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December 13th, 2012

Silence Begets Violence


As you probably know from this Busted Halo video, Advent for many Christians is a time of joyful preparation and longing for Christmas. During this season, we are called to spend time with family, reflect on the blessings we enjoy in our lives, discern how we might help others, and set aside time to find peace during an otherwise hectic and stressful few weeks.

It was within this context, during the second week of Advent, that I read with horror — on Twitter as it happened — that a masked gunman opened fire in a suburban Oregon shopping mall, spreading terror, and ultimately killing two individuals before succumbing to gunfire himself.

Last week, a member of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, Jovan Belcher, shot and killed his girlfriend and then drove to Arrowhead Stadium where he shot himself in the head in front of his coach, another player and the team’s general manager.

Over the summer, a young man wearing full body armor entered a crowded movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. He threw canisters of tear gas into the audience and used several guns to fire indiscriminately into the crowd. Twelve people died and 58 others were injured.

Despite all this, despite the nearly 12,000 individuals killed by guns in the United States, which is guided by the National Rifle Association, an organization that spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year promoting a robust gun culture, gun rights advocates are quick to claim that more guns on the streets make us safer. They claim that families need guns in their homes to protect themselves and that assault weapons must be available for hunting enthusiasts.

But none of this is true.

David Frum at The Daily Beast notes that:

A gun in the house minimally doubles the risk that a household member will kill himself or herself. (Some studies put the increase in suicide risk as high as 10 times.) An American is 50% more likely to be shot dead by his or her own hand than to be shot dead by a criminal assailant. More than 30,000 Americans injure themselves with guns every year.

You might remember that neither President Barack Obama nor his opponent, former Governor Mitt Romney, spoke out about gun violence during their months-long campaign, for fear of offending the powerful NRA and losing votes in crucial swing states.

The United States has gun-related homicide rates nearly 20 times higher than other wealthy nations, with gun-related suicides six times higher and accidental gun deaths five times higher.

Iconic sportscaster Bob Costas responded to the tragedy in Kansas City during a segment on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, taking a brief moment to speak out against the craziness that is unbridled gun culture in this country, and quoting Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock. He said:

In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows? But here, wrote Jason Whitlock, is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.

His comments, predictably, were mocked and ridiculed by gun rights enthusiasts and, who knows, perhaps Belcher would have found another way to commit violence on others and himself, but Costas is right. The United States has gun-related homicide rates nearly 20 times higher than other wealthy nations, with gun-related suicides six times higher and accidental gun deaths five times higher.

Guns are killing Americans, destroying lives and bringing terror to individuals and families every day of the year. Advent, sadly, is no exception.

Reflecting on the shootings in Colorado, the Jesuit writer James Martin wrote a compelling case that gun control is a life issue, like euthanasia and abortion:

These shootings would not have happened if the shooter did not have such easy access to firearms and ammunition. So religious people need to be invited to meditate on the connection between the more traditional “life issues” and the overdue need for stricter gun control. The oft-cited argument, “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” seems unconvincing to me. Of course people kill people; as people also procure abortions, decide on euthanasia and administer the death penalty. Human beings are agents in all these matters. The question is not so much how lives are ended, but how to make it more difficult to end lives.

Speaking out against a violent gun culture is fraught with risk in our society. Even some liberals in the Democratic Party are too afraid to take on powerful interest groups like the NRA. It’s difficult to find any mainstream political leader willing to suggest that gun control should be tightened and enforced, or perhaps even to question if the framers of the Constitution actually envisioned private gun ownership.

But during this season of Advent, when Christians see in the words of Isaiah a peace so immense that “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,” we continue to find ourselves as a people soaked in violence and anger with apparently little resolve to confront this sad truth. So in addition to our prayers for victims of violence, we should use this time to consider how we might witness to the Gospel and take a stand against a culture that makes obtaining guns, and using them for evil, so easy.

This post concludes my first year writing the Church & State column for Busted Halo®. I’ve enjoyed participating in this vibrant space for spiritual seekers, and I hope you’ve found my writing thoughtful, compelling, and, at times, challenging. If so, I hope you’ll join me in supporting Busted Halo’s® important ministry by offering a financial gift. 

