In January, about a month after the massacre that left 27 people dead in Newtown, Connecticut, Vice President Joe Biden met with a group of 12 religious leaders to discuss national strategies to combat gun violence. President Barack Obama, who supports background checks as well as a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazine, had tasked Biden with heading a commission to come up with recommendations on gun policy.
One of the leaders present at Biden’s meeting was Pastor Michael McBride, a native of San Francisco and an Oakland resident. “Pastor Mike,” as he is known in the Bay Area, currently serves as Pastor for The Way Christian Center in West Berkeley. He also heads the Lifelines to Healing Campaign, a faith-based effort to reduce gun violence, focusing on inner cities.
McBride’s campaign organizes congregations to advocate for policies and resources that they believe will lead to violence reduction in their communities. The campaign particularly addresses community problems caused by mass incarceration, as well as the need for better access to jobs and opportunities “for those coming out of jail and those who are in the high risk of shooting or being shot,” said McBride.
During the meeting with Biden, McBride spoke about the “tragedy of urban violence” and discussed possible solutions to this problem. He also talked about his campaign and his intention to raise awareness of the violence surrounding young people in communities of color.
In this recent interview with Oakland North, he reflects on gun violence and national strategies to curb the problem.
ON: Tell me about the highlights of your meeting with Vice President Joe Biden.
McBride: I was invited to join in a conversation with the vice president and other 11 faith leaders from all across the country, to seek advice around the packages of proposals that he was preparing for the president in response to the Newtown shooting.
I was very explicit in that meeting and I shared a story of a young man from my congregation who was killed by gun violence in 2010. I shared with the vice president that it was a very emotional and traumatic funeral that I had to oversee, with 500 young people. Half of them have been to over ten funerals, by their own admission. And I just shared that, you know, the shootings in Newtown are a tragedy, but I live in a community where Newtown happens every day. And we need to have targeted approaches to addressing gun violence, not just universal strategies.
So I asked about the packages, to make sure they were comprehensive in such a way they will target investments in public safety, education and opportunity for the 20 to 40 highest cities that are impacted by gun violence.
ON: What is the importance of religious leaders such as yourself addressing the problem of violence?
McBride: Our faith teaches us and compels us to oversee the peace of our cities. It’s a very old prophetic proclamation in the scriptures. We have moral voice, moral authority, that we believe must be injected in all of these conversations.
Then, more importantly, we are the ones burying children. Another one of my young people, a 17-year-old, was just killed in Oakland. So I have a responsibility, as well as other faith leaders, to bury children and console hundreds.
We will not sit on the sidelines from this conversation. This is a conversation for the wellbeing of our family. Every NRA member should be pro-family, and I’m telling you that the proliferation and availability of illegal weapons are destroying our families. So we have a moral responsibility to speak out against it. The people of faith will not be silent about this.
ON: Why do you believe violence should be addressed as a national issue?
McBride: Most gun laws need to be legislated federally because when you have state-by-state laws, people are able to go to other states and buy weapons, even if their states tell them that they are not able to. So to create uniform gun regulations or stronger gun laws, it needs to be at a federal level.
For example, California has one of the strongest gun laws in the country. In the last 10 years, we had a 40 percent reduction in gun violence. But we still have problems with illegal weapons trafficking because our neighboring states have weak gun laws. People drive to Nevada, New Mexico, they drive to Arizona, and they buy weapons and bring them back into our community. And they largely end up contributing to the crimes that take a lot of our people’s lives.
ON: What are the main causes of violence in Oakland?
McBride: I think that there are a number of reasons, but I don’t know if violence is unique to Oakland. I will list a few things, not in order of importance, just by observation.
If it was not the access to guns in our community, I don’t think we would have this violence that continuous to be a profound and tragic problem.
I certainly think that there is a significant challenge around the relationships between law enforcement and our communities of color, [which are] most impacted by gun violence. We need to work on improving those relationships and to make sure we have quality law enforcement services.
Some other challenges are issues around poverty, lack of opportunity, the access to quality education, quality jobs. I think we need to make sure we are investing in building people up, and not just locking them away in jails. And then I think there is also just the challenge of access to quality health services, whether it is mental health, emotional health, or physical health. I think all of those things are colliding together to produce this kind of challenges we have today.
I also think drug, alcohol and other addictive lifestyles prey on our young people, our families’ lives. I think those are some of the main factors that need to be identified, and we are working with a great amount of urgency and commitment in the community to try addressing all of those issues properly.
ON: What is your response to the arguments of the groups who back pro-gun initiatives?
McBride: I don’t believe this is a conversation that threatens the Second Amendment at all. All of our laws have certain kinds of limits and this is not about taking anyone’s rights away. We support people’s rights to legally own weapons, own their guns. What this is about is the right for all of us to be able to live free in communities, from the fear of gun violence. So, you know, all of our conversations with the NRA brothers and sisters have been to assure them that no one is trying to take their guns, no one is trying to infringe upon their rights to own gun. We are trying to make sure that we have reasonable laws in place, make sure that guns are not falling in the hands of criminals.
ON: What is the next step in your campaign?
McBride: On March 16 and 17 we will be leading a national “Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath.” We [will have] 1,000 faith congregations all across the country. We are inviting all families and members who have been impacted by gun violence to turn out to their local congregation. People will be bringing pictures, we will be sharing prayers and hearing testimonies. We will also be encouraging people to call their Congress members, because I think we need to lift our voices if we want to address gun laws.
For more about Lifelines to Healing Campaign, visit: www.lifelinestohealing.org