Calling all Jesuits: Time for a national campaign for gun control?

Recently on Twitter, Tom Reese, S.J., linked to an article from the Ignatian Solidarity Network detailing the ways in which Jesuit schools around the country were trying to respond to the murder of 49 people in Orlando on June 12. Many Jesuit schools have had prayer services or Masses; university officials from around the country, like Brian Linnane, S.J., at Loyola University Maryland, Lisa Reiter at Loyola University Chicago or Michael Engh, S.J., at Santa Clara University, have also issued statements of support for those hurt or killed and for the L.G.B.T. communities of our nation.

And as I read through the list of great schools, some of the country’s very best, filled with talented faculty and staff, dedicated alumni and passionate students, I couldn’t help but wonder what might be accomplished if our Jesuit schools and all our other institutions worked together to advocate for stronger gun control—a national campaign.

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Because individually organized prayer services, while meaningful and important, are not enough. Statements of support, particularly for the L.G.B.T. community, are important, very important at a time when many of our leaders have been silent on this point, only reinforcing the sense of exclusion and danger that many L.G.B.T. people feel.

But statements, too, are not enough. Not in the face of the same events occurring over and over. Indeed, our situation calls to mind the oft-quoted definition of insanity: to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result.

These days I find myself haunted by the possibility that all our prayers and statements and articles on gun control are things that make us feel like we’re doing something meaningful, when in fact we haven’t actually committed to doing anything at all. I daresay that every Jesuit school at every level has had prayer services and issued challenging statements after other gun-related tragedies, notably the killings at the Sandy Hook school in 2012. But on Sunday 49 people were gunned down by a single armed individual. How can we tolerate that?

It’s quite clear that our politicians are not going to do anything unless they are forced (or, put more positively, given a tremendous amount of political cover). We can complain about that and retweet endless crazy comments made by right-wing politicians and others. It feels good, but none of it makes any actual difference.

I’m sure that some of our institutions and members of our institutions are already working for change on this issue. They should be praised and also consulted. Because if our institutions worked together, we could make an enormous difference. I daresay there are few-to-no networks in this country with more connections, resources and capacity to exert the kind of pressure needed for actual change than that of Jesuit institutions.

Obviously, there is risk in speaking out and organizing on the issue of gun control. Debate over gun laws are the definition of divisive in our country. Some alumni, employees, board members would not agree to our institutions advocating for any restrictions on gun ownership. Some may threaten to withhold donations or other support.

But if our institutions—which include not only the works of the Society of Jesus and our Ignatian-inspired colleagues but the Jesuit provinces themselves—cannot take the risk of standing up and leading when faced with such an obvious and ongoing moral and social catastrophe, honestly, what is the point of them?

It’s like the old joke about the guy caught in the flood who repeatedly refuses rescue because he believes God will save him. In the end he drowns, not because God didn’t hear his prayers, but because he never acted on any of the opportunities God provided. “Where were you?” he howls at God at the Pearly Gates.

“I sent you a jeep, a boat and a helicopter,” God tells him. “What more did you need?”

Or as late-night comedian Samantha Bee put it in furious, blistering, must see comments: “Love does not win unless we start loving each other enough to fix our [EXPLETIVE] problems.”

