I happened upon a meme on Twitter recently. It was a map of the United States with red dots that stood for all the mass shootings in 2023. Under the map was the question, “If guns make us safer, why isn’t the United States the safest country in the world?” I continued to scroll until I realized I didn’t have an answer to the question. I don’t think anybody does.
But that seemingly nominal tweet has real science behind it. According to a report by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, “Overwhelming evidence shows firearm ownership and access is associated with increased homicide, suicide, unintentional firearm deaths, and injuries.”
Research has shown us repeatedly that guns do not make us safer. And yet we are awash with them—outnumbered even. There are an estimated 450 million guns in the United States (compared to a population of 335 million). Gun sales always spike after mass shootings, and so the cycle continues.
Life before Liberty
When the worst of COVID-19 was finally in our rearview mirrors, those who survived should have rejoiced. Instead, we got angry. As of this writing, there have been 34,683 deaths and 65,971 injuries from gun violence over the past 12 months—over 15,000 in 2023 alone.
By the time this issue of the magazine reaches your mailbox, that number will surely increase. And it is worth mentioning that mass shootings are outpacing the days of the year. This is nothing new for our country, and it’s only gotten worse since the pandemic.
Behind the gun violence statistics, though, are human beings whose right to stay alive simply outweighs anyone’s right to bear arms. It’s even in the Declaration of Independence: Life comes before liberty.
The Church agrees. After the Robb Elementary School shooting in 2022, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, then-chairman of the US bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, pleaded with Congress to enact sensible gun legislation: “Bipartisanship is never more important than when it is required to protect life and end the culture of death,” he wrote, appealing to lawmakers, “not just as elected officials but as mothers and fathers, grandparents, and aunts and uncles of little children or teachers whom you expect to return home safely today.”
Sick and Tired
“In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over,” journalist Dan Hodges tweeted in 2015. The cynic in me agreed with this until June 2022 when Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court, a victory for pro-lifers.
As Catholics, if we feel it’s important to protect the unborn, we should feel as passionately about protecting those already born. That means mandatory background checks for gun sales from both licensed and unlicensed sellers and a full ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. It means protecting our most vulnerable: the young, the poor, the sick.
A 2021 Pew Research poll found that 53 percent of Americans favored stricter gun laws—a decline from 2019. The pandemic, we’re learning, made us more scared and more violent. Is gun violence not, at its heart, a pro-life issue? Isn’t a human life more valuable than a weapon? Are our children not worth stricter gun laws?
My mind still goes back to 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza, one of 19 students murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Her father, Angel Garza, posted this message about his daughter on social media that we should take to heart: “Please don’t take a second for granted. Hug your family. Tell them you love them. I love you, Amerie Jo. Watch over your baby brother for me.”