Seattle’s proposed solution to their gun problem: God

Seattle is brainstorming ways to deal with the recent increase in gun-related violence in the city…and I’m a little skeptical of the idea proposed by Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell:

Harrell says he’s spoken with a number of pastors about putting together a gang outreach program that would combine clergy members with other mentoring organizations to get gang members off the streets and in work or education programs.

The program is tentatively titled, “Saving the Streets and Saving Souls” (SSS).

Harrell pictures clergy members and mentoring organizations offering at-risk youth paths to education and job training, and a spiritual safety net. He imagines setting up anonymous gun drop-offs to get firearms off the streets. “We have to have safe drop-offs where grandmothers, aunts, uncles, friends, can turn in guns without inquiries or questions,” Harrell says. “Then change the culture by messaging in all communities that we need to get these guns off the streets.”

Every pastor I’ve spoken to has absolutely loved the idea,” he continues. “Church is a huge part of neighborhood culture, especially in the south end. This is a way to help kids get back on the right track while hopefully cutting down on gang and gun violence.”

Harrell is hoping for around 500,000 (tax payer) dollars for the project.

I understand that Seattle is desperate to solve their gun problem, but I can’t support a solution that boils down to “God! Jesus! Woo!” and a bunch of hand-waiving. How exactly are clergy members in particular more qualified to offer at-risk youths the support they need? Why target clergy instead of also involving secular organizations? Why does the city give a rats ass about a “spiritual safety net” and “saving souls”? What about the 65% of Seattleites that aren’t religiously affiliated? I don’t want my money going into a program that’s only funneled into religious organizations with vague, nebulous goals. It works on the assumption that religion is inherently morally superior or helpful…which we’ve consistently seen is not the case.

Maybe we should try to actually solve the socio-economic conditions that perpetuate these problems, instead of treating religion like a cure-all bandaid we can slap on after the fact.


  1. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Hmm. If you take the woo-woo out of it this sounds like a potentially productive piece of a good solution.

  2. Amanda M. says

    Agreed. This is exactly what I was going to say. I like the idea of gun drop-offs, and outreach programs. Just do the same thing, but make it secular.

    And honestly, if people also want to enroll in some religious programs at the same time, then fine. Cool. Whatever. But I do think it’s important to have an option that doesn’t involve all the pressure and bullshit that comes with a religious element.

  3. Sili says

    Putting pastors on the street among armed gangs sounds like a great idea to me.

    But we really should do something about that gun problem, once we’re rid of the godmen.

  4. E.A. Blair says

    I have no problem with churches and religious organizations offering programs to try to curb violence and as collection points for firearms being taken off the streets. Very often the people who need those programs have at least a superficial religious streak that makes them trust their preachers.

    What sticks in my craw is the $500,000. Why should a church need taxpayer money to do good works? I thought that was supposed to be part of their raison d’etre*.

    *Well, except for those ol’ Calvinists who don’t believe in good works – oh, and Catholic nuns who are spending too much time on charity and not enough promoting homophobia and opposing contraception.

  5. Michael Simms says

    Well, I say this is a great idea. If you mingle priests with gang members it is bound to get rid of some of the most unpleasant aspects of society.

    I suppose it has a small chance of reducing the number of gang members too…


  6. TC says

    Seattle needs to get a handle on what sort of violence problem they have. If it’s group-based youth violence among minority communities, like what happened in Boston (and in Cincinnati, where I was tangentially involved in a violence-reduction program) then what your city council member suggests is a good start. And it’s something they can get off the ground quickly.

    Violence reduction is not easy. It’s damn hard, in fact. I get the desire for secular programs, but chances are good those programs don’t exist where the violence is. The churches do, and the churches also have an existing relationship in the neighborhood so their involvement doesn’t feel like an invasion by outside forces. Clergy can serve as a trusted bridge between the criminal justice system (cops, DA, etc) and likely offenders. Clergy have served key roles in violence reduction programs in several cities, most of which used the Boston’s Gun Project model (also called Operation Ceasefire).

    Since all Seattlites are not at equal risk for violence, the percentage of religious folks city-wide is irrelevant. If the violence is primarily occurring in these clergy’s neighborhoods, and they care about the neighborhood, then those clergy are invested. That they speak of violence reduction as saving souls is unfortunate, perhaps, but not altogether surprising given their vocation. Turning youth away from violence could quite reasonably be considered “saving souls,” even by a secularist like myself. In any event, my experience suggests that few clergy would use this as an excuse to outright proselytize… they generally just want the violence to stop.

  7. Mike de Fleuriot says

    Granma, did you give my gun to that damn pimp priest?
    WTF, Bam! let that be a lesson to you, Bitch!

    Yes, sounds like a reasonable workable method, don’t you think.

  8. Andy Groves says

    The article you mention is short on details, but it sounds quite similar to programs that have been tried in Los Angeles, where both black and Hispanic churches have participated in programs to reduce gang violence. When I lived in LA, I could never come to a conclusion as to whether these sorts of programs were successful – on one hand you would hear the Mayor and some police officers praising the schemes, and then you would hear other politicians and other police representatives complaining about how the schemes glorified gang culture and sheltered gang members wanted by the police.

    What always seemed to be lacking in these arguments was objective data. Personally, I would prefer secular programs to reduce violence, but given the influence of religion in the demographics most plagued by gang violence, I would be open to being persuaded of their effectiveness by data…..

  9. TC says

    @AndyGroves: the evidence you’re looking for could be this:

    A gun violence reduction program modeled after Boston’s Operation Ceasefire was used in East LA in the late 1990’s-early 2000’s. That publication from RAND is their technical report with an evaluation.

    Programs like this are difficult to classify using binary “it worked” or “it didn’t work.” But in general, the program appears to have worked — and Operation Ceasefire-derived programs have worked in other cities as well.

  10. redleg says

    Solve the economic problem and the related fraud issues related to income disparity and oligarchy and the dominance of fundamentalist religions will fade back into the background.

    People embrace hard core religion because they are afraid. They see the injustice in the world and fear poverty. Religion promises reward for current suffering. Another reaction to injustice and a disintegrating economy is violence. The saying goes, when people have nothing left to lose they lose it.

    The economics, the violence, and religious emphasis on the solution are the same problem. Reduce the economic inequality and both the violence and power of fundamentalism will be reduced.

  11. E.A. Blair says

    “Reduce the economic inequality and both the violence and power of fundamentalism will be reduced.”

    That loss of power is precisely why the religious leaders will never do anything to change the status quo. They need that fear to keep people under control. Hell is still to abstract for the religious follower’s mind. Religion needs real things in the here and now to scare people into toeing the line.

  12. says

    The churches already have half million dollars of our tax money (several times over) in the form of heir tax exemption. So why aren’t they already doing this?

  13. Suido says

    I understand that Seattle is desperate to solve their gun problem, but I can’t support a solution that boils down to “God! Jesus! Woo!” and a bunch of hand-waiving.

    I think you meant ‘and a bunch of handgun-waiving.’ In which case, it might be successful…

    On a more serious note, if churches need government funding for ‘clergy members and mentoring organizations offering at-risk youth paths to education and job training’, I don’t think they understand the meaning of charity.

    Also, the government could simply enact the exact same plan by replacing the unaccountable clergy with 10 full time, accountable and experienced youth workers with no professional conflicts of interest. If I understand the job situation in the US right now, a salary of 50k including benefits should attract excellent employees.

  14. Crudely Wrott says

    Three Fails:

    1) Anonymous gun drops only work for a small fraction of fractious gun toters.

    2) Clergy asking for a half million dollars to accomplish what law enforcement cannot with much larger sums and lots more guns.

    3) An acronym that is pronounced like a Bride of Frankenstein hissing sibilant.

    Add ’em up. The sum is failure to make a difference and the enrichment of a few con men. The public ends up ill served and another little bit poorer and with the wool pulled just a little further over their eyes.

  15. RedGreenInBlue says

    I have to say that my first reaction to this proposal is that it sounds like a good idea. If pastors are willing to do something useful like providing a confidential contact point and gun drop-off for gang members who want out, or worried friends and relatives, then that’s great. But I agree, weapons amnesties and outreach programmes do not require gods to work, and with the USA being such a religion-soaked environment, I doubt there is the political will to enforce a ban on proselytising if this project goes ahead.

    Maybe in a country with less gung-ho/vindictive/corrupt law enforcement, it wouldn’t be necessary to outsource such programmes to religious groups with their own agendas. But for better or worse, I think that in the USA as in many other countries, church ministers are not regarded with such suspicion as the police. Given the number of scandals involving religious leaders in recent years, that says something not entirely complementary about law enforcement agencies and officials.

  16. RedGreenInBlue says

    “complimentary”, not “complementary”, damn it. That’s what happens when you teach A-Level biology and bang on about enzyme-substrate complexes…

  17. Gregory in Seattle says

    This kind of surprises me: Harrell has never struck me as the kind of person who would push to funnel public money over to religious organizations.

  18. Rory says

    This makes sense to me. I don’t particularly care for the religious aspect, but if these churches are already in the neighborhoods where violence is happening and have the community connections to do something, then it seems like it would be a waste to not use them. As long as they’re focused on really doing things, i.e., getting guns off the street, helping at-risk kids find other opportunities, and not on ‘saving souls,’ I could see this working.

  19. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    “We have to have safe drop-offs where grandmothers, aunts, uncles, friends, can turn in guns without inquiries or questions,”

    And if granny/friend/uncle takes a gun and “turns it in” … granny/friend/uncle can be indicted for theft, because stealing a gun for a good cause is still stealing.

  20. John Horstman says

    Hmm, we had one of those (secular gun drop-off/buy-back program and job training) here in Milwaukee for a while, though it was eventually scrapped, I believe due to budget shortfalls and lower-than anticipated impact.

  21. John Horstman says

    Just one language note: “tax payer”/”taxpayer” is a harmful right-wing code word/phrase that establishes a false divide between those who pay taxes and those who do not i.e. ‘responsible, hard-working citizens’ and ‘welfare leeches’ or similar tripe. Unless one obtains all of one’s money from under-the-table sources, the few legitimate income-tax-exempt jobs, or public assistance programs AND only purchases the few goods that are tax-free or relies exclusively on black-/grey-market transactions (including buying things online and not reporting sales tax that is not deducted), one pays taxes (and even then, it’s entirely possible the prices of the grey-market goods one is purchasing still effectively include taxes levied at other points in the production/transportation process for the goods). There are almost no non-taxpayers outside of the prison system (and plenty of “taxpayers” in prison). I strongly urge you to drop the word from your vocabulary and substitute things like “public money” or “city/state/federal money” for “taxpayer money”.

  22. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Given that a large number of guns used in crimes were illegally obtained anyway…

  23. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Buying things online is considered “gray market?” Seriously?

  24. says

    What is the GOP going to do. First they like to wave the religious flag every time possible, but at the same time they believe every gang bang asshole in the world should have a gun. Any program that is run be religious leaders is doomed to fail. I believe strongly in getting guns off the street — but in the current climate, I know this will never happen. Profit always trumps logic.

  25. minxatlarge says

    ‘Let the churches take care of it’ would work if Seattle had a larger population of churches in high crime areas that were available for outreach. However,Seattle is a low-church-density city. Also, most of the ‘gang violence’ is due two Hispanic gangs from Chicago that recently moved in. I don’t think that they’re going to church or that their grandmas (back in Chicago) are going to snag guns from sock drawers and take them to church. Chicago gangs and mentally ill gun nuts aside, the crime rate is pretty low in Seattle.

  26. L.Long says

    I can just picture the situation….
    Hay Man. So you want me to get gawd, and you will help me get egicated so dat I can get a minimum wage job where I can’t afford to pay the rent & buy sum food. And I have to give up robbin & stealin & dope sellin which pays a WHOLE lot more!!!
    Hay Man! Do ya see somethin wrong with your endeavors???

  27. TC says

    If that’s true, then it’s a relatively easy problem to solve: destroy those two gangs. Life usually isn’t that simple.

    In Boston, LA, Cincinnati, and other cities, the gang violence problem wasn’t with gangs as are depicted in popular media. These weren’t vast criminal enterprises Instead, it was small groups of kids who had claimed territory and had violent disputes with other small groups of kids over petty things.

    At any rate, it all comes back to my earlier comment: Seattle has to figure out what sort of violence problem it has. There’s no silver bullet for violence prevention.

  28. Dalillama says

    Yes, it’s not so much that I oppose the idea of gun dropoffs/buybacks in principle, it’s simply that they don’t appear to have any actual effect on reducing gun violence, so we should probably spend our money on something more effective.

  29. Trelk says

    Honestly that’s the main thing. It’s easy to let prejudice of religious institutions who mostly sit behind walls giving decrees about moral turpitude to affect the good members of religious institutions who are trying to make a difference.

    I believe in the statement that it was mentioned that the clergy were in fact right in the middle of where the violence is primarily. And despite what I like to think at times there are people who simply will not be reached through a secular approach. Just as there are many who will not be reached by a religious approach.

    Anything that gets done like this has to be a joint effort. I’d like to finish by saying that even though you may not agree on a whole lot of things with the religious. If they’re up for getting themselves in the trenches then you can bet that they’d be happy to sett those differences aside for the common good. Are you?

  30. says

    I understand that Seattle is desperate to solve their gun problem, but I can’t support a solution that boils down to “God! Jesus! Woo!”

    This doesn’t seem like an accurate representation at all. I am not clear on the details of the gun problem in seattle specifically, but if it is like the gun problems in other major american cities then pastors absolutely make sense to use in tackling the problem. If the gun problem exists in marginalized groups in low income neighborhoods then pastors have a better shot at helping *inside their own communities* than other people. I also doubt that the 65% figure you cite is constant across the board. If communities with gun problems are mostly religious it makes sense to do things this way.

  31. says

    Yeah because the program is aimed at taking guns away from the stereotypes in your head, not actual fucking people. You should be ashamed.

  32. says

    spoken like someone who never really has to interact with marginalized people. “Ha ha, isn’t it funny how many people get killed? If only they killed people I don’t like!” It isn’t funny at all, a lot of good bright people are killed by this shit every day.

    The gang problem is a reflection of the apathy of white and upper class americans towards poverty and racism. The violence is a result of what we, as a society, have made of the most vulnerable people. It should be unpleasant to look at, but it should make you want to do something about it instead of making a joke.

  33. anubisprime says

    Every now and then in Blighty after a particularly horrific murder or gang related atrocity, although a lot rarer then the US, all the politicians and Chief Constables go loopy for gun amnesties…and the press go all doolally and hysterical for a few days

    Knives and gun amnesties are performed once every couple of years on average!

    I was talking to a Det Sgt from the local nick…I knew him at school and he was a decent bloke.

    Anyway we ended up discussing the ongoing amnesty at the time…I think it was after two night clubbing girls were killed by crossfire in Birmingham…a while ago anyways…and he said although the sentiment was in the right place…it tuns out that a few weapons were of interest to various investigations ongoing in other parts of the country…having been used in unsolved crimes be they murder or robbery, the upshot being that the crims, presumably via intermediaries, were dropping off hot pieces to the amnesty stations thereby avoiding them being discovered and traced to them on the street.

    He said at least a dozen out of about 40,000 pieces were of that vintage that they actually found…and it affectively killed one line of evidence in those cases…no fingerprints and some had the wooden stocks removed before hand in to lesson any potential DNA left from sweaty palms or cheeks.
    There was no way of knowing the exact amount of hot pieces actually dumped that way cos some were destroyed, some were moved to safe houses, only a few tested that were of interest elsewhere and records were scant or non-existent
    But even so he thought it a worthwhile attempt to get weapons off the street anyway.

    I have no idea if they have changed protocol these days…forensic labs are working overtime as it is on other things…testing 40,000 + moody guns would not be a priority methinks!

  34. says

    LLong @22 What the hell is that racist garbage you just vomited?! For fuck’s sake, that is not right. I am ashamed to be commenting on the same post as that bullshit.

  35. Colin G says

    I’ve got this wacky idea that just might work–A strong social safety net, socialized medicine, and strong puplic schools. Hey, it seems to work in most other industrialized nations.

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