Jim McDermott, S.J., is America's Los Angeles correspondent.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Rydberg
1 year 6 months ago
You are aware that your position is far from unanimous in the USA Jesuit Order? Many of your men are law abiding hunters as well as hobby gun enthusiasts. Many like their own Parents are, as well as their friends, sisters, brothers and cousins... I think that you ought to be tolerant of other's views. There are many different law-abiding milieus across the American Church. Reason being that our Secular and Religious are drawn out of the ordinary USA population. Same goes here in Canada... And it's a law-abiding diverse group. Just my opinion, in Christ,
Sandi Sinor
1 year 6 months ago
Are you aware of the fact that most American gun control proposals tend to be quite modest? Most do not intend to deny hunters their rifles, or even to deny pretty much anyone a handgun for "self-defense". They are not aimed at rescinding the second amendment to the US constitution. They are proposals that are nothing more than basic common sense. But common sense has not been part of the conversation. If the Jesuits can lead a movement to get this discussion beyond the stalement that has existed for years, more power to them. As one congressman from CT recently noted, we require everyone to take courses and pass a test in order to get a driver's license. Canada has numerous common sense regulations regarding guns, including that all who apply for a license complete a gun safety course. The most recent analysis shows that in 2014, gun deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Nine out of 10 American households have access to a motor vehicle while a little less than a third of American households contain a gun. To reduce the unacceptable toll of death and injury, firearms must be regulated for health and safety just as we regulate motor vehicles and all other consumer products. http://www.vpc.org/regulating-the-gun-industry/gun-deaths-compared-to-motor-vehicle-deaths/ Unlike in Canada, most US states have no controls at all - pretty much anyone can walk into a store and come out with guns and as many rounds of ammunition as they can carry away and pay for. No background checks, no restrictions. Unfortunately, each state makes its own laws, so if someone lives in a state that has a few modest regulations on gun purchases, they can simply go to another state and buy them. Right now even those on the possible terrorist watch list can simply go in to a store and buy an automatic weapon, as the Orlando shooter did, no delays, no questions asked. But most of the mass shootings in the US have not involved possible terrorism, but background checks should be a minimal requirement for all who buy guns in the US. Most deaths by gun in the US have been at the hands of "mainstream" Americans, including mass shootings and active shooter cases. there were 12,562 gun deaths in 2014 and 9,959 in 2015 thus far. That’s a grand total of 301,797 firearm-related deaths in the past decade, compared to 71 deaths from domestic acts of terrorism......If we factor in terrorist attacks overseas, the comparison is still stark. From 2004 to 2014, 303 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks worldwide, according to State Department reports. During that same time frame, 320,523 Americans were killed because of gun violence. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/oct/05/viral-image/fact-checking-comparison-gun-deaths-and-terrorism-/ Tell me, what possible reason could there be for ordinary citizens to buy semi-automatic weapons whose design is meant to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible? You don't need a semi-automatic weapon to bring down a duck, or even a deer, Personally, I don't understand why people enjoy killing beautiful and innocent animals for "sport" rather than for food, but some do, and nobody is proposing banning it. Guns kill thousands of Americans every year (about 13000 last year) - homicide, suicide, accidents, including many involving young children shooting themselves or others. We tend to focus on terrorism, but relatively few gun deaths at the hands of terrorists have occurred in the US during the last 15 years. Many of these deaths, often accidental, involve children. In 2015, 555 children younger than 12 years of age died from gun wounds.. There are at least 555 reasons to ask whether American children are safer from gun violence today than they were three years ago, when the unthinkable happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That's how many kids under the age of 12 have died from gunshots — both intentional and accidental — since Adam Lanza stormed into the school in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, and shot dead 20 children and six staff members, according to an NBC News analysis. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/sandy-hook-american-kid-has-died-gun-every-other-day-n478746 You are a Canadian. Your country has so far not experienced gun violence in the same degree as Americans have. Canada also does restrict certain weapons, the very weapons that many Americans want restricted also. When looking at firearm-related homicide rates in comparable countries, Canada’s rate is about seven times lower than that of the United States (3.5 per 100,000 population), although it is higher than several other peer countries. .....Presently, Canadian law classifies firearms into three categories: prohibited, restricted, and non-restricted. Prohibited firearms include military-grade assault weapons such as AK-47s and sawn-off rifles or shotguns. Handguns are generally classified as restricted weapons, while rifles and shotguns are usually non-restricted. The AR-15 rifles used by the San Bernardino suspects is classified as restricted. More on Canadian gun control regulations here http://globalnews.ca/news/1378685/firearms-in-canada-how-is-someone-able-to-get-a-gun/ From a BBC report Mass shootings: There were 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, which catalogues such incidents. A mass shooting is defined as a single shooting incident which kills or injures four or more people, including the assailant. Source: Mass Shooting Tracker<.em>School shootings: There were 64 school shootings in 2015, according to a dedicated campaign group set up in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Connecticut in 2012. Those figures include occasions when a gun was fired but no-one was hurt.The number of gun murders per capita in the US in 2012 - the most recent year for comparable statistics - was nearly 30 times that in the UK, at 2.9 per 100,000 compared with just 0.1 per 100,000 in the UK. Of all the murders in the US in 2012, 60% were by firearm compared with 31% in Canada, 18.2% in Australia, and just 10% in the UK.
William Rydberg
1 year 6 months ago
Did you know that if America had single payor Universal Canadian Medicare tens of millions of Americans now dead since the 1960's (when Canada introduced Universal Medicare) would be alive today... That's what I call an unbeatable fact. I am still rooting for Mr Senator Sanders of Vermont. I have family roots in Vermont... Kindly keep your replies to a few lines...
Andrew Eppink
1 year 6 months ago
The Proabortion Sanders. Greiviously sinful to vote for proabortion politicians.
Sandi Sinor
1 year 6 months ago
I will provide as much factual information as I have time to obtain and copy, Mr. Rydberg. If you choose not to read it, that is up to you. This issue has nothing at all to do with a single payer health system. As it happens, I agree that our system is broken and we need to study the single payer systems that work well, such as most of the systems in Europe (the UK's system works less well than many in Europe), and probably Canada as well. But until that happens, if it ever happens, we might make some progress in reducing deaths due to guns. Let's save the lives we can. But since you criticized the proposal that Jesuits become more vocal on this matter, you should at least be aware of the realities in the US that need to be addressed - and a strong Catholic voice might make ordinary citizens more aware of the real tragedies that are caused every single day in this country due to letting anyone buy guns, any kind of guns, any amount of ammunition, with no background checks, no requirements to take a gun safety course etc. This year has been especially bad with children's involvement - every single week a toddler (toddler - a child younger than 4) has been involved in a shooting, either of themselves or another person. Toddlers have killed members of their own families as well as themselves. So, if the Jesuits want to speak out, I'm fully behind them.
Kevin Murphy
1 year 6 months ago
Citing Samantha Bee as a moral voice cheapens your initiative. She is condescending, biased against conservatives, and believes that profanity equals moral outrage. In short, not someone I'd cite to bring people together. Couldn't you have done better?
John Walton
1 year 6 months ago
Great experimental idea. Sounds good to me. Every President of a Jesuit College, University or High School, every development officer can send a letter to their alums and patrons saying something to the effect that the US should adopt stricter gun laws. What's that number for Hillsdale College again?
Gef Flimlin
1 year 6 months ago
Take up the fervor that Fr. Dan Berrigan had against war and apply to this war on gun violence.
Andrew Eppink
1 year 6 months ago
Brilliant. Disarm the innocent. Jesuits. No wonder the Pope says such routinely stupid things.
Dimitri Cavalli
1 year 6 months ago
Instead of restricting gun ownership, the real question may be if the federal and state governments are constitutionally required to pay for firearms for people who can't afford them. If you think I'm insane, consider that a Jesuit priest, Fr. Robert Drinan, made a similar argument in Commonweal magazine in 1973 or 1974. Then in Congress, Fr. Drinan argued that because the Supreme Court ruled that there was a constitutional right to abortion, the federal and state governments had to pay for abortions for poor women. If they can't afford an abortion, then women are not allowed to exercise this right. To this day, this is why pro-abortion groups demand public financing for abortions. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that governments didn't have to pay for abortions. (Fr. Drinan, however, continued to support public financing of abortions. Some "moral architect.") In recent years, the Supreme Court, in two decisions, ruled that there is a constitutional right to bear (or own) firearms. Recalling Drinanian constitutional theory, if poor people can't afford guns, then they can't exercise their constitutional rights to bear arms. So your tax money may end up paying for someone's .44 Magnum or AR-15. Allow me to upset even more people here by recalling that both Eleanor Roosevelt and the Rev. Martin Luther King were gun-owners.
J Cosgrove
1 year 6 months ago
I assume that Fr. McDermott will start a debate on concealed carry and how encouraging more of this will stop the slaughter that takes place in gun free zones. It will not stop the hate but it will save lives. If one is interested in saving lives, then they should investigate all the alternatives.
Jm McDermott
1 year 6 months ago

