January 25, 2013


A common-sense approach to gun control in the United States

“Once again, we speak against the culture of violence infecting our country. … All of us are called to work for peace in our homes, our streets and our world, now more than ever.”
—Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

In the wake of the most recent tragedy involving a mentally disturbed lone gunman and the death of innocent children, the Catholic bishops of the United States have renewed their call for a common-sense approach to gun control.

First issued more than a dozen years ago, the bishops’ 2000 statement titled “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” urges all Americans, but especially government officials, to adopt and enforce laws that serve the common good.

The bishops do not question the validity of the Second Amendment, which was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess and carry firearms. The purpose of this civil right is to defend human life and protect society against lawlessness and tyranny.

According to the bishops, “the intent to protect one’s loved ones is an honorable one, but simply put, guns are too easily accessible.”

In renewing their statement, the U.S. bishops referred to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace 2006 document, “The International Arms Trade,” which emphasizes the importance of enacting concrete controls on handguns, noting that “limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe on the rights of anyone.”

Demagogues on both the right and the left have generated a lot of unhelpful sound and fury over this issue. As on most issues, the bishops are not urging extreme positions. Rather, they seek a common-sense solution.

“Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” proposes five strategies:

  • Support measures that control the sale and use of firearms.
  • Support measures that make guns safer, especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children and anyone other than the owner.
  • Call for sensible regulation of handguns.
  • Support legislative efforts that seek to protect society from the violence associated with easy access to deadly weapons, including assault weapons.
  • Make a serious commitment to confront the pervasive role of addiction and mental illness in crime.

Common sense? We think so.

Of course, any increase in government regulation risks abuse and a resulting loss of freedom. But no individual human freedom is absolute and unlimited. Free speech does not permit an individual to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater—any more than the right to bear arms sanctions opening fire with a gun in that same theater. Rights must be tempered by responsible behavior. In a sinful world, laws and effective law enforcement are required to promote public safety and protect individual liberty.

Recent tragedies have called attention to the role of mental illness and addiction in violent crime. They have also admonished us to pay more attention to the ways that “entertainment” in the form of violent video games, movies and television programs contribute to the culture of violence that New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan rightly said “infects our country” today.

No single act of legislation—or executive order—can totally prevent senseless violence. No amount of background checks or security measures can ever totally prevent evil or mentally impaired individuals or groups from inflicting senseless cruelty and death on others. There is no complete solution as long as there is sin and violence in families, communities or the world at large.

That’s why the bishops call us to fervent prayer, to a change of heart and to the nonviolence of Jesus. That’s also why they urge us to use common sense in our approach to gun control and gun safety. Let’s listen to our bishops. Let’s all work together to help bring about a culture of life and peace.

—Daniel Conway

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