost numb and that he has to figure out how to protect his own mental health so he doesn’t become completely numb to the violence. 

“How many lives have to be sacrificed at the altar of violence for us to get it?” Anderson said. “And then there’s this urgency of, ‘Well I have to keep fighting for the possibility that it may change now.’ That’s heavy, it’s taxing, very tiring and very depleting.

“But I believe, what we are called to do, especially as people of faith, that’s what faith says we have to do.”

As a Christian pastor, Anderson said he is able to find strength in his faith to keep going forward. One of the biblical passages that give him strength, especially these past two weeks, is when Jesus goes to Jerusalem and cries because the people “have not learned the ways of peace.”

Anderson continued that Jesus jarred people out of their comfortability with radical actions, such as the flipping of tables in the temple.

He said the passage reminds him of his mission — that Jesus is still crying. The question that remains is whether people have enough faith to take action to disrupt the status quo, even in the midst of such pain.

“We had folks [on Monday] from all the major ‘traditions’ of the world” — meaning religious faiths — “and the message is, ‘we’re united because the grief and violence is real for everyone, and that it will only be defeated when we are together,’” Anderson said.

“[We should] also recognize and acknowledge that people are more than just hashtags and ‘names,’ they are lives that were taken away … by these mass murderers.”