As lawmakers in Illinois consider several bills designed to curb the gun violence that continues to plague Chicago and the nation, Cardinal Blase Cupich visited the state’s capital on Wednesday to urge the legislature to listen to the voices of young people crying out for action.
“The youth of our nation are shaming the adult world into action,” Cardinal Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, told reporters, throwing his voice behind survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead. In recent weeks, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have appeared in the media pressing for tighter gun control laws and are planning a march in Washington, D.C., in March.
“Their voices are a wakeup call that should have been heard years ago,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Cupich: “The youth of our nation are shaming the adult world into action.”
Invoking Pope Francis, who called arms sellers “merchants of death,” the cardinal said, “We should not be naïve about the role of money in our national epidemic of gun violence. Arms dealers are driven by profits.”
“But profits are never more important than people, and we must never allow the desire for money to eclipse our most sacred duty to keep our children safe,” he continued. “When even small measures to limit access to items such as armor-piercing bullets, bump stocks and high-volume magazines are opposed, we must ask those who oppose them: Whom are you protecting?”
The number of shootings and gun-related deaths in Chicago remains high, even if data suggest the epidemic is lessening. In 2017, 650 people were murdered in the city, down from 771 the previous year, CNN reported in January. Nearly 3,500 people were injured by guns in 2017. Two months into 2018, gun violence appears to be falling again, but The Chicago Tribune reported that nearly 300 people have already been shot and more than 60 have been murdered.
“We must never allow the desire for money to eclipse our most sacred duty to keep our children safe.”
The cardinal, who last year implemented a policy banning guns from all archdiocesan property, recalled his meetings with the families of victims of gun violence in Chicago.
“The carnage we saw in Florida happens nearly every day throughout our state and our nation. I say this as one who has prayed with family members of children lost to gun violence, trying my best to offer God’s love and healing,” he said. He added, “In the name of those murdered children, [elected officials] must begin the process of walking away from the moral compromises that doom our society to inaction.”
The cardinal laid out several measures to confront gun violence that he supports, including rigorous screening for those seeking gun licenses, increased funding for studies related to gun violence and better access to mental health. He also said lawmakers can “make sure that all students have access to a solid education and that workers receive a fair wage that lifts families out of the cycle of poverty and despair that perpetuates the cycle of violence.”
“The time for words is over, our children are telling us. What is now required is action.”
On Tuesday, the state’s Judiciary-Criminal Committee approved five gun control measures including barring anyone younger than 21 from buying an assault-style weapon, prohibiting the purchase of large-capacity ammunition feeders and outlawing civilian use of body armor. The measures are tailored to address recent shootings in Florida and one in Chicago that took the life of an off-duty police officer.
One bill, named the “Commander Paul Bauer Act,” would ban the sale of some high-capacity magazines as well as some kinds of personal body armor. Chicago’s police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, was in Springfield on Tuesday urging lawmakers to pass the bill. He told WLS-TV that the cardinal has been a key partner in the city’s efforts to curb gun violence.
“The cardinal has been great. We have a great relationship since I became superintendent. We have constant dialogue, and he wants to see this city safer,” he said.
In his remarks Wednesday, Cardinal Cupich also highlighted the threat faced by police from military-style assault weapons in the hands of civilians, saying he stands “in solidarity with those charged with protecting us.”
“Their right to return home safely each day to their families includes the reasonable expectation that those who would harm society are not armed with weapons designed for the battlefield and bullets designed to kill police officers,” he said.
Representatives of the Illinois State Rifle Association and the Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois opposed the measures, calling them incomplete and poorly drafted. They said they were a constitutional overreach in some cases.
Political leaders, the cardinal said, “can stop saying that they will pray for victims and uphold family values if that is the only response they care to give to these tragedies.”
“The time for words is over, our children are telling us,” he said. “What is now required is action.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.