St. Anthony Messenger

Editorial: Reckoning with Our Culture of Gun Violence

After praying for the victims in Uvalde, Pope Francis said, “It’s time to say, ‘Enough!’ to the indiscriminate trafficking of guns. “

I vividly remember the shock and heartache I and so many others around the country felt following the shooting at Columbine High School in April 1999. I was in high school myself at the time, and things never really felt the same afterward. The fear that a horrific event such as Columbine would happen again was validated over and over: Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Pulse Nightclub, Las Vegas, to name only a few.

This past May, a mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket by an alleged White supremacist was followed a mere 10 days later by the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. With school out for the summer, crime waves seem to parallel heat waves, especially in dense urban areas, and we find ourselves inundated by news stories about gun violence in our city streets. As I write this, I’m also reminded of a family friend who died by suicide 10 years ago today. A gun that he purchased in the interest of self-defense was ultimately used for self-harm. Along with suicide by firearm, there are countless accidental gun deaths.

As a people, we’re heartbroken, fatigued, and fed up. How do we respond? How can we even find the energy to dig deep and face this abyss?

‘Enough!’

Now 23 years after the dark benchmark of Columbine, if anything has changed with regard to gun violence in our country, it’s been for the worse. Fortunately, there are voices calling us to walk the Gospel path—the only way forward for our sick society.

During his general audience on May 25, after praying for the victims in Uvalde, Pope Francis said: “It’s time to say, ‘Enough!’ to the indiscriminate trafficking of guns. Let us all strive to ensure that such tragedies can never happen again. ” Echoing the pope’s sentiment, Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, tweeted: “The Second Amendment did not come down from Sinai. The right to bear arms will never be more important than human life. Our children have rights too. And our elected officials have a moral duty to protect them. “

As Cardinal Cupich suggests, there are some in our country for whom the right to own a gun is almost sacred. The Second Amendment—written for the purpose of the forming of state militias during the vulnerable early days of our nation—doesn’t specify which arms we have a right to bear, and it’s hard to imagine that the Founding Fathers had semiautomatic rifles equipped with bump stocks in mind. As it stands, our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are taking a back seat to the right to gun ownership.

Instruments of Death

Instead of looking critically at our gun culture, every time there is a mass shooting, opponents of gun control will vaguely reference “mental health ” problems in our country as the cause, though it’s almost never specified what is meant by the use of that phrase. Numerous studies, including a massive and potentially definitive study that appeared in the journal Psychological Medicine in February 2021, have shown that there simply is no connection between mental illness and mass shootings.

So if mental illness isn’t the culprit for mass shootings, what is? Others say that the root of this violence is evil. Now we’re onto something. But pointing out that evil is the cause says nothing about the means. With reasonable restrictions on firearms in place, we can hope for a country with fewer instances of gun violence—including mass shootings. I say “hope ” because until we as a society try out a reasonable approach to gun control, we won’t know how well it will work.

By the time you read this, the stalemate in our polarized political climate will have resulted in more avoidable massacres. Why wait any longer? Why make the children in our country wait a single day more? That is, in itself, evil.


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