By Frank Wessling
Was it a surprise to hear that a young man shot dozens of people in an Aurora, Colo., theater, killing 12 of them?
Or did the news only confirm a dread sitting now deep in your soul: the gun trade wins again, and once again we will do nothing about it?
Pessimism in the face of mass murder isn’t a good Christian response. But after many such spasms of violence in our recent history, and after decades of victory by the gun trade in its drive to put weapons everywhere, hope seems unrealistic.
An angry, psychotic, vengeful American can pop up anywhere with a rapid-firing rifle and blast away just like they do in the movies and digital so-called games. Dark adolescent fantasies can become real, it seems, easier than our lawmakers can impose sensible limits on guns.
Worship of guns runs through only a small minority of Americans but, as with most dedicated minorities, they can whip the majority into line by fierce, unrelenting focus on their One Thing. Lawmakers across much of this country know how easy it is to lose an election: propose a ban on automatic weapons, a ban on bullet clips holding more than six rounds, and a ban on carrying hidden guns in public places.
The gun trade won’t allow such reasonable limits. Its mantra is the opposite: more guns in the hands of more people in more places.
This is a kind of extremism. We need to face it honestly. People who want to treat our society as a place of constant deadly threat are dictating our laws.
What could be more contrary to the spirit of the Gospel? Jesus repeatedly advised his followers to “fear not.” Filled with the spirit of love, they were directed to trust in God and become neighbor to everyone they meet and servant of all human needs.
You can’t do that, you can’t be that kind of person, if suspicion and fear guide your actions; if trust is abandoned in favor of guns and bullets.
Can the Catholic Church be a counterweight to the gun trade? Such a stance would fit in our pro-life agenda. Thomas Shannon, a professor emeritus of religion at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, thinks we can. He says that Franciscans and the national conference of bishops could make a difference. Neither group has to worry about elections, and Franciscans have a relevant special story.
Shannon explained in an America magazine blog post last week. St. Francis of Assisi countered the violence of his time first by preaching and living peace. His friars were to begin and end their preaching with the words “The Lord give you his peace.” He also made it a rule for his Third Order, the lay people who wanted to follow his way of life, that they could not carry weapons.
American culture needs a strong dose of that Franciscan spirit.
Our bishops can do even more by organizing a nationwide campaign for reasonable gun control legislation. They have shown they can make an impact on other pro-life issues. This is one that cries out for leadership.
People who hunt and who like to shoot at targets as a skill are not the problem — as long as they see guns as mere tools and appreciate the special danger in that tool. It can’t be made available to satisfy every need for “protection,” real or imagined.
A civilized people will understand that limits are necessary.