The Author : Michael O'Loughlin
Mike O'Loughlin is a writer living in Washington, D.C., covering religion, politics, and culture. In addition to Busted Halo, his writing appears in the Advocate, National Catholic Reporter, Foreign Policy, Religion & Politics, and America. He's also appeared on Fox News and MSNBC. Follow him on twitter at @mikeoloughlin.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • James Oliver

    Pope John Paul II expressed his concern regarding the “culture of death” in Evangelium Vitae (April 1995): “We are confronted by a…reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable ‘culture of death.’ It is…a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of ‘conspiracy against life’ is unleashed. This conspiracy involves… individuals in their personal, family or group relationships.” Unfortunately, the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre of the innocents will never be able to express their opinion about this.

  • Alison Jacobs

    First of all, I should say I’m British so am writing this from a British perspective, though I have and have had plenty of American friends.

    When there’s news of a mass shooting, anyone I know automatically assumes it’s in America – because it usually is. I know it’s not just a question of guns, there are other factors. Your society is much more competitive than ours, for instance. And I know owning a gun does not make you a homicidal maniac – I have a very dear friend in the NRA. But how do you think this obsession with guns looks to the rest of the world? Not just that America is a violent society but a frightened one that puts the right to bear arms above the right to life. And please don’t say that nothing can be done. I remember people saying that after the university shootings a few years ago. A man known to have mental problems walks into a shop, puts down his money and walks out with a gun and nothing can be done? Sorry, run that by me again?

    I know you don’t need guns to hurt people but access to firearms does make a big difference. May I give an example?

    There have been three mass shootings in Britain (as opposed to about every 6 months in the US, I understand) and the worst was at the primary school in Dunblaine (sadly similar to yesterday’s in Newtown). A man walked into a classroom and killed, I think, 16 pupils and a teacher, then himself. A few months later another man wanted to emulate him. He walked into what you’d call a kindergarten and yes, several children were hurt but no one was killed. Partly that was down to one of the young women who worked there. She won a George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian bravery award. But she was able to stop him and survive because unlike the first man he had a machete, not a gun.

    I know, that’s just one example. You can probably quote others back at me. But no one is even surprised anymore to hear of shootings in America. Saddened, yes, but it’s just regarded as something that you do. And, dare I say it, one of the reasons people find it hard to think of America as a Christian country. Is that how you want the rest of the world to see you?

  • James Oliver

    I pray for those who died in the massacre of the innocents in Newtown, Connecticut. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon
    them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of
    God, rest in peace. Amen.

  • Bill

    The NRA is the largest promoter of gun safety in the nation with no expense to the taxpayer. Because someone owns a gun and knows how to use it properly does not mean that they are a killer OR a threat to society; anymore than just because every woman is equipped to be a prostitute, does not make them one. Why not check out the statistics of cities that have strict gun control laws and the number of people that use them illegally. Gun laws disarm the law abiding and allow thugs to aquire them illegally. Let’s not forget “Guns don’t kill people, but abortion clinics do kill people”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/coffeemancer Jonathan George

    The issue is that, aside from our cultural reasons, including Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that “a little rebellion, every now and then is a good thing,” prohibition and restriction almost never work. It’s part of the human condition, as is politics. Personally, I’m among those who wish to keep my religion as far away from my politics as possible. Political thought must be based around earthly logic, and religious thought must be based around metaphysical logic, ne’er the two shall meet.

    Back to my original point on prohibition, though. First, allow me to point to the Prohibition. No sooner was it passed and ratified, than Al Capone, et al. were busy importing alcohol from Canada, at an extreme markup, and were moonshiners making their personal brands of ‘shine or bathtub gin. Also, look at the drug Cartel of today, which is what’s causing all the bloodshed just 2 hours drive from where I’m writing this comment. Restrictions don’t work either.

    In our country, we are restricted from owning a fully automatic weapon, like an M-16. However, the M-16 has a semi-auto brother called the AR-15. The only difference? A modified receiver, that can easily be unmodified to become an M-16, legally bought and sold, and there is a man in Montana, as well as others throughout the nation, that does exactly that for a living. In a slightly less apparent way, the same thing happens on the Stock Exchange everyday, not that every broker is a crook, but you get my point.

