The Strength to Care

There was a mournful tone in President Obama’s eulogy on Sept. 22 for the 12 victims of the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C., as he lamented America’s “creeping resignation” to gun violence. “Our hearts are broken again,” he said. “The question is, do we care enough?”

Have we become so numb to gun violence that a deadly attack in our nation’s capital fails to shock? We still perform what has become an American ritual: a speech of consolation, a day of mourning, outraged calls for stricter gun control and an assurance—like President Obama’s on Dec. 14 after the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School—that we will “come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this.” But in the wake of the Navy Yard killings, it seems we could barely go through the motions. Whether compassion fatigue has left us inured to the sufferings of victims, or we are resigned to a political stalemate over any new gun regulations, we are allowing mass violence to become “the new normal.”

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A recent study by Michael Siegel of Boston University, covering all 50 states from 1981 to 2010, demonstrates that the more guns there are in any one place, the more homicides and suicides there will be. The study, the largest ever of its kind, which appeared in the American Journal of Public Health, reports that for each 1 percent increase in household gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9 percent. Another study, published last month by the Urban Institute, revealed that in 2010 alone there were 36,341 emergency room visits and 25,024 hospitalizations due to firearm injuries. Most of the visits involved low-income young men. One recent shooting spree in Chicago (Sept. 20-22) left four dead and 15 wounded.

While the litany of shootings—at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Tucson, Newtown—has dominated the headlines and television news, other forces have blocked action. These include the National Rifle Association, gun manufacturers and gun marketers like Walmart, the biggest seller of firearms and ammunition in the United States. Add to that the television programs and Hollywood films in which all disputes are settled with shoot-outs, splattering walls and street corners with blood; and finally there are the politicians who pocket campaign contributions from gun makers in return for maintaining the status quo.

What can we do? Perhaps someday the Supreme Court will allow broader restrictions on gun ownership and use, but for now the court is stymied by the anachronistic worldview of the Second Amendment. For that reason America proposed repealing the Second Amendment (Editorial, 2/25) in order to allow Congress and state legislatures full discretion to pass appropriate measures to reduce gun violence. Aggressive owner registration for all weapons, regardless of point of sale, is needed as a basic, commonsense way to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands, whether of the mentally ill, young people or criminals. Comprehensive safety training and minimum storage requirements should also be required for anyone seeking the responsibility of gun ownership.

Fred Hiatt, in a column in The Washington Post (9/22), suggests that gun reform has been stymied because its opponents are “focused, passionate, unyielding and indefatigable,” while the reformers cannot agree on a common message. Other social movements have succeeded because they focused on a clear, immediate goal. Mr. Hiatt, citing anti-smoking campaigns and vehicular safety regulations, makes the case that “public health” is an argument that appeals to many Americans and could be effective in the campaign against gun violence.

As pro-life people of faith, we believe that gun control is a pro-life issue and that the pro-life movement should be passionate, unyielding and indefatigable in our efforts to end this scourge. As Pope Francis reminds us, reform takes time as it moves from discernment to laying the foundations for action. Perhaps a coalition with a steering committee of bishops, ecumenical partners, leaders of religious orders and lay persons could lead the faith-based effort. It should form soon. President Obama said in Washington that tears and prayers are not enough: “We’re going to have to change.” He ended with a quote from Aeschylus: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” In short, God will give us the strength to do this. Robert F. Kennedy quoted the same passage just hours after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Two months later Mr. Kennedy, like his brother, fell from a bullet fired by someone who should not have had a gun. The question we face is, do we still care?

