On December 14, 2012, a mentally ill young man fatally shot twenty-seven people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Among those murdered were twenty young children and six adult employees of the school. After the shooting, the States of Connecticut and New York passed comprehensive gun control and gun safety legislation. However, in April 2013, the United States Congress failed to pass a bi-partisan bill that would have banned automatic assault weapons and expanded background checks for any person seeking to buy firearms.
In response to this congressional failure, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, wrote the following message about the need for common sense gun control. Five years later, the Gun Violence Archive reports that there have been more 1,607 mass shootings in the United States, which have resulted in 1,846 fatalities and 6,459 injuries. Among these mass shootings is the recent tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which resulted in seventeen deaths. Five years later, Cardinal Dolan’s message remains worth reading and is still very true: “Something must be done.”
Advocating for Gun Control
By Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Gun control has been much on my mind since the Newtown killings and in particular, seeing the devastating effects that gun violence can bring when I celebrated the funeral Mass at Saint Mary of the Assumption Church in Katonah for Anne Marie Murphy, a brave teacher who died in that horrible tragedy, protecting her little student.
Advocating for gun control is not something new for the Church. The Holy See has continuously been a strong voice in opposition to international arms trading, the world’s version of gun control; it is even in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official teaching of the Catholic faith (see CCC 2315-2316). Here in the United States, the bishops have for decades supported measures to get handguns off the streets and to ban assault weapons. To cite but one instance, in “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration,” released in 2000, the bishops reiterated their support for legislative efforts that seek to protect society from the violence associated with easy access to deadly weapons. “As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children and anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns.”
That’s why I found myself nodding in agreement when [President Obama} said: “I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans — Americans who believe in the Second Amendment — have come together around common sense reform, like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets because these police chiefs are tired of seeing their guys and gals being outgunned.” It is also why I was very much in favor a month ago when the New York State Legislature, heeding the call from Governor Cuomo, passed NYSAFE: New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, the most comprehensive gun control bill in the country.
Whenever I mention my support for gun control, the calls and emails come in, telling me that I am naive, reminding me of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and arguing that the only thing gun control measures will accomplish is to keep guns out of the hands of honest, law-abiding people. I do not pretend to be an expert on what should be in each specific bill; and I will never be an authority on the number of bullets that should be in an ammo clip or the proper way to conduct background checks before selling someone a firearm. That is the proper responsibility of our legislators and, should constitutional questions arise, of our courts. However, there can be no denying, in the wake of Newtown, Aurora, Blacksburg, Tucson, Columbine, and countless other horrific and senseless deaths by guns, that something must be done.
For me, regulating and controlling guns is part of building a “Culture of Life,” of doing what we can to protect and defend human life. The easy access to guns, including assault weapons, that exists in our nation has contributed toward a “Culture of Death,” where human life and dignity are cheapened by the threat of violence. No law will ever be able to protect us from every act of aggression or from the hatred that can come from an individual bent on killing. But we must do what we can to minimize the opportunities for such acts by limiting the easy access to guns; and by increasing funding for programs to treat those who suffer from mental illness, especially those that might lead someone to commit mass murder.
I have a long list of things to pray for this Lent. Asking God’s help that our elected representatives in Washington and in state houses across the country have the courage and the wisdom to pass meaningful and effective gun control bills will certainly have a prominent place in those prayers.
A Prayer After Gun Violence
Christ, you wept over a city.
We are in deepest despair.
As we weep over the dead and injured killed by guns,
in anguish, we recognize the blood stains of hatred.
We hear the sounds of fear, the echoes of gunshots,
once again, once again.
Christ, you came to bring us peace.
We turn to you in overwhelming sorrow.
How can we end this nightmare of violence?
How can we build a world of inclusion, of solidarity?
Give us the grace to reflect deeply
and to work ceaselessly to heal the hearts;
to stop the guns; to cherish all God’s children.
Christ, you endured violent suffering to bring us light.
We pray for the dead, may they rest in peace.
We pray for the wounded, may they find healing.
We pray for our nation, may we end the hate.
We pray for our global family, may we learn we are one.
Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us!
Our Lady of Angels, pray for us!
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is an international fellowship of ‘Franciscans in Spirit’ with friends and followers in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Africa. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages to more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. In 2017, in celebration of our 10th anniversary, we will lead our annual fall pilgrimage to Assisi; meet monthly for Mass, faith formation, and faith sharing; and offer adults several opportunities to experience a Franciscan-style “hermitage retreat.” For more information about the Assisi Project and upcoming opportunities for faith formation, prayer, and pilgrimage in the Franciscan spiritual tradition, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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