Significantly more deaths from gun violence occur each year in the United States than any other developed nation in the world. A February 2016 American Journal of Medicine study reveals that, with 10.2 deaths from firearms per 100,000 citizens in 2010, the U.S. suffered nearly three times the rate of fatalities as any other country in the study. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence estimates that between 2009 and 2013 nearly 109,000 people were shot in the U.S. each year, with an average of 32,964 dying from their wounds annually, including 2,624 children and teens. The effective lack of restrictions on access to guns contributes to gun violence. The Washington Post reports that Americans now own an astonishing 112.6 guns per 100 citizens, compared to the worldwide average of just 10.2 guns per 100 persons.
Numerous mass shootings have scarred the American landscape: Sandy Hook, Columbine, Orlando, San Bernardino, Charleston, Aurora and Virginia Tech are among the communities where innocent lives have been lost. After each devastating incident, gun advocates and their primary spokesman, National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre, respond by calling for more guns and fewer gun safety laws, and by accusing those calling for greater gun safety of “politicizing” tragedy. Hopes for reasonable federal gun control legislation are stymied with Congress effectively “bought off” by the NRA, with $650,000 in donations to members of Congress in the 2012 election, and over $808,000 in 2014.
Special mention must be made of what Pax Christi USA, in its July 2016 Statement on Racial Violence in the U.S. calls “a crisis of racism and fear – political and media sources brand certain people as presumptive enemies. Our uncivil political rhetoric, amplified by the media, reinforces the fear of whole groups of people: young black men, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community. This only serves to fan racism, bigotry and the ‘blaming of victims’ of impoverishment and marginalization.” It is essential to involve such marginalized communities in the search for solutions to gun violence.
The Hebrew prophets repeatedly warned against idolatry; as a prime example, placing trust in weapons. “God will judge between nations and render decisions for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation will not lift up the sword against another, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4). In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism posed the question, “Is the need for sensible gun-control a religious issue?” Its Director, Rabbi David Saperstein answered, drawing on the same prophetic tradition of his faith: “You bet it is. The indiscriminate distribution of guns is an offense against God and humanity. Our gun-flooded, violence prone society has turned weapons into idols. And the appropriate religious response to idolatry is sustained moral outrage.”
The Catholic Church has, as the American bishops remind us, “… been a consistent voice for the promotion of peace at home and around the world and a strong advocate for the reasonable regulation of firearms.” In his January 1, 2014 World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis proclaimed, “I appeal forcefully to all those who sow violence and death by force of arms: in the person you today see simply as an enemy to be beaten, discover rather your brother or sister, and hold back your hand! Give up the way of arms and go out to meet the other in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you!”
Pax Christi Michigan agrees that “reasonable regulation of firearms” is urgently needed, and long overdue. Specifically, we advocate comprehensive federal legislation that would:
- Require universal background checks on all prospective firearms and ammunition purchasers, including at gun shows and on private in-person or online gun sales;
- Require a waiting period of a specified number of days between a firearm purchase and when it is physically transferred to the purchaser;
- Require persons seeking to purchase or possess a firearm to: obtain a firearm safety certificate by successfully completing a safety training course; register their firearms and obtain a license; notify law enforcement when their weapons are lost or stolen; and, safely store their firearms and ammunition in the home to prevent access by children and other unauthorized users;
- Require gun dealers to obtain a local permit, conduct employee background checks, and obtain liability insurance;
- Ban semi-automatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines;
- Ban licensed and unlicensed open carry of loaded and unloaded firearms;
- Require the personalization of handguns, that is, equipping them with technology that prevents them from firing when operated by an unauthorized user; and, prohibit the manufacture, importation, purchase and transfer of non-personalized handguns;
- Legalize comprehensive ballistic identification through “microstamping” technology;
- Repeal the “Dickey Amendment” that prevents the Center for Disease Control from spending funds “to advocate or promote gun control,” and restore funding for research on gun violence;
- Offer a gun buyback opportunity to private gun owners, without fear of prosecution; and,
- Pass campaign finance reform and reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision to reduce the role of money in the U.S. political system, and to diminish the role of lobbying.
As part of the Catholic peace and justice movement that seeks to model the Peace of Christ, Pax Christi Michigan considers the current situation, with gun violence ravaging our families and communities and terrorizing our children, to be unconscionable. With this Statement on Gun Violence, we declare unequivocally that we reject gun violence, and that we follow the One who said, “Peter, put away your sword.”
Graphic from Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence