The constantly quoted “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is being shouted across the United States in one way or another. People line up on both sides of gun issues, some packing firepower and marching to state capitols to voice their opinions about their Second Amendment rights.
And while good people who love their guns are marching, others who use them to harm their families, their neighbors and others continue to raise the death toll in this country day by day.
The gun-control and the gun-rights proponents have been battling it out for years, and those who want to restrict the sale and use of firearms, by and large, have made no headway on any front in that argument. Even after the wholesale murder of children in Connecticut, when people thought they had a good chance of passing legislation to limit sales and access to guns, no federal legislation was passed.
What is the matter with a people that can’t or won’t see the relationship between gun violence and the accessibility of weapons, specifically guns. We don’t need WMD — weapons of mass destruction — because we’re quite capable of annihilating each other — one person, family, neighborhood or community at a time — and usually with more than one gun.
And yes, it isn’t the gun but the person wielding it that is wreaking havoc, and often those people have emotional or mental issues. Consider those who suffer from mental instability and find ways to procure guns and destroy families and communities.
If citizens who are truly concerned about life issues as well as their rights to carry arms would think about the need to find ways to recognize and assist people who are unstable or have a history of mental illness, something can be done.
Unfortunately, I doubt this will happen. We are more reactive than proactive in these cases. Families often know when relatives need help, but that help seems elusive or unattainable until tragedy strikes.
Maybe Catholics of goodwill and open minds could take up discussions at their parish centers over coffee and doughnuts after being reminded that we are all Gospel people, that we need to keep that in mind before we strap on our guns or hoist them over our shoulders to march to state capitols to demand our rights, to stop gun control advocates from establishing parameters for ownership or at least strengthening the rules for background checks before handing over a lethal weapon to anyone.
Families of nine students and adults killed at the elementary school in Connecticut, along with one survivor, filed a lawsuit to hold the Bushmaster AR-15 gun manufacturer liable because that was one of the guns used for the massacre at the school.
While their success or failure rests with the court, it seems that someone ought to be held responsible for the tremendous losses these families have suffered. Many thought gun legislation would be passed because of the heinous nature of the crime, but it failed. It begs the question: What do we have to do to stop the killings if our lawmakers refuse to act?
We need to begin conversations, establish relationships with people of many different views. If we only speak with people who agree with us, we won’t have a chance. To change attitudes and points of view, we have to open ourselves up to others. If we’re unwilling to listen to another side of an issue, we can’t expect anyone to listen to us.
After the marching has stopped and the slogans have faded, we must take the next step, reach out to others in faith and try to get to the heart of the matter: saving lives and protecting the innocents while respecting the freedoms of every person.
Liz Quirin is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.
In Glock we trust? The question of guns and God
It’s Sunday. Time for church. Do I pack a prayer book or a pistol?
For some American churchgoers, the question is a real one. And, sadly, the answer can be “both.”
In St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church in suburban Atlanta, for instance, local Massgoers are required by Kennesaw town law to own a firearm. But last May, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory banned guns from church-owned property, citing the unnecessary danger of bringing firearms into “places frequented by children and the vulnerable.”
Kennesaw has had the mandatory firearm ownership law on its books since 1982. Though rarely enforced and reportedly often ignored, supporters applaud the law and maintain it has reduced the community’s crime rate. Nor is Kennesaw alone. Numerous cities and towns across the U.S. have similar laws or are considering them.
Guns and religion have never before faced such a dichotomy. Probably because the question of the place of guns in society has never been as prevalent as it has become in 21st-century America.
True, America has never lacked for firearms. We are a nation of sportspeople. And in generations past guns were often a staple in homes, especially in rural areas where hunting was a necessity and the protections of civilization distant. The tradition of household armories lessened as populations grew and local governments provided organized law enforcement.
But over the past 30 years or so, rising crime, occasional civil disturbances and an often fear-mongering rhetoric over the constitutional right to bear arms have helped send gun sales in the U.S. to record heights. There are more than 300 million guns in the U.S.
Gun-rights advocates press for universal acceptance of weapons, whether needed or not for protection or sports. Open-carry supporters parade through restaurants brandishing military-style rifles and other firearms.
It’s often in Glock we trust, not God. Indeed, some people of faith back such actions, claiming it is the will of God to carry weapons to protect against oppression.
But hardly all.
Archbishop Gregory’s statement followed passage of a Georgia law that allowed weapons to be carried almost anywhere, even in church — unless places of worship disallowed it. In his archdiocesan publication, Archbishop Gregory decried the new legislation, warning of a “Wild West” mentality that could bring shootouts in bars.
The archbishop was joined in banning guns in church by Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Savannah.
The decree echoes concerns by Catholic bishops over America’s growing gun culture. In 2013, following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offered testimony to a U.S. Senate committee on ways to reduce gun violence and promote the dignity of life.
The testimony stated, “Simply put, guns are too easily accessible.” It reasserted the bishops’ support of proposals that would require universal background checks for all gun purchases; limit civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines; make gun trafficking a federal crime; and improve access to mental health care for those who may be prone to violence.
The bishops — individually and as a body — have spoken often about how our growing weapons availability is counterproductive to efforts to create a society that respects justice and protects life. So, too, have various Catholic organizations, groups and individual parishes.
Archbishop Gregory’s statement offered a courageous response to a culture that glorifies — and in some cases even deifies — weapons:
“Rather than making guns more available as a solution, we need leaders in government and society who will speak against violence in all aspects of life and who teach ways of reconciliation and peace and who make justice, not vengeance, our goal.”
Leave the gun home; pray for peace, not more ammo.
Tom Sheridan is a former editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill. He writes from Ocala, Fla.