Iowa’s House of Representatives approved legislation Feb. 23 that would allow children younger than 14 years of age to possess and use handguns under the supervision of a parent or guardian. While opponents and supporters beat a path to social media, the airwaves and newspapers to get their viewpoints across, gun violence continued unabated across the nation. On that day, in fact, nine people lost their lives in two separate mass shootings. Three days before the Iowa House voted on the young guns issue, an Uber driver allegedly went on a rampage in Kalamazoo, Mich., shooting eight people, six of whom died.
As debate continues about the merits of children possessing and operating guns with parent/guardian supervision, we’ve got to expand the dialogue beyond this issue. As a nation in which 8,347 incidents of gun violence have been reported so far in 2016 (according to Gun Violence Archive), we have an obligation to work together to stop the violence.
Proponents and opponents of gun control have been hopelessly deadlocked on how to address gun violence. Gun control opponents insist that the problem lies with the people who pull the trigger, not the guns. Calls for gun control are deemed a threat to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Gun control advocates insist that limits be placed on assault weapons. They favor tougher background check requirements. Fewer guns result in fewer intentional and unintentional deaths. So where do we find common ground?
How do we find consensus concerning the weapon of choice for individuals who murder their spouses, ex-spouses or intimate partner in a fit of passion? In Iowa, 267 people were killed in domestic abuse murders from Jan. 1, 1995, through Sept. 30, 2015; 145 of these victims were shot to death, according to the Crime Victim Assistance Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. What about aggrieved employees who, in a fit of rage, turn their guns on their co-workers? How do we prevent these all-too-frequent examples of gun violence?
First we need to stop speculating about the root causes and find out what they are! Lobby Congress to lift the barriers to commonsense research on gun violence. “Gun violence is a public health problem that kills 90 Americans a day,” says Dr. Alice Chen, executive director of Doctors for America. She was among more than 2,000 physicians who urged Congress in December to lift the ban on gun violence research that applies to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
In the meantime, our common-ground conversation could begin with efforts to strengthen background checks. Work to remove the loopholes that prevent the National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS) from being more effective. The NICS also requires a technology update, which President Obama noted in his executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence and making our communities safer. Some members of Congress lambasted the executive actions as an overreach of the President’s authority. These critics should propose legislation that addresses gun violence as a threat to the sanctity of life.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Violence, observed after President Obama’s announcement that “Violence in our society is a complex issue with many facets, taking many forms. While no measure can eliminate all acts of violence which involve firearms, we welcome reasonable efforts aimed at saving lives and making communities safer.” The archbishop sees the need for conversations that “include strengthening social services for persons with mental illness, while being mindful that the vast majority of those suffering with mental illness are not likely to commit violent criminal acts.”
To that end, why not consider exploring the possibility of a surcharge on gun purchases that would go toward funding domestic violence and mental health programs in Iowa and across the nation? Let’s also support Iowa Senate File 2269, a bill that would require Iowa’s public safety advisory board to provide research and recommendations about the causes and prevention of violence to local communities statewide. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) supports the bill, but Executive Director Tom Chapman admits “we’re having trouble getting this to move (forward).” Iowans can encourage movement on this bill by contacting state representatives in the Iowa House.
One reason the ICC hasn’t weighed in on the debate about children possessing and operating guns is because the bill is unlikely to move in the Senate. Regardless of that bill’s future, let’s initiate dialogues in our parishes about violence in general. Our task as people of faith is to work together for the common good and well-being of all.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor