LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Deanna Hollas’ daughter was in college in Texas in 2016 when that state enacted a “campus carry law,” allowing people 21 and older with concealed handgun licenses to take their weapons onto public university campuses.
That didn’t sit well with Hollas.
“I felt like she wasn’t going to be safe,” she said. Statistics show that the chances of being fatally shot increase when there’s a gun in the home. She thought they probably increased when one was in the classroom, carried by a student who may not have fully understood the risks. That worried her.
She joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, an organization that advocates for gun control, and started visiting lawmakers in Texas, petitioning for gun violence prevention efforts.
This month, Hollas — now the Rev. Deanna Hollas — was ordained by the Presbyterian Church USA, the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States, as a minister of word and sacrament. Her new job title is gun violence prevention minister — the first position of its kind in the nation, the church says.
Making gun violence prevention a priority
The Presbyterian Church USA has more than 1.7 million members in more than 10,000 congregations, its website says.
Hollas, 52, who is based in the Dallas area, will oversee over 800 local Presbyterian gun violence prevention advocates across the country and work toward making churches more active in preventing gun violence, a role she says will be different for each place. She will help people at different levels of the church stay involved and informed about preventing gun violence.
The church had been outspoken about gun control since the assassinations of people like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy in the late 1960s, calling for stricter laws around the sale and possession of firearms.
In 1998, the church called on Presbyterians to work toward removing guns from their homes and communities, citing safety reasons.
And in 2010, it adopted a resolution urging its congregations to be active in preventing gun violence.
But the church had never hired someone to oversee its efforts, and work done at the top was not necessarily trickling down into individual congregations. In conversations with churchgoers, Hollas said, none could remember a time when their congregations had specifically spoken about gun violence.
“It’s the intentionality that’s hopefully going to make a change,” she said.
Moving beyond left vs. right
Hollas’ appointment comes in the midst of what some politicians and advocacy groups are calling a gun violence epidemic. CNN evaluation shows that college shootings have been rising more than the previous decade, and the US Centers for Illness Handle and Prevention says just about that 40,000 Americans died by guns in 2017 — the highest level in just about 40 years.
Just this week, at least 3 people today had been killed in a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California.
“Our function as a church is to not care and like ourselves but to care and like our neighbors,” Hollas stated. And component of that is maintaining them secure.
Hollas grew up about guns in Texas, so she has some familiarity with firearms. She’s not against them — she’s even had them in her residence — but she desires to hold people today secure.
“When I speak to people that are normally gun-rights people, the very first issue they say is that we just want to take their guns away,” Hollas stated. “And that is not correct.”
She is hoping that her background with guns will enable her connect across each sides of the challenge.
But in the end, it really is not about getting left or correct, liberal or conservative. Getting from traditionally conservative Texas, Hollas anticipated some opposition from gun-rights supporters in the church, but she stated there hasn’t been any.
“I feel it really is due to the fact people today are just tired of this. Persons are tired of young children getting shot in their schools people today are tired of the higher numbers of gun violence in communities of colour people today are tired of dying by suicide,” she stated.
The conversation, she admitted, at times gets stuck in liberal vs. conservative, left vs. correct. And at times churches do not want to speak about these divisive difficulties due to the fact they are afraid of generating waves — but she says that is specifically what they should really be performing.
“I want to move beyond red and blue and be about Christ,” she stated. “This is not a political matter, it really is a matter of life and death, and what we’re named to do as Christians is to bring life.”