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Sikh, Other Faith Groups Urge Stronger Gun-Control Legislation

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 | 03:13 pm

With the Capitol in the background, faith representatives spoke in front of a field of three thousand crosses, khandas and other religious symbols, to urge Congress to pass stricter gun-control laws. The markers represented the number of gun deaths since the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Photo Source: Sikh News Network

Reporting from Washington – A gun cannot be equated to be a modern-day Kirpan, and must be controlled by stronger laws to prevent mass shootings, a Sikh group said.

“I believe that the Kirpan, as a symbol, it reminds us that we must act for justice in society,” said Rajwant Singh, head of the Maryland-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education. “It is a reminder for our duty in the world and in society that we must stand for the defenseless.”

Rajwant Singh was among 30 representatives of different faith groups that urged legislators to pass stricter gun-control laws. They spoke at a news conference on April 11 at the National Mall, a grassy area between the Washington Monument and the Capitol, where a heated gun-control debate is still under way.

“I think it’s an important cause, important effort for all religious-based organizations to get together, speak and voice and express against gun violence, which has impacted everybody, not only one community but whole American community,” said Manpreet Singh of Laurel, Maryland, also representing SCORE. Some efforts are being made at the political level. “We would like to see more.”

But one Sikh disagrees with them on how to defend the defenseless. In the March 13 lawsuit brought against the state of California for banning military-style, semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, Gursant Singh Khalsa argues that the ban violates Sikh doctrine.

“Decrees from the tenth Sikh Guru state in the most vigorous and clear words that a Sikh’s conception of God is the sword of dharma,” he says in the court documents, referring to the Dasam Granth, a text that only has a small number of passages attributable to Guru Gobind Singh. “Not only the sword but every weapon became an attributive symbol of God for the Sikhs.”

Gursant Singh also says in the court documents that the California ban violates his First Amendment rights to practice Sikhi because he cannot use those kinds of weapons to fully defend himself or others against injustice.

“For Sikhism, the Kirpan is a symbol of justice,” Rajwant Singh said. “(The) Kirpan is a symbol, not a weapon. Even when during the Gurus’ times when the Amrit ceremony was introduced, Sikhs carried hundreds of other weapons… But this symbol, in gatra, was kept, even if you had all the other weapons.

“We took a stand and we raised our swords against those people who were invading India or they were killing people in Punjab or they were killing innocent people and taking innocent women and children, and killing them,” Rajwant Singh told SikhNN. “Similarly, when we see weapons of mass destruction, assault weapons, military-style weapons, acquired by people who are criminals, or who are suffering from severe mental illness… how can we not do anything?”

He and the other faith representatives took a stand last week and asked Congress to craft and support legislation that would ban military-style assault weapons and large capacity magazines, require universal background checks and stricter gun trafficking laws.

“I believe there is no sort of incompatibility of taking a stand against assault weapons and weapons that destroy so many lives, and sticking to the principle of justice represented by Kirpan in Sikhism.”

Faith representatives spoke at a podium that stood in front of a field of three thousand crosses, khandas and other religious symbols. The markers represented the number of gun deaths since the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

But the actual toll was already hundreds more and climbing, said Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners, a Washington-based Christian group that advocates for social justice. They did not have enough crosses, he said.

Many speakers expressed their anguish at having to perform funeral services for too many victims, especially young children, and having to console their parents and families.

"America, we do not have a Second Amendment crisis, we have a Second Commandment crisis,” said Mathew Crebbin, senior pastor of the Newtown Congregational Church. “The near infatuation with the gun is moving dangerously close to becoming a full-blown worship of a false idol. We have vested the gun with power and sacredness far beyond its ability to deliver.”

Thousands of faith representatives joined Crebbin and others from Newtown in writing a letter to members of the Senate, asking them to pass legislation for stricter gun-control laws, he said.

But perhaps the most poignant appeal came from Pastor Samuel Saylor of the Blackwell Memorial AME Zion Church in Hartford, Connecticut. Holding a photo of his slain 20-year-old son, who was a “mamma’s boy,” he said he could not run fast enough from the gunman because he was physically disabled. Saylor then sobbed uncontrollably.
“And who has the responsibility to change?” Rajwant Singh said. “Three thousand people died in 9/11 and we let go of so many of our freedoms to make this nation secure so there is no terrorist attack again. And what about now?

“What kind of nation have we become when we are giving our children drills to save themselves from senseless violence in the schools and colleges? Isn’t that shameful for a nation to have that kind of environment?”

“Is the need for sensible gun control a religious issue?” said Rabbi David Saperstein is the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “You bet it is. A gun-flooded, violence-prone society has turned weapons into idols. My friends, the appropriate response to idolatry is sustained moral outrage.”

Naunihal Singh of North Potomac, Maryland, stood beside Rajwant Singh.

“We came here to support the gun legislation (because) our Sikh people are very much concerned after what happened in Wisconsin,” he later told SikhNN, referring to the Aug. 5 massacre at the Oak Creek gurdwara. “I hope they will pass legislation with complete background checks and… (an) automatic-weapons ban. There is no purpose for that in a civilized society.”

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