Some interesting comments on this feed. William, I am aware the Jesuits have a range of opinions on guns and gun control. As I've written here before, there were about 100 hunting rifles in closets, under beds and in car trunks of men in my novitiate.  

Notably, I'm pretty sure there were no automatic weapons, high capacity cartridges or guns with high speed shooting capacity among them. And I also feel very sure they would not have been allowed. Because, at least in Minnesota, the deer just aren't that dangerous.

I'm not arguing that all Jesuits should agree with me, or all people. Or that all guns should be confiscated, although personally I'd prefer that or something close to it. I am saying that I think there's a compelling argument that we have reached a point where there is a moral obligation at this point to work to change our current situation, and that as such our institutions should consider getting invovled. 

And I think we're beyond "respecting one another's opinions". That has led to no change and further deaths.

Kevin, as to your comment about Samantha Bee, I think her arguments are persuasive and her outrage is warranted. I share it. And I don't think anyone should be written off just because they lean left or right or tend to attack the left or right. (And I should reguarly be reminded of that when I come down on others who represent points of view I don't agree with!)

Sandi, love what you had to say. Totally agree -- we have tried to do very very small things in the US, like background checks, and haven't even been able to accomplish that. I am pushing for much more, in part because I think the NRA and others like keeping us arguing about the small stuff that won't matter nearly enough. (As Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy pointed out during the filibuster, background checks would not have stopped Sandy Hook from happening. Blocking assault weapons, large capacity cartridges and high speed firing would have.)

The regular "THEY'RE TAKING OUR GUNS" reaction is as of yet completely without basis in fact. Research in fact shows that gun laws generally loosen after a major incident, not grow stricter. (For example, pretty much every state in the union has conceal and carry laws now; that wasn't the case ten years ago.)

J and Andrew, I think all of the above answers your questions. I think the argument for conceal and carry is predicated on the completely false notion that people with guns would know what to do with them in a crisis. That takes training. The police have it. We don't. (Also, as of yet to hear about a bad situation that was halted by a bystander with a gun. I'm sure there are examples. I'd need to hear many to be persuaded, given the amount of violence going on out there.)  

And Andrew, sorry you feel that way. "Stupid" was one of ten words that my fifth grade teacher Mrs. McBride kept on the blackboard all year that we weren't allowed to say. As she said to us, so I say to you: you can do better. 

Dmitri, congratulations on offering the glass half full take on our situation! Our interpretation of the Constitution is nuts, but at least it's not (yet) that nuts.

Gef, I'm no Dan Berrigan, but that's exactly the kind of spirit I'm hoping we can find. 

And John, Hillsdale College isn't a Jesuit school. (But the alumni relations number is 517-607-2461.) :)

 

 

Sandi Sinor
1 year 6 months ago
This article in the New York Times has a graphic that clearly shows how very "different" the US is in regards to gun homicides compared to other developed nations. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/14/upshot/compare-these-gun-death-rates-the-us-is-in-a-different-world.html?action=click&contentCollection=Politics&module=Trending&version=Full®ion=Marginalia&pgtype=article
John Placette
1 year 6 months ago
My question is: What do you mean by "gun control?" Do you mean a gun ban? Do you mean limiting certain weapons? What is being proposed here? As a Roman Catholoc Deacon with almost 40 years in law enforcement, I have seen senseless violence up close and personal. I have carried a gun all my life. I have hunted and used guns for target shooting and sport. What is the end goal here?
Dimitri Cavalli
1 year 6 months ago
Since Fr. McDermott likes to write about pop culture, he should begin laying the pop cultural groundwork for more gun restrictions. How? Call on the entertainment industry to stop making zombie film and TV shows. Think about it. Every zombie production, whether it realizes or not, is a commercial for gun ownership, including automatic weapons. In these films and TV shows, the government is always unable to stop the outbreak. The diverse, cardboard cutout characters who manage to survive are the ones who manage to get their still undevoured hands on firearms. It would be interesting to see a zombie outbreak start in Kennesaw, Georgia which in early 1980s required all households to possess a gun and ammunition.
Dimitri Cavalli
1 year 6 months ago
Wouldn't a National Jesuit Campaign For Gun Control distract the Society and waste scarce resources from fighting the pressing issue of climate change? (I hope Fr. McDermott can multitask and budget his time accordingly.)
Dimitri Cavalli
1 year 6 months ago
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH, HERE IS A JESUIT EDITOR'S BRIEF COLUMN FROM AMERICA, "GENTLE THOUGHTS ON MURDER," APRIL 11, 1964 Gentle Thoughts on Murder If I had a submachine gun, I would lean out the window of my room in the AMERICA residence, every now and then, and spray 108th Street with bullets. You may think this a strange desire. But if you lived here, it would seem a very reasonable thing to do. I don't want a submachine gun to use on the people across the street who play Latin-American phonograph records at full blast until the wee hours of Saturday and Sunday morning. Against them, the appropriate weapon would be the bazooka or a well-placed hand grenade. But for the couples who thrash out their marital difficulties at the top of their voices in the middle of the street and the middle of the night, the submachine gun would be just the thing. Also for the fellow who sits behind the wheel of his car and honks his horn incessantly for 15 minutes on end. This man has a grievance, I admit. Some clown has double-parked another car next to his, and he can't get out. So he leans on his horn until the double-parker appears and moves his car far enough to let our friend drive away. Strict justice probably would require that one should wait until the double-parker had moved his car. Then one would mow him down rather than the original offender against the neighborhood's peace and quiet. But, in my opinion, a higher law fully justifies shooting them both. ( Incidentally, I hope the War on Poverty will do something about getting places for the poor to park their cars. In my version of New York's West Side Story, this is a major problem. ) Nothing is ever done about the noise around here, however, because I don't have a submachine gun. You see, it would be against the vow of poverty for a Jesuit to buy a gun without his superior's permission. Our superior, a man of high ideals but limited vision, cannot see his way clear to giving me that permission. "Suppose," he says, "everyone in the community wanted a submachine gun. The cost would be prohibitive. Besides, we'd have the police in here all the time wanting to know who had been firing bursts at the citizens. Once, maybe twice, I could talk them into forgetting it. But you couldn't expect them to take excuses forever." There you have the eternal voice of authority: cautious, hesitant, unwilling to take a chance. Summer is icumen in, and soon the night on 108th Street will be glad with the music of the Greater and the Lesser Antilles, the working out of the I-Thou relationship in marriage and the resolution of the double-parking problem. Everyone will be glad but me, and all because I can't have a submachine gun. FRANCIS CANAVAN
J Cosgrove
1 year 6 months ago
 From Fr. McDermott’s comment below
I think the argument for conceal and carry is predicated on the completely false notion that people with guns would know what to do with them in a crisis.
Your opinion obviates what others say without any evidence of support except that you say it. People who carry are in many places required to get training. Also it could be a requirement everywhere for anyone to carry to have ongoing training and certification. So the comment is baseless. I personally am not supporting that all who want to should be able to carry but that responsible adults should be encouraged if they want to carry, be given the training.
I'd need to hear many to be persuaded, given the amount of violence going on out there.)
There are thousands of stories of gun use in self defense and a handful of stories of concealed carry stopping the killing of others. The reason for less of the second is that nearly all of the multiple shootings take place in gun free zones where one cannot have a gun. So how could concealed carry have prevented it there. To say that it should not be allowed because it did not stop more of the shootings is in reality a non sequitur. On a previous thread by Fr. McDermott on gun control I provide him with two instances in 2015 where CC prevented multiple deaths. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-uber-driver-shoots-gunman-met-0420-20150419-story.html http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Man-Shot-in-the-Chest-Inside-West-Philly-Barbershop-297176271.html Concealed Carry also correlates with less crime. So as I suggested, anyone interested in saving lives should be interested in having a debate on concealed carry.

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