By Frank Wessling
The past few weeks should remind us that we American Christians aren’t representing Jesus, the Prince of Peace, very well. We come up short in two ways especially.
We haven’t prepared the way for women to welcome every pregnancy so the violence of abortion will stop, and we haven’t influenced this culture to end its romance with, and trust in, guns. To the contrary regarding guns, in fact. The country is flooded with them and the people who want even more of a gun culture are on the ascendancy.
Last month we marked another anniversary in the U.S. legal regime that allows easy access to abortion. As a Church we have preached and worked against that regime, with little success. We try to put reasonable limits on access to abortion, shape the law so it treats abortion as a violation of fundamental human relationships, and we manage some victories. But the legal and cultural bedrock supporting easy abortion is hardly affected.
A fundamental reason is that women fear being unfairly and unequally burdened by pregnancy and the new life it brings. A dozen other influences could be named, especially a popular culture of sexual license and the individualism that underlies our legal theory. But at bottom the abortion issue is women speaking. It has been throughout history. Until the age of democratic freedoms, that voice could be kept muffled. No longer. Now we either listen carefully to the experience and hope of women, or we struggle with confusion and constant conflict over issues central to the life of women.
It’s not clear how the Catholic Church can do better as a believable voice of and for women. The culture says we are compromised because our leadership is all male. We have to do better even while living with that limitation. In some way especially we have to walk the talk of helping women who are poor, because they have a tragically high percentage of abortions in this country.
While we continue to exert influence on how the law treats abortion, we need to do more on another track: make ourselves a community deeply attentive to women — and a community that is seen this way in the culture. This is the kind of influence — call it soft power — that can do the most to ameliorate, and even end, the regime of easy abortion.
As for the other violence issue, it’s a difficult time to be for gun control in America. Even after the Jan. 8 slaughter in Tucson, Ariz., the pressure for more and freer access to guns keeps growing. There should be a stronger religious voice saying “Enough!”
Since an apparently sick young man fired 31 bullets into a Tucson crowd 26 days ago killing six people, another 880 or so Americans have been murdered with guns. That number is not a mistake: 34 people are murdered with firearms every day in this country. We have the highest gun murder rate among all developed nations.
The National Rifle Association is the special interest group leading the charge to make the whole country armed and dangerous. Its spokesmen resist every effort to restrict or regulate the gun business. This has nothing to do with hunting or shooting for sport. It’s the handgun market and the market for assault rifles that leads gun expansion, helped by elected officials’ fear of the NRA’s electoral influence.
That fear even affects the White House. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives knows that gun dealers in southwest border states, such as Arizona, are big sellers of assault rifles to front men or “straw buyers” for the murderous drug cartels in Mexico. It proposed an emergency rule requiring dealers in those states to report multiple sales of such guns — not restrict the sales, merely report them. After strong resistance to the rule, the White House has stalled and left it on the table.
The proliferation of guns means that it becomes harder over time to limit their availability to anyone, sane or insane, criminal as well as law-abiding. Every effort must be made to put reasonable limits on sales of guns and to enforce reporting of gun movements as far as possible. Mayors of big cities, familiar with too much gun violence, want at least to see the system of background checks for gun buyers fixed so that it works as intended.
While existing laws prohibit criminals, drug abusers, the mentally ill and other dangerous people from buying guns, the background check system doesn’t contain the names of many, possibly as many as a million across the country. State and federal agencies that keep records of such people aren’t required to furnish the information to the background check system —– and aren’t funded to do so. There should be incentives and funding to make that system work.
Second, background checks and full reporting should be mandatory wherever organized gun sales are held, including so-called gun shows.
These are reasonable proposals for public safety. They are resisted by special interests. It should be our special interest to support the proposals. Let our senators and congressmen and our state legislators know that we do support them.