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July 26th, 2012

Will Religious Leaders Lead on Gun Control?


A man works on an anti-gun mural in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Have you ever shot a gun?

I went to college in New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state where conservatives and libertarians preach limited government and personal freedoms, among them lax gun laws that would make the state feel more at home in the South than in New England. So my junior year, some friends and I decided to explore some of these freedoms, and we headed to a gun range a few miles from campus. I had never held a gun before so one of my friends helped me choose my weapon for the day (luckily he decided on a handgun over the grenade launcher). I put on the red earmuffs, walked to my lane, wheeled out the target, and took aim. I fired off a few shots and glanced down at the silhouette to see if any of the bullets had hit it. I wasn’t bad.

That day remains the only time I’ve ever shot a gun, but I vividly remember being blown away by how simple it was to load the bullets and pull the trigger. It was a bit of a rush actually, and I can see why some people would find the whole experience enjoyable. But I also remember thinking, This is too easy. Shouldn’t something that can snuff out a life be more difficult to operate? I had imagined that shooting a gun would require some preparation, some knowledge or mechanics, but I was wrong. It was so simple. Load. Aim. Shoot. Kill?

I woke up early on Friday as I do every morning, with my radio blaring NPR news. Last Friday, their voices were even more somber than usual, so I knew something was wrong. In my dazed half-sleep, I listened to witnesses describe their ordeal in a Colorado movie theater, how they crawled over bleeding bodies or hid behind seats as a lone gunman attacked them with gas and guns, hidden outside in his car. How did he have so many guns, I wondered?

Over the next couple of days, I felt an array of emotions, among them an overwhelming sense of sympathy when, as I was waiting in the checkout line at Whole Foods, I used my iPhone to read short biographies of the victims. Nearly all were within a few years of me, in the middle of establishing themselves as adults but still able to get excited about a midnight showing of Batman. Reading their stories made the horror more personal. They looked like friends, people I’ve dated, colleagues.

Talking about gun control

The next day, both President Obama and Mitt Romney altered campaign events to encourage prayer and support for the victims in Aurora. Their remarks were appropriate and powerful. President Obama reflected on what gives life meaning:

And if there’s anything to take away from this tragedy it’s the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.

It’s what we do on a daily basis to give our lives meaning and to give our lives purpose. That’s what matters. At the end of the day, what we’ll remember will be those we loved and what we did for others. That’s why we’re here.

Romney, meanwhile, relied on his Mormon faith to guide his remarks:

“Today we feel not only a sense of grief, but perhaps also of helplessness,” Mr. Romney said. “But there is something we can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy-laden. And we can mourn with those who mourn in Colorado.”

While moving, both men failed to offer words on gun control, an issue that surely must be at the forefront of millions of Americans’ minds during this election season. I’ve read reports that the shooter was able to buy thousands of rounds of ammunition online and that he procured four guns in just a couple of days. Though he broke no laws in acquiring his weapons, and though he would have probably succeeded in causing mayhem if that were his goal, might stronger gun laws have prevented some of the suffering and bloodshed in Aurora? I can’t imagine why a private citizen needs access to a gun that resembles the military’s M-16 rifle, a gun that was banned in 1994 under the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The New York Times has a rundown of the guns used in the massacre here. Why would anyone need these weapons in their homes? Could the framers of the constitution, who reserved gun rights for militias, have envisioned this kind of life-taking technology in the hands of private citizens?

From the spiritual angle, my friend Fr. Jim Martin, the Jesuit writer, wrote a piece at America magazine about the failure of Christians to view gun control as a pro-life issue:

Pro-life religious people need to consider how it might be made more difficult for people to procure weapons that are not designed for sport or hunting or self-defense. Why would anyone be opposed to firmer gun control, or, to put it more plainly, laws that would make it more difficult for mass murders to occur? If one protests against abortions clinics because they facilitate the taking of human life, why not protest against the largely unregulated suppliers of firearms (whether stores or online suppliers) because they facilitate the taking of human life as well?