    Just to clarify, I don’t mean to say that we should just completely deregulate everything, especially guns and drugs, however politically gratifying that may be (I’m a Libertarian). I just wanted to point to some obvious examples of my point in action. No restriction, no prohibition (except for maybe the prohibition of soma in India) has ever worked, nor will it. As Catholics, we should pray that those who own guns may responsibly own them, that those who intend violence are interceded against, and that God’s grace finds its way to us all.

  • Saber Walsh

    I read this post in horror, not about the crimes that by themselves leaves us speechless, but by the raw lack of knowledge and “free thinker” logic that resides behind it. As Catholics we owe it to each other to be sure that we speak as close to the truth as we can when we try to influence the opinions of others, but the “violent gun culture” is described only by the anti-gun media and there is no place for referring to the Gospel when it’s really Bloomberg and Brady that is being quoted.

    Statistics show that, when times are tough, people become desperate and do things that are unspeakable. Having access to weapons facilitates their use of them but does not stop them from hurting others through different means. As a Catholic I believe I am responsible for learning self defense, if not for myself, then for others.

    The “progressives” who have been attacking our faith have also been
    targeting gun ownership of all types as part of their battle cry. In
    our city we now have street gangs moving in: would I want The State to
    say to my neighbor, a highly experienced Gulf War veteran, that he would
    need to turn in his guns because The State doesn’t think he can be
    responsible with them? No, I want that guy to be able to defend himself
    and his family, and I pray that he would do the same for us.

    Every day there are events where someone who had access to a gun of some sort stopped a violent action from occurring or saved someone’s life, but we do not hear about those incidents in our media. To see “Progressivespeak” posted on a Catholic blog is both ironic and tragic, as we are having such difficulty getting Catholics to understand the very whispers that our media puts in our ears every day that take us further and further away from who we are and what we believe in. To see whispers repeated here is just plain wrong, and I pray that Busted Halo would more tightly review postings for 1) relevance to the Faith, 2) closeness to the Gospel (the ones in the Bible, not the ones put out by the New York Times).

    • kerrant

      “–to see whispers”? turn on the news, and you’ll find that nobody is whispering. many, many people are crying, and a few people have started to raise their voices against the insanity, the obscenity, of our current situation– yes, it’s true “–that people kill people”, but a semi-automatic rifle with an expanded magazine carrying 100 rounds of ammunition will allow one person to kill many, many people in just a matter of minutes.

      and don’t trot-out the second amendment, either– the historical need of the states for a well-organized militia has absolutely nothing to do with yourself owning a military-grade assault weapon– we have “organized state-militias”, they are called the national guard, and they consist of professional soldiers who are bound by their orders, their chain of command, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and who are themselves only issued weapon under specific orders, within the supervision of a very clear chain of command, with very specific (and binding) rules of engagement.

      and another thing: stop pretending that “your possession of a weapon” will in any way increase our general safety, in the case of a pre-meditated spree shooting. a spree-shooting is in essence a close-quarters ambush– and what is the proscribed tactical response to a close-quarters ambush, according to the US Army? here’s a hint: it doesn’t involve “standing your ground” in the ambush zone, “heroically returning fire” until you a)run out of ammunition OR b)are all dead. no: the proscribed tactical response, is to try to break through the assault perimeter, to regroup at a better (survivable) tactical position. in other words, the Army teaches that when you have been ambushed at close-quarters, the only survivable course of action is to try to get away!

      and this entire discussion is frankly ludicrous– frankly obscene– when you take into account that the actual dynamics of a spree shooting do not involve soldiers– they involve elementary school teachers, and little children. nightmarish, heart-breaking, horrible.

      thank you very much to Mr. O’Loughlin, and to Busted Halo, for voicing a Christian perspective.

      and as for the rest of it, may God have mercy on us all.

  • malarky1986

    As a really liberal person who happens to also be a gun owner, this is a difficult topic. But I often wonder how different crime would actually be with more restrictions. -mh

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