SPRINGFIELD — Numbering about 60, a coalition of youth groups and concerned citizens gathered at Memorial Field across Roosevelt Avenue from Smith & Wesson headquarters Friday afternoon to call on executives to work with them to address gun violence.
Joining the groups were two of the state’s Episcopal bishops and a co-founder of Bishops United Against Gun Violence.
Bishop Douglas Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts said he invited fellow bishops to join him to back up youth groups such as Campaign Nonviolence, the Pioneer Valley Project and B-Peace for Jorge as they demonstrated.
“We need to be here for them,” he said. “They understand this is a public health crisis. If we don’t do anything to prevent gun violence, it will be with them for the rest of their lives.”
Fisher said he has tried to approach Smith & Wesson CEO James Debney about what the company can do but so far has been rebuffed, as have others gun control advocates.
“I have written to him asking for a little sit-down time with him, but there has been no response,” Fisher said. “Every time there is a demonstration the organizers bring a letter to the security booth inviting him to talk.”
Fisher said he believes Debney has an obligation to address gun violence, just as car manufacturers must address safety issues with their products.
“We just expect Smith & Wesson to do the same,” Fisher said. “Every time we have a mass shooting we hear the constant refrain. This time maybe we pray for change and not just thoughts and prayers.”
The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Boston, Alan Gates, said he sees Debney as having the same responsibility as the 145 corporate leaders who signed a letter this week urging the Senate to pass stronger gun control laws.
“I am grateful to hear from them,” Gates said. “It’s not just religious leaders saying they have to act conscientiously, but now it’s CEOs as well. We call on Debney to join his fellow CEOs and embrace corporate responsibility. His fellow CEOs said it’s time to be part of the solution.”
Mark Beckwith, former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, and a co-founder of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, said that after the Connecticut shooting that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six teachers, there needed to be a conversation.
“After Newtown in 2012 more than 100 bishops got together,” he said. “Some were gun owners and some NRA members. We needed to create a place to have a conversation about guns. Abortion and guns are the two most polarizing issues in our country. We believe gun rights and violence prevention can work together.”