January 18, 2013
Guns and a Culture of Life
Central to our faith is the core belief that from the greatest tragedy in world history (the crucifixion) God transformed the world with the greatest triumph in world history (the resurrection). In the aftermath of the string of mass shootings in the United States, culminating in the December Sandy Hook massacre, many of us wonder what lessons could possibly be taken from these horrible events to transform our society in any positive way?
Earlier this week, the President unveiled his plan to reduce gun violence. It is a comprehensive approach to the gun violence in America that killed 31,672 people in 2010. While no approach is perfect, this plan addresses background checks to limit those who have access to firearms, the types of weapons and ammunition available for purchase, the need to restart research of gun violence which was banned at the behest of opponents of gun control, more comprehensive legislation, and improved mental health treatment.
Criticism of this plan rests mainly on the argument that such measures will not stop all the killing and if someone wants to kill, they will do so. That is true. Such an argument misses the point. The lack of a perfect solution is not an excuse to have no solution at all. Sadly, the state of the human condition is that some people will always commit crimes – even unspeakable horrors. Yet, do we as a society throw up our hands and abdicate the use of the law to make effective changes simply because the law will not stop 100% of the crime? Imagine if we weakened our anti-terrorism efforts because such measures cannot stop all terrorists. We would never do so.
The critics ask the wrong question. I suggest there is a better question than "Will these measures stop all gun violence?" Rather, we should consider invoking John Paul II and ask, "Do these measures offer an opportunity to replace a 'culture of death' with a 'culture of life?'" I suggest they do.
The "culture of life" concept is associated most often by the media with a pro-life stance surrounding the issue of abortion. However, in 1993, when reporting on John Paul II's visit to the United States where he outlined the "combat between the culture of death and the culture of life," the New York Times described it to also include concern regarding "urban violence" and "a broader assault on human life." (New York Times, August 16, 1993)
This is consistent with the statement issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops after the Sandy Hook shooting:
It is time for our nation to renew a culture of life in our society.
Sacred Scripture reminds us time and again to "be not afraid." Indeed, we must find within ourselves the faith-filled courage to address the challenges our nation faces, both in our homes and in our national policies.
The statement continues to specifically address gun control. "With regard to the regulation of fire arms, first, the intent to protect one's loved ones is an honorable one, but simply put, guns are too easily accessible. The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in their document, 'The International Arms Trade (2006),' emphasized the importance of enacting concrete controls on handguns, for example, noting that 'limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe on the rights of anyone.'"
A culture of life perspective on these issues transcends a legalistic analysis of proposed statutes. Instead is asks whether measures are promoting an atmosphere of life or a glorification of death. By advocating for a comprehensive approach to firearm violence which includes addressing mental health needs, "nurturing school environments," and improved training for both school counselors and school resource officers we are taking strong step forward.
The litmus test for steps to combat violence cannot only be whether a plan is perfect. No plan will ever pass such a test and society will remain (as no doubt the gun industry wishes) in the status quo. I would argue the status quo is a culture of death. Alternatively, if proposed measures are examined through a lens of the culture of life, society has the potential to move forward and decrease the violence.
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