Our courts have determined that as Americans, we have a right to own guns. In abstract terms, I suppose this makes sense to me. But the needless violence and death that we watch on the news (if we’re lucky) or are touched by in real life (if we’re a whole lot less lucky) makes the abstract much less appealing.

If our political leaders won’t muster up courage to state the obvious, that we need stronger gun control laws in this country, will our religious leaders? Will bishops and pastors preach about this issue, lead marches on Washington, and devote church resources to the cause like they have with other life issues? Or will yet another senseless tragedy pass without considering how we might prevent more suffering in the future.

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.
  • Dani

    Last time I checked a militia consists of ordinary citizens. The definition of a militia is an army composed of ordinary citizens rather than professional soldiers. Milita refers to something a public army which anyone can create a militia. A militia is different from a military. Ie we have a right as citizens to take up arms and defend are selves if necessary fom any threat.

  • Patrick D

    The author falls into the trap of looking for easy solutions. Let’s limit the freedom to own guns; it is the same argument that was advanced to support prohibition nearly a hundred years ago and it is the same argument that is made to support the “war on drugs”

    In both cases, people made millions by supplying what the well-intentioned laws sought to keep from people. In both cases millions of lives were lost.

    Gun control advocates are swimming upstream, but they have ‘righteousness’ on their side. They fail to realize that when bad guys use guns fore the wrong purpose, guns in the hands of the ‘good guys’ are effective in restoring peace.

    God turned Adam and Eve out of the garden and allowed sin in the world. Gun control laws seek to rid the world of sin.That is a huge undertaking and is beyond the capability of mere mortals.

  • seepz

    Allow the government to take away the right to own guns next what rights will they take away? freedom of religion?

  • Roaming Catholic

    Every couple of years or so, something like this happens somewhere in America. And every time, we have the same conversation: a handful of people dare to raise questions about gun laws, and the resounding response is that we are willing to put up with the mass trauma of public violence rather than sacrifice any personal autonomy.

    Fr. Jim Martin has it exactly right that to be pro-life means our first consideration must be what is and is not life-affirming. In the case of both abortion AND gun control, the protection of life vs. the autonomy of the individual is exactly what is at stake. When these are at odds, life should always take precedence.

  • Bob Hill

    There have been towns where people were required to carry a gun. Guess what, there was less crime in those towns than anywhere else. So maybe the answer is to have everyone over the age of 16, who is a responsible person to carry a gun. If that would have happened in CO the killer would have been shot before he would have shot fewer people would have been hurt and killed. On top of that, we the people of the United States would not have to pay for the trial. He would already be dead. Besides, isn’t that what he deserves?

  • Dorothy

    There are some good points here, but I think you all should reconsider what the author of the article is saying. No one can deny the fact that guns are dangerous, even in skilled hands, or in hands that are not intending to take an innocent life.

    We need to create a society in which it is easy to do good. Allowing people to have guns doesn’t necessarily lend itself to this. I think this article shouldn’t be dismissed easily because it hits an important point–that guns are made with one purpose (no matter the intention)….to kill. Other items (fertilizer, knives, etc.) have other purposes, and you are right–we cannot eliminate everything. But guns are different in that they are not used for anything else but to kill something or someone.

    Basically, let’s start talking about the consequences of our current gun laws and figure out how we can make things better. For example, what are the stats?….how many of the guns sold in the states are actually used for hunting, rather than being used in gang violence or in other murderous crimes? Have there been other studies on this? We need to investigate the consequences. Self-defense sounds nice and altruistic (protecting the innocent), but what, are we supposed to walk every where w/ a gun in our back pocket? What kind of society would that be like? Usually in instances like the Colorado one, people who have handguns don’t have them on hand.

