Our bickering over who is responsible for the gun violence scarring our nation is a waste of time and precious lives. Catholics are no less guilty of disparaging attacks on either side of the gun rights issue. Our faith calls us to protect all life. Stopping rampant gun violence is a moral imperative.
Leaders in the Catholic Church and other religious communities should facilitate a national forum to address prevention of gun violence and the protection of gun rights. These two goals do not have to be mutually exclusive. Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC), notes in his latest blog that “The Catholic Church has been a consistent voice for the promotion of peace at home and around the world and a strong advocate for the reasonable regulation of firearms. The church recognizes that recourse to self-defense is legitimate but also that guns are simply too easily accessible. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in their document, ‘The International Arms Trade’ (2006), emphasized the importance of enacting concrete controls on handguns noting, ‘Limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe on the rights of anyone.”’
After the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., five years ago, U.S. Bishop Stephen Blaire joined 46 other national religious leaders in signing the letter of “Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence.” They urged Congress to support policies that:
• Require universal background checks for all gun purchases.
• Limit civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines.
• Make gun trafficking a federal crime.
• Improve access to mental health care for those who may be prone to violence.
If these policies had been implemented five years ago, we may have prevented some — if not all — of the horrific mass murders since Sandy Hook, including: Las Vegas; Sacramento; Orlando; Sutherland Springs, Texas; and San Bernardino, Calif. Instead, we bicker, because it’s easier than the hard work of compromise and because we are unwilling to let go of our fear of losing control.
A sobering report in the Feb. 19 issue of America magazine on reduced life expectancy states that “Gun violence is a contributor to the diminished U.S. life expectancy that is essentially unknown in other advanced nations…. The overall firearm death rate in the United States from all causes, including suicide and accidents, was 10 times higher than in the other high-income nations that were included in the (2016 American Journal of Medicine) study.”
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The authors of this amendment surely did not intend for “the people” to be able to mow down their neighbors with guns.
Congress should take immediate action to outlaw bump stocks, which convert semi-automatic guns into automatic weapons. As Sen. Charles Grassley pointed out to students at Muscatine High School, “The bump stock makes a semi-automatic shoot like a machine gun.… We’ve got to get that regulation reversed, and the president said to the Justice Department this week to do that” (Quad-City Times, Feb. 24). The bump stock needs to be outlawed, and that requires congressional action.
Contact the offices of Sens. Grassley and Joni Ernst (www.senate.gov) asking them to advance legislation to outlaw bump stocks and to support the policies proposed by the religious leaders five years ago.
Iowans should also weigh in on proposed state constitutional amendments that would subject any restrictions of the right of the people to keep and bear arms to “strict scrutiny.” The ICC recommends opposition to SJR 2009 and HJR 2009 because they “would have the effect of making any regulation of firearms difficult and may put current state law regarding background checks and permitting at risk.” The amendments would have to pass both chambers — this year and next — before going to a vote of the people in 2020. Express your opposition at www.votervoice.net/ICC/campaigns/57269/respond.
Americans have a right to bear arms, but they also have a fundamental right to life.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor