(RNS) — When the Rev. Deanna Hollas heard about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, she was shocked, but she wasn’t surprised.
Three years into her role as the first ordained minister of gun violence prevention in the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States — likely in any denomination — Hollas is never surprised by gun violence.
That’s what happens in a world where there are more guns than there are people, she said.
Just over a week before Uvalde, there was the shooting at a Taiwanese church in Southern California. A day before that, it was the shooting at a supermarket in a predominantly Black community in Buffalo, New York.
Every single day, Hollas said — pointing to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — incidents involving guns take more than 120 lives.
“The mass shootings capture our attention because it could be us. The randomness feels so much worse as opposed to the one child that gets ahold of a gun or the one that gets shot by a drive-by shooting. Those, oftentimes, we’ve become numb to, and we’ve just expected them to be normal, but it’s not. It’s not normal,” she said.
“It’s only because we have so many guns.”
Hollas, a Texas native, became interested in gun violence prevention in 2016 when the state passed a law allowing guns on college campuses. Worried about her daughter, then a student at Texas Tech University, she joined the group Moms Demand Action as “really just a cry for help: ‘What do I do? How can I make a difference?’”
She was ordained specifically to the call of gun violence prevention in 2019 by Grace Presbytery, which includes Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations in North, Northeast and Central Texas. During the service, she was presented with an orange stole — not a traditional liturgical color, but a color used nationally to symbolize gun violence prevention. The congregation debuted a new hymn: “If We Just Talk of Thoughts and Prayers” by the Rev. Carolyn Winfrey-Gillette.
The Rev. Steve Shive, interim general presbyter of Grace Presbytery, said the presbytery has always been 100% supportive of Hollas’ call because “we have all seen the effects of gun violence in our culture and our society.”
For decades, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has urged its members to study, dialogue and act to prevent gun violence, Shive noted. That goes back to the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, according to the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.
Other mainline denominations have also joined, like the Episcopal Church’s Bishops United Against Gun Violence.