    Let’s at least think about this people! Don’t get so offensive and emotional. Let’s have a rational, objective debate about this. Get questions answered. We need to meet in the middle somehow. Let’s put Christ first and and study his actions in the Bible as a starting point! And of course, in prayer!!

  • ryan

    Nancy- people WITHOUT guns kill people

    How do increased gun laws help anything? Take for instance the happenings in Aurora. They guy obviously knew how to make a bomb. Do gun laws prevent him from walking into a movie theater and blowing up the audience? So do you start regulating everything people can make bombs out of? He could go on a stabbing rampage, do you outlaw knives? What about any objects with any kind of sharpness. Where do you draw the line and say “this was an action this person chose.” We have to stop dealing with the symptoms and start dealing with the real problem… a people without morality.

  • Nancy

    People WITH guns kill people.

  • jason
  • Michael Zealand

    The 2nd Ammendment protects all the others.

  • jason

    Gun control is all about control…not guns. I strongly disagree with ANY type of gun control laws being added or made “stricter”.

    Study history, a disarmed public is a public highly vulnerable to gov’t sponsored atrocities!!

  • Heidi

    Blaming gun companies for the Colorado massacre is like blaming fork makers for our high obesity rate. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

  • joe

    bert (and others) – i assume you’ve heard this argument before, but when people bring up the second amendment they usually neglect to include 2 key words: regulated and militia…
    “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
    here’s a great opinion article on why regulation is a good thing…

  • Bert Fall

    The 2nd Amendment isn’t just about sports, hunting, or self-defense. It’s about the ability for the people to protect themselves against an oppressive gov’t like the one we had when we were under British rule or the ones you see in many countries around the world. The U.S. has always had very relaxed gun laws so what’s the REAL problem at hand? Is it guns or is it that we don’t put an emphasis on morality in our society. We should focus on the problem at hand before we start blaming a lifeless hunk of steel.

  • AnitaH

    The real issue isn’t gun control. It’s changing the mind set that killing someone is an appropriate solution to my problems. And changing that mind set begins at the government level by abolishing the death penalty aka state sanctioned murder. Mass killings are an outgrowth of the entire culture of death in America.

  • James

    I hope religious leaders don’t “lead on gun control”, because determined people will still get guns, while the law-abiding can’t. There are also plenty of examples where sane citizens use guns to stop mass murderers, but the media either don’t report these or neglect to mention that guns were used to stop the incident.

    Paul Hsieh posted a good article on that a few days ago: http://pjmedia.com/blog/media-underplays-successful-defensive-gun-use/

    Remember how many people were killed in Oklahoma City some years ago by a guy who exploded a load of fertilizer. Should religious leaders lead on fertilizer control?

  • Barbara Bray

    Even in the best hands, guns are dangerous and can take a life. Except for the grace of God, a bullet missed my head by sheer inches. My Dad was a hunter, my little brother was inquisitive, a mistake was made.
    The guns and cabinet were immediately removed from the house and put in a secure padlocked shed outside. And,these were hunting guns meant for animals, not humans.
    Being able to obtain assault weapons and ammunition as easily as Holmes did seems wrong to me.

  • Jessica

    I hope that religious leaders don’t lead the call for gun control. When you start limiting rights, whose to say more rights won’t be limited, i.e., religious freedom, which is already being chipped away. And why is the need for gun control obvious? Where are your facts to support that statement? The need for gun control is your opinion, not an obvious stance for all politicians and religious leaders.

  • John Guerrero

    I’m just stirring the pot but making a claim that gun dealers facilitate the taking of lives isn’t that just like saying car dealers facilitate the taking of lives? Car dealers can’t know who is going to make a bad decision and end up killing someone or several individuals with a car they sold. Cars account for thousands of deaths a year. I think it still comes down to the sanity of individuals. Mass murders can use homemade bombs too and not just guns. Psychologically unbalanced people will always find ways to kill other people even without using guns.

  • donna o’neal

    What would be stronger gun control laws?
    Are responsible citizens not allowed to protect themselves?

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