The National Catholic Review

I am almost too tired of the whole issue to write any more words about it. My entire career in journalism I have periodically been forced to compose some outraged paragraphs about the latest massacre or “normal” gun violence in Chicago, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Camden ... you name it (how many children died last week because of handguns in America’s cities? How little was that death toll remarked upon?) and then inevitably the complete lack of response from our elected officials. We all know the statistics. We know what can easily be done to reduce, if not completely contain the bloodletting. We simply lack the will to do it.

The first graders and school teachers and administrators of Newtown, Ct., God bless these poor children, these educators and their families, maybe will become the final martyrs to the cause of gun control, but I find myself doubting it. If Columbine weren’t enough or Virginia Tech or a Portland mall or the tragic deaths each year of children whose parents did not properly secure their weapons is not enough, could this finally be enough, this unexpected, what shall I call it, “tragedy”? No, tragedy suggests an incident that could not have been foreseen, and sad to say we have come to expect such occasional explosions of depravity in American life. This is the collateral damage of our absolutist interpretation of the second amendment and the price the gun lovers in our culture, with their unhealthy obsession with weapons of intimate destruction, are quite willing to allow the rest of us to pay while they nurture warped fantasies of liberal fascism and the heroic virtues of personal defense.

We will hear now the familiar rebuttals to common sense responses to contain gun violence in the U.S. We have already heard the moronic “regret” expressed that more people weren’t armed when Adam Lanza stormed an elementary school; we have even, remarkably, heard some claim that it is the public school’s paucity of prayer that opened up the world to this tragedy. I encourage any who have expressed this violently diminished understanding of the great mercy of God to devote the rest of their days to absolutely silent contemplation. (First they should personally apologize to the parents of the Newtown children, and anyone else they meet on the way over.)

The gun absolutists will argue that if handguns and automatic weapons are outlawed then only criminals will have access to them. Fine, let the criminals have them. The criminals out there are not quite so likely to storm elementary schools to prove to the world how much they hate themselves. Their gun possession will just offer an additional offense to charge them with when they are caught. The simple arithmetic is that there are too many guns in circulation in the United States and that virtually all of the guns used in crime in the United States begin their lethal careers legally and that reducing that pile of weapons will inevitably reduce the death toll. I will worry about how to respond to a fascist, left-wing takeover of America AFTER I am confident my kids can come home from school safely.

We will in the aftermath of this mayhem be told that we do not spend enough on mental health interdiction and treatment, that, with one in 88 children (one and 54 boys) coming of age diagnosed to some degree with Autism, we are not devoting enough energy and attention to Autism Spectrum Disorder. That is all certainly true. (And please let's not allow this awfulness to further estrange young people with Asperger's and ASD; they are your friends and neighbors and family.) It is also certainly true that no mental health system, however well resourced and widespread, can be foolproof, that some will seek to exhibit their alienation and rage in the most hurtful ways imaginable. In China, that happened last week when a lone man also attacked schoolchildren. He was armed with a knife and wounded 22 of them. He did not have a gun at his disposal and no fatalities resulted from his lapse into rage and insanity. We cannot control all violence in the world, but we can limit the damage.

We can require training and liability insurance for gun owners; we can force them to take responsibility under penalty of law to properly secure their weapons; we can enforce high-tech registration and trigger-lock mechanisms that prevent non-owners from using weapons; we can control the nature of the weapons and ammunition we allow into our society; we can simply reread that part of the second amendment that acknowledges our collective responsibility to maintain a “well-regulated” militia and ask ourselves how well-regulated our militia seems. If we did maintain a formal militia, empowered to carry weapons, would we tolerate its continued presence among us if every so often individuals among it lit out for a mall, schoolroom or Amish community center to shoot the place up? Not likely.

We can also ask God and these children to forgive us our indifference and fatigue. Everyone who has blindly supported gun owners’ privileges over the right of these children to life and the pursuit of happiness share some responsibility for this catastrophe; everyone who argues that the solution to gun violence is more guns, ..., I don’t know, perhaps they deserve a good thump on the head to see if that reboots the system. And the rest of us, like me, who merely add more piles of words to this ongoing crisis perhaps likewise require a good thump or two.

This week I dreaded having “the” conversation with my oldest about human sexuality (some lifeless if logistically accurate descriptions have been moving around his classroom of late). Instead of that talk, however, I have been forced to have another conversation with my son and his three siblings today. This one will concern the nature of evil, the problem of mental illness and how to survive if an intruder blasts his way into their school. I would like to tell them that they will be safe, that I can guarantee that they will be safe, that such a thing would be unimaginable at their little school in the Westchester woods, but I would be lying and I dislike lying to my children.

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Kevin Clarke | 12/21/2012 - 11:11pm

Mr. McParland is engaging in a regular sleight of hand deployed by gun rightists, a sophist's trick known as the fallacy of false equivalence. This is not a serious argument.

It is interesing, nevertheless, to note that we indeed do much via federal regulation to contain the accidental violence that can occur from the use of cars, including the requirement that car users are tested and maintain liability insurance as part of the trade-off for using them. And car safety standards are regularly reviewed and updated. If Mr. McParland would be willing to carry his comparison over the to real world and allow the gun industry and gun use to be as thoroughly vetted I would have no complaint.

Mr. McParland joins other gun rightists of late who have dregged up this 1927 school bombing incident to prove, ... what, exactly is not clear to me. No one is demanding that we find a way to make the world perpetually, magically safe from all threats. I suppose it is possible that some deranged person, unable to lay their hands on guns in a future presumably safer because of better controls on firearms, will turn to other means to exorcise their demons. We do what we can to prevent such things with the tools and conditions before us, but no one expects man's inhumanity to man to end simply because we get tougher on things like assault rifle sales.

I think it is also noteworthy that all of Mr. McPartland's examples of the morally correct use of a military grade assault rifle pertain to their actual use by acutal military professionals on acutal critical military missions, not to the weekend joyriding of gun "enthusiasts."

Mr. McPartland suggests that I am being simplistic and emotional and that this is a complex set of problems. It's true I can be emotional; that's because I have emotions.

As far as being simplistic, I can't think of anything more simplistic than what I heard from the NRA this morning advocating armed guards in every school or from Gov. Perry the other day advocating armed teachers. The answer to our problem with guns is not more guns.

Hmm, I guess I am being simplistic. Is it possible that the NRA and its supporters want to make this thing more complicated than it needs to be?

James McParland | 12/27/2012 - 12:39pm

Mr. Clarke: You repeatedly call me a "gun rightist." I'm not sure what that is supposed to mean, but rest assured I have no guns, do not belong to the NRA, and would support reasonable gun control legislation that focuses on large-magazine assault-type weapons. I am not a Second Amendment absolutist by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact I would support a constitutional amendment to eliminate the ambiguity of the Second Amendment, whose original language is flawed. I have written here, in critical response to your column, only to point out the oversimplification, emotionality, and weaknesses of your arguments. and you respond by -- calling me names! You say I use a fallacy of "false equivalence," but you utterly fail to show how anything I wrote is falsely equivalent, fallacious, illogical, or unfactual. Again, your reply to me boils down to the use of catchphrases and name calling. Also, please note the correct spelling of my name. Thank you.

Kevin Clarke | 1/2/2013 - 12:23am

Mr. McParland:

You came in with some typical talking points from the NRA. I presumed  therefore that you are among the folks who believe strongly in gun ownership rights and suggested as much. I don't perceive how that translates into calling you names. Now you seem to have gone the other way. Color me delighted, whatever you think of my argument. Maybe you just like to argue. I don't.

Sorry I misspelled your name.


Tracey Hoelzle | 12/21/2012 - 5:50pm

It is easy to feel angry at the gun lobby and the NRA, and we all should feel a righteous anger at the injustice perpetrated in Newtown, but if we are truly to be people of peace we must follow our Lord's commandment to love our enemies and pray for them. While there are certainly those in the gun lobby whose motives are purely evil, I think there are many more who act our of fear. My background in mental health reminds me that those who have no one in their lives to serve as an example of gentleness, compassion or forgiveness often learn to view the world in black and white terms-you are either a perpetrator or a victim, a rescuer or an abuser. Their response to traumatic events may be misguided vengance or an ill concieved desire to protect. As Catholics and people of peace, we must be the ones to live out the truth of non violence and sacrifical love, and be the example they lack. I have committed not only to pray for the victims of the shooting, but also to pray for the people of the gun lobby and NRA, meditating on the Beatitudes, asking God to open their hearts to the blessings bestowed on the meek and the peacemakers.

James McParland | 12/19/2012 - 10:49am

In 1927, a man named Kehoe killed thirty-eight (38) young school children at an elementary school in Bath, Michigan. He didn't use a gun. He used dynamite to blow up the school building. But, the event is overlooked and/or forgotten by today's anti-gun crusaders.

At least 30 children are killed killed every week in the U.S. in automobile accidents. Mr. Clark does not write manifestos against automobiles, or how they are misused. He finds automobiles too useful to concern himself about the mayhem and death they cause. It's hard to get worked up over "car owners' privileges" when one wants to be one of the privileged owners.

Mr. Clarke's outrage, which he no doubt genuinely feels, blaming the deaths of small children on those who do not share his hatred of what he calls "gun owners' privileges" and essentially accusing such people of being a threat to the lives of his own children, is a simplistic and emotional response to a highly complex set of problems.

Thomas Rooney OFS | 12/20/2012 - 8:24am

@ James - the automobile /gun comparison is growing tired, and it's been addressed here before. When are car is driven the way it is supposed to be, everyone is just fine. When a gun is fired the way it is supposed to be, everyone is not fine. A car's primary purpose is not to assault or kill. An assault weapon's primary purpose is...well it's right there in the name, isn't it?

James McParland | 12/20/2012 - 1:00pm

You seem to confuse inanimate objects with the intentions of the people who make or use use them. Assault weapons are not inherently evil. They have legitimate, maybe even life-saving uses, under certain circumstances. A person trying to defend civilians trapped in a U.S embassy from a mob of terrorists might save innocent lives by using an assault rifle, for example. A soldier guarding a store of anthrax vaccines might ward off an enemy attack and save thousands of lives. Assault rifles are inanimate objects, and like all inanimate objects, can be used for a just, moral purpose, or can be misused for an immoral purpose, or used carelessly with harmful consequences.

To a victim whose head is bashed in with an axe, it doesn't matter that the "primary purpose" of the axe is to chop down trees. To a person stabbed to death with a knife, it doesn't matter that the "primary purpose" of the knife is to chop onions. To a person run over and killed by a car, it doesn't matter that the primary purpose of the car is to transport people.

Regardless of what cars' "primary purpose" is, the plain fact is that MANY more human beings are killed each year by cars in this country, than are killed by assault weapons. From a rational viewpoint, people who want to protect the lives of innocent victims from violent injury/ death would better spend their time working for the elimination or better regulation/control of cars, than assault rifles.

MICHELLE FRANCL-DONNAY DR | 12/23/2012 - 5:02pm

It is not a "plain fact" that "MANY" more people are killed each year by cars than by guns. In ten states, death by guns exceeded deaths by motor vehicles in the last year available for analysis (2009): Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Washington. The trend is such that gun deaths and deaths by auto will soon equal each other.

James McParland | 12/28/2012 - 12:27pm

According to the FBI, there were 14,612 homicides in the U.S. in 2011. Of these, a grand total of 323 murders were committed with any kind of rifle. Murders committed by assault or semi-automatic rifles were fewer. More than five times that number were committed with knives. More than twice that number were committed with bare hands.

James McParland | 12/27/2012 - 12:16pm

What I wrote above was " the plain fact is that MANY more human beings are killed each year by cars in this country, than are killed by assault weapons." That is an absolutely true fact. You are not accurately quoting me, but are arguing against a point I did not make-- i.e., a straw man.

Thomas Rooney OFS | 12/18/2012 - 9:21am

We never hear about the adherence to the first part of the 2nd Amendment; where is the "well-regulated militia" that the right to keep and bear arms is supposed to produce? If said militia is necessary to the security of a free state, why don't 2nd Amendment purists put forth sensible regulation, that the fullness of the amendment might be realized??

Stanley Kopacz | 12/18/2012 - 11:59am

The second amendment is attached to the militia concept. Perhaps ownership of a military grade weapon should make one eligible for a draft, no matter the age.

Stanley Kopacz | 12/17/2012 - 12:04pm

No matter what one thinks about gun ownership, the status quo will not do.

STEPHANIE SIPE | 12/17/2012 - 11:05am
<p>"This is the collateral damage of our absolutist interpretation of the second amendment and the price the gun lovers in our culture, with their unhealthy obsession with weapons of intimate destruction, are quite willing to allow the rest of us to pay while they nurture warped fantasies of liberal fascism and the heroic virtues of personal defense."Well said Mr. Clarke, well said.</p>
Beth Cioffoletti | 12/17/2012 - 9:16am
<p>Keep writing and talking Kevin.Over the last few years I notice that I have become likely to speak up about gun violence.  I got tired of the arguments from those who insist on their "rights" to carry a gun, and the problem not being the gun but the person, etc.  When I would write to my congressmen I would get robotic responses,  soundbites right from the NRA.  They seemed so sure of themselves, so powerful.But now I am realizing that the children of America need our voices, our protest.  Silence is not an option anymore.</p>
MICHELLE FRANCL-DONNAY DR | 12/16/2012 - 11:49am
<p>"How many children died last week because of handguns in America’s cities?"  Probably about 50.According to the CDC, 5740 children were killed by guns in the US during 2008 and 2009 (the latest years for which there is data).  That's an average of 55 per week.  We tolerate the equivalent of two of these tragedies a week.  What would happen if we plastered the photos of <strong>all</strong> those childrens' parents each and every week on the front page of the paper?  or ran them as a ticker along the bottom of the news?  We let this plague of violence disguise itself as a trickle, when in fact it is a river of blood.The data on death by assault in the US is both troubling (the rate here is far, far higher than in other developed nations) and hopeful -- deadly assaults are becoming less likely.  See data from OECD and CDC here:  <a href=" "></a></p>