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Justice Perspective

The urgent call for Catholics to address gun violence

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Last Wednesday I attended a prayer service at JFK park across from SS. Columba-Brigid on Hickory Street. It was exactly one week – to the hour – since there had been a shooting at that playground that injured four young people, one critically. (You can read about Fr. Jud Weiksnar’s experience and the prayer service here: https://wnycatholic.org/2021/07/01/recent-shooting-unites-buffalo-churches/ ).

It was encouraging to see so many people gathered together against gun violence – white and black, young and old, Catholic and Protestant. It was a time for prayer and song and reflection, not for politics; but, as Father Jud stated, the politics and our advocacy against gun violence must also be a result of our prayer.

The truth is that gun violence and mass shootings have become so much a part of our culture that they almost don’t even make headlines anymore. In the U.S. this year there have been over 300 mass shootings, according to Gun Violence Archive – and it rarely appears on the evening news. In Buffalo this year, gun violence has “skyrocketed” according to the police commissioner, and there have already been as many homicides by guns this year as there usually are for an entire year. And it is not just a “city” problem – there has been a dramatic increase in gun violence in the suburbs, and, in fact, all around the diocese.

In the wake of this increase in gun violence, there are groups that are working to help victims and their families with counseling and support. There are billboards showing up on the Thruway offering rewards for information that will lead to the arrest of the perpetrators. But there still does not seem to be enough effort at the root of the problem: the preponderance and easy availability of guns.

This level of gun violence does not appear in other developed countries – and the one factor that sets the U.S. apart is the number of guns and the lack of any regulation or registration. Current estimates are that there are over 400 million guns in the U.S. – more than two times as many per person as any other country. And only one quarter of 1 percent of those guns are registered.

It is perplexing to see that there is no organized effort on the part of Catholics to oppose the continued deaths and assaults on human dignity that guns have perpetrated on our country and our diocese. There is no Catholic parish that has an organized effort to advocate for gun control, and it is rare to hear any priest or deacon preach about gun control or the scourge of guns in our society.

Our U.S. bishops have repeatedly – at least since 1975 – called for reasonable regulations and controls for guns, especially handguns, and for a ban on assault weapons. Just a few years ago, after another tragic shooting, the Bishops sent testimony to Congress to push for better gun controls with a specific goal to build a culture of life and confront the culture of violence. Congress took no action for tighter controls.

After another mass shooting two years ago, the bishops said that these shootings “are an epidemic against life that we must, in justice, face.” We need action and advocacy from the parish level to push Congress for much tighter gun regulations, banning of assault weapons, and serious reduction in the number of guns in our society.

I looked at the young people playing in the park last night as we all prayed over that space, and I was reminded of Martin Luther King’s comment about the parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite, King said, wondered, “If I help that man in the road, what will happen to me?” The Good Samaritan, on the other hand, thought, “If I don’t help that man in the road, what will happen to him?” I watched those kids in the park and I wondered, “If we don’t do something to control guns, what will happen to them?”

Deacon Don Weigel is the diocesan director for Catholic Relief Services and can be contacted at deacondon@gmail.com.

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