“The Centre County Interfaith Coalition for Gun Safety is an alliance of local religious leaders and community members committed to building a peaceful society free from preventable gun violence. With faith-based responses to gun violence that benefit the whole community, we educate on issues related to gun safety, take action for responsible gun ownership, and engage local, state, and federal officials.” - Centre County Interfaith Coalition for Gun Safety (IC4GS) Mission Statement
As of August 30, 2023, there have been 479 mass shootings in the US this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. This persistent threat of gun violence has many seeking to take action. Gail Guss and Karen Moser, members of the State College University Baptist and Brethren Church (UBBC) in State College, PA, took this challenge head on and developed the Centre County Interfaith Coalition for Gun Safety (IC4GS) which continues to serve its community and address gun violence in the country.
Guss and Moser both wanted to do something about the growing threat of gun violence, but neither knew where exactly to begin. “I ordered some books to read, but that’s just something you do at your house. It’s not as satisfying,” Guss stated. Taking action, Guss, the Chair of the Board of Missions, and Moser, the Director of Christian Education, first approached the UBBC Board of Missions to propose a plan for addressing gun violence. However, they received little feedback and changed direction. Guss recalled her positive experiences with the State College Interfaith group and decided to use a similar model, culminating in the Centre County Interfaith Coalition for Gun Safety (IC4GS).
The IC4GS took many forms in the early days. Guss and Moser originally started with the idea of a book study. However, they noticed that “no one wanted to do a book study; everyone was ready to do something,” according to Karen. To make a tangible difference, Guss and Moser had to reimagine the organization’s structure and purpose. They decided to focus on building the group’s membership, reaching out to different congregations, including Josh Wretzel of Brit Shalom who joined Guss and Moser in developing their organization’s brand. They also decided to cycle the responsibility of facilitation to ensure that all groups had an equal voice and opted to hold meetings in public locations to attract passing community members to their cause. They held their first meeting in April 2023, showing the movie “Armor of Light” and holding a group discussion. “It was something obviously that was on a lot of people’s minds, so the group grew very quickly,” Guss stated. Overall, the group maintained a set identity as a group of “regular people of faith getting together and working to spread ideas about gun safety and educate,” Moser stated.
On August 31, 2023, IC4GS asked students and community members at LION Bash to share their answer to “What does Gun Safety mean to you?” and received numerous answers as seen in the above picture.
After growing their constituency, the IC4GS has continued to build their presence in the community. IC4GS has participated in community engagement events at Penn State and State College and has worked with other organizations in the community including Moms Demand Action. Several members also met with Pennsylvania Senator Cris Dush earlier in 2023 to find common ground on the issue. By discussing and listening to each other’s personal connections to gun violence, the group established a positive connection with the Senator. Guss and Moser agreed this cooperation was an important characteristic of their organization. “We don’t want to shut anybody out,” Gail asserted. “We want to have conversations.”
As the IC4GS continues to pursue a future free of gun violence, they understand that getting involved in this kind of work can be intimidating. When asked what advice they would give to individuals wanting to take action against gun violence, Guss and Moser shared the same answer: “just start!”
To learn more about the Centre County Interfaith Coalition for Gun Safety and their upcoming events, visit their Facebook page. Interested in working to prevent gun violence with On Earth Peace? Learn more about our gun violence prevention initiatives here to get started.