Bishops call for comprehensive gun reform

Students who walked out of classes from Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland protest against gun violence in front of the White House Feb. 21 in Washington. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairmen of two U.S. bishops' committees said it is long past time for the nation's leaders to come up with "common-sense gun measures as part of a comprehensive approach to the reduction of violence in society and the protection of life."

The U.S. Catholic bishops have advocated for such measures for decades and will continue to do so, said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education.

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In the aftermath of the tragic attack Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, "this moment calls for an honest and practical dialogue around a series of concrete proposals -- not partisanship and overheated rhetoric," they said in a joint statement March 5.

"Once again, we are confronted with grave evil, the murder of our dear children and those who teach them," they said. "Our prayers continue for those who have died, and those suffering with injuries and unimaginable grief."

Bishops Dewane and Murry rejected the idea of arming teachers, as President Donald Trump and others have suggested as one possible solution. This "seems to raise more concerns than it addresses," the prelates said.

"This moment calls for an honest and practical dialogue around a series of concrete proposals -- not partisanship and overheated rhetoric."

"Setting a more appropriate minimum age for gun ownership, requiring universal background checks -- as the bishops have long advocated -- and banning 'bump stocks' are concepts that appear to offer more promise," the bishops said.

So-called bump stocks are devices used to make a semiautomatic gun act like a fully automatic weapon.

"We must explore ways to curb violent images and experiences with which we inundate our youth, and ensure that law enforcement have the necessary tools and incentives to identify troubled individuals and get them help," they continued.

"Most people with mental illness will never commit a violent act, but mental illness has been a significant factor in some of these horrific attacks. We must look to increase resources and seek earlier interventions," the bishops said.

Bishops Dewane and Murry noted that for many years, the USCCB "has supported a federal ban on assault weapons; limitations on civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines; further criminalizing gun trafficking; certain limitations on the purchase of handguns; and safety measures such as locks that prevent children and anyone other than the owner from using guns without permission."

They also remarked on the advocacy on the gun issue being carried out by survivors of the Parkland shooting and other young people around the country, calling their action "a stark reminder that guns pose an enormous danger to the innocent when they fall into the wrong hands."

"The voices of these advocates should ring in our ears as they describe the peaceful future to which they aspire," Bishops Dewane and Murry said. "We must always remember what is at stake as we take actions to safeguard our communities and honor human life. In the words of St. John, 'Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.'"

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