The Washington National Cathedral, a symbol of unity among faithful Americans, was the site of a politically divisive event promoting gun control on Sunday.
Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, and the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral, exited the church service to participate in a event based on a theme of “beating swords into plowshares.”
The gun-control leaders donned protective eye gear and took up hammers to bang on the gun parts that blacksmiths had turned red from heat.
Before the dramatic performance in Northwest Washington, I interviewed Mrs. Edelman about her goals.
“This is a public health crisis,” the longtime liberal activist said. “The NRA has blocked gun violence research, so most parents don’t know that having a gun in the home puts themselves and their children in more danger.”
“The NRA and the gun manufacturers are selling guns to people by making them believe it will make them safer!” she railed. “The gun manufacturers are even marketing guns for 4- and 5-year-olds.”
I asked where she saw those advertisements for guns for preschool children. Mrs. Edelman paused and then told me to call Josh Sugarman, a radical anti-gun proponent who founded the Violence Policy Center.
Mrs. Edelman seemed particularly animated when talking about the more than 5 million members of the National Rifle Association.
“We can beat the NRA,” she said. “Most members of the NRA support background checks and a reasonable ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.”
I asked Mrs. Edelman if she was aware that gun violence had decreased steadily in the past 20 years.
She pointed at me and said, “A child is shot and killed every three hours in this country!”
According to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 380 children age 14 and under were killed by firearms in 2010, and 1,337 among those age 15 to 17.
Mr. Hall, wearing his clerical collar, echoed Mrs. Edelman’s words in saying the church’s events were intended to “put a spotlight on gun violence as a major public health crisis.”
I asked the clergyman if he was aware that gun ownership has gone up in this country but that gun crime has gone down.
“Those of us who are opposed to gun violence need to work with gun owners to lessen gun deaths,” he said.
I asked if, by that reasoning, he was saying gun owners supported gun violence. He said that is not what he meant.
The dean said he represented “a faith community, standing in the center to find consensus.”
I asked who was represented this day on the side opposing gun control.
“This is not about the Second Amendment,” he answered. “This is about putting the spotlights on gun deaths.”
The priest said he was not speaking on behalf of the Episcopal Church but insisted, “Everything I’m saying consistent with the church’s position since 1976 on gun violence.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Hall spoke at Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s press conference in support of her new “assault-weapon” ban, which got only 40 votes in the Senate in April.
Asked about it now, he answered, “I don’t think it is going to pass because the NRA is against any regulations of guns.”
Raymonde Charles, a spokesman for the Children’s Defense Fund, said the event at the church was co-sponsored by Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the Metropolitan Police Department, which provided the “illegal, confiscated guns.”
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s spokesman told me Saturday that the gun parts were not illegal because they were “inoperable.” However, that is legally irrelevant under city laws. Most of the pieces being used to bang into shovels appeared to be barrels, though one was attached to a receiver.
“Active guns can’t be on cathedral grounds,” Ms. Charles explained.
Actually, guns can’t be outside the home in the District of Columbia at all. And all firearms in the city must be registered.
But enforcing the multitude of gun laws on the books didn’t seem to be a high priority for this group. Neither does recognition of the fact that no gun-control law had ever led to a reduction in violence.
The cathedral is one of the most visited tourist sites in Washington because it is a place of unity of faiths. It should not be used for political grandstanding.
Emily Miller is a senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times and author of “Emily Gets Her Gun” (Regnery, 2013).