The terrible plague of deadly mass shootings in our country calls us, in the words of the U.S. bishops, “to fight this social disease that has infected our nation.” I join my voice to my brother bishops’ in inviting all to pray and work to end this culture of violence and to advocate for needed changes to prevent this scourge from continuing.
The proliferation of mass shootings can be called an epidemic against life. When mass shootings occur, there is extensive coverage by the media. However, we need to bring attention to the fact that murderous gun violence also takes place on a daily basis throughout our nation in individual shootings, which total, on average, over 100 people each day in homes and on the streets. Gun violence is truly a national epidemic.
Some citizens consider the right to bear arms, enshrined in our Second Amendment, an absolute right. Nowhere in Church teaching do we find an inherent natural right to bear arms. The legitimate use of arms, however, could be seen to fall under the Church’s teaching on self-defense. People can choose to own and use guns or not to own and use guns, presuming, of course, that their use would be legitimate (e.g. hunting or self-protection).
Besides the principle of self-defense, it is important to recognize the right to life of the human person and the principle of the common good. As a people of and for life, we cannot remain idle as the right to life is violated on a daily basis. We must not be indifferent when the common good is threatened. In the light of the right to life and the common good, both rooted in the Gospel of Jesus, we must confront the plague of gun violence in our nation.
Common sense reforms and prudent policies are needed to curb gun violence. I join my brother bishops in rejecting an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment. For the sake of the common good, we need reasonable gun control, beginning with comprehensive background checks and a ban on high-powered, high-capacity weapons meant for the military.
At the same time, we cannot and should not ignore the root causes of gun violence. We need prevention and intervention strategies that treat people who pose a threat of violence. Increased access to mental health care is necessary. We need to fight hatred, racism and xenophobia, which so often can lead to violence. We also cannot ignore the moral and spiritual vacuum in which many children and youth are raised — homes where there is abuse and neglect, alcoholism and drug addiction. And we must address the crisis of fatherlessness.
Tragically, we live in a culture that doesn’t value life intrinsically, as seen in the recognition of so-called rights to abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Should we really be surprised that when life is not valued in these situations, life is not valued in instances of gun violence? Should we really be surprised at the prevalence of gun violence when violence is celebrated in much of our media, music and even video games? The glorification of violence reveals a disturbing cultural attitude.
We are called to build a culture of life and a civilization of love. Easy access to deadly assault weapons does not build a culture of life. Regulating and controlling guns is part of building a culture of life — so is our teaching on human life and dignity, on marriage and family, on right and wrong, on justice and peace, and on rights and responsibilities.
Finally, there is a spiritual dimension to the crisis of violence that we must attend to. Seeds of violence within the human heart can grow into violent thoughts, words and deeds. We need to ask God to purify our hearts and to convert the hearts of those who are tempted to commit acts of violence.
I invite all to pray for an end to gun violence and to pray for peace in our hearts, communities, nation and world. Let us hear anew the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
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