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Agustin Paz
4 years ago
Dear Editors and Friends of “America,” By providential coincidence I’ve recently been practicing a homemade version of lectio divina using Thomas Merton’s “No Man Is an Island” (1955) and want to highlight an important analogy that he makes between right intentions and simple intentions (see chapter “Pure Intention,” 17) and to concretely attempt to build a better foundation as it relates to our options for dealing with the plague of violence that more and more encompasses all of our lives. The stagnation is deep, deeper than we like to admit to ourselves. Something is clearly wrong, yet…, we cannot fix it. “The man of right intention makes a juridical offering of his work to God and then plunges himself into the work, hoping for the best. For all his right intention he may well become completely dizzy in a maze of details.” (p. 71) I wonder how much of the paralysis you describe and that we collectively experience may be due to this dizziness. The option of a simple intention, one that doesn’t dissipate itself in creating and following better laws and rules, is one that encourages us to turn inward, to build from ourselves a simple intention. But yet what would such a simple intention look like? Is there a model that can truly begin to transform our societal addiction to violence? Fortunately, I think and wholeheartedly believe that we have a very concrete model, yet one that we haven’t yet consciously figured out how to fully incorporate into any of our public or religious liturgies (or moments of special gathering together). That model is the Nonviolent Jesus, the one who gave his followers his greatest Thanksgiving by giving himself up to the worst violence of the most powerful state officials, of his own temporal religious authorities and even of a large portion (or mob) of the general public. It is with this offering in his mind and in the specific circumstances of his coming crucifixion that he then says to his closest follower, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). Now does this mean that we are to simply lay ourselves down in the face of violence and let everybody run all over us without standing our ground? (Be it the neighborhood thug or even Russia or Iran or China or maybe even our own government.) Obviously not, that would be very impractical. But that doesn’t leave us without other powerful and more directly accessible options. Fortunately, the Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy and the Center for Christian Nonviolence have been preparing options for us for a number of years now (although I’ve only recently myself started to become better acquainted with them and their work). For starter, what a holy commotion it would start, the kind of commotion and noise that I think Pope Francis would encourage, if all the pastors who associate themselves with Christ in the USA (and the world) would take the time to read Rev. McCarthy’s simple proposal: “The Nonviolent Eucharistic Jesus: A Pastoral Approach.” And then to encourage all of us to do the same as an essential preparation for a holy war truly without violence. Where there is violence in the world Christ is always there, but only as the victim. Peace, Augustine Paz “I do know that Jesus has shown what one individual, no matter how small and insignificant he or she may be, can do to overcome evil where he or she meets it. I know that he has shown that complete human fulfillment is altogether independent of all the things which we associate with the good life.” John L. McKenzie, “Source” p. 61, 62.
Joseph Funaro
4 years ago
I am trying to understand the reasoning behind this article.According to theCDC there were 12,000 gun homicides in 2012 and 1.2 million abortions. Previously the editorial board supported repealing the anachronistic second amendment to solve the problem of gun violence. I would expect in the interests of fairness and logic it would strongly support the repeal of the 14th amendment which was used to legalize abortion. Certainly preventing the murder of 1.2 million murders trumps preventing 12000.
Catherine Green
4 years ago
I used to feel exactly as in the article each time of "breaking news" of another shooting. However, the last time a shooting was in the news, despite the tragedy, I was surprised to feel a sudden lightness of spirit from knowing that I had not cooperated in the bloodshed in any way. Instead I had asked my elected representatives to place reasonable restrictions on the type of guns sold, and to require thorough background checks.
Todd Chaddon
4 years ago
I don't understand the point of this article either. I recently obtained a Kindle subscription to this magazine, and after reading editorials from this issue and from the previous week, it seems the editorial staff are comprised of political left-leaning progressives. Gun control isn't in the realm of Pro-life issues. I would like to see a reasonable response to the following: 1) Criminals do not submit to background checks; they don't follow the law by definition. So how would more restrictive gun laws help reduce gun violence? Chicago has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, and yet it still has high rates of gun violence. How can this be? 2) Are the editors suggesting an unarmed citizenry to help reduce gun violence or suicides by gun? This is nonsense. Any totalitarian state requires an unarmed citizenry. Is the Society of Jesus really suggesting this? I would like to see real discussion on how to reduce violence instead of focusing on the tools used in violent acts. I would like to conclude by saying that I have always had a lot of respect for the Society, especially for its founder. I hope the Society can rid itself of Marxist leaning members. These are the same folks who gave us liberation theology and went so far as to take up arms in the early 1980's. Please drop your politics and focus on the conversion of souls and the Eucharist.
Catherine Green
4 years ago
Mr. Chaddon, Of course gun control is a pro life issue. All the life issues are connected. Human life is a gift from God, and all violence which takes that life is wrong. In fact, becoming familiar with church teaching on the different life issues can help people to understand the reasoning is the same in every case: human life is sacred, and cannot be taken for our own convenience, fear, greed or selfishness. It is certainly not only Jesuits who teach about the need for gun control- try reading at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops after Newtown! http://www.usccb.org/news/2012/12-219.cfm
Joseph Funaro
4 years ago
Gun violence may be a pro life issue but gun control is a proposed solution. The clergy should stick to moral issues not political ones but if they are going to address political solutions to moral issues I am waiting to see any serious attempts to stop the 1.2 million victims of abortion violence each year. Judging by their lack of any serious action I can only assume that they think the lives of 12000 adults out weigh the lives of 1.2million unborn infants. I am still waiting for the editorial board of America to advocate the appeal of the 14th amendment.
Patrick Schoettmer
4 years ago
Mr. Chaddon, Perhaps you are unfamiliar with this, but the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has made similar appeals. Indeed, the Bishops' representative before the Senate Judiciary Committee testified to that effect, noting that the Bishops have formally labeled gun control a "pro-life" issue and have called for, among other things, universal background checks, extended clip bans, and a full ban on so-called "assault rifles". (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/criminal-justice-restorative-justice/upload/USCCB-Senate-Testimony-Proposals-to-Reduce-Gun-Violence-2013.pdf) More specifically, to respond to your points: 1) Chicago is on the border with the State of Indiana, which has very lax gun laws. While Chicago can have all the restrictive gun laws it wants, it is trifling easy to flit across the border and purchase guns under the much more lax standards of my home state. More broadly, reducing the number of guns reduces the number of gun incidents. Most gun fatalities are either from suicide or from shooting your loved ones and family members. The incidents of fighting off home invaders, while real, are relatively rare. 2) Australia, New Zealand, and the UK have made such moves to significantly limit the availability of firearms. Are you suggesting that those are totalitarian states? Perhaps, sir, the problem is not in the Church's position on the matter, but rather your unwillingness to challenge orthodoxies of your political partisans and co-ideologues. Perhaps, sir, you are putting your desire to be right with your political allies ahead of the direction your faith would naturally lead you towards. Indeed, Robert Putnam and David Campbell have found in their engaging work on religion and politics (in a book called American Grace) that people tend to change their religious views to match their political views than vice versa. We would all do well to reflect from time to time on why we hold the values we do, and whether they are truly consistent with the ethics we want to hold.
Joseph Funaro
4 years ago
Perhaps sir your last paragraph applies more to you than Mr. Chaddon.. The church teaches that we should extend preferential treatment to the poor and I suspect we both agree with that but would propose very different solutions. I think the bishops should stick with their expertise which is theology and morality and leave the solutions to the laity
Joseph Funaro
4 years ago
Mr. Schoettmer in regard to paragraph (1) please read http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2013/08/30/harvard-gun-study-no-decrease-in-violence-with-ban/ Which appears to refute it. Gun violence is caused by violent people. Christ established his church to continue his mission of changing mankind. The more committed Christians there are the less violence. Violent people will always find ways to carry out violence. The church needs to get back to the mission it's founder gave it
Cheryl Drivello
2 years 9 months ago
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frank smith
4 years ago
Molon Labe

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