This Easter, gun control and abortion need equal priority from pro-life Catholics
On this Easter Sunday, Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Christ, an event that for us represents the ultimate triumph of life over death. It is a time of great joy among Christian communities and the cornerstone of the Christian faith.
Catholic voters should pay attention to where they can make a difference. In contrast to abortion, true-to-life Catholics have ample opportunity to change their arms policy.
In modern, secular democracies, Christian voters often struggle to balance their beliefs with a range of local political challenges and national attitudes. Although these challenges tend to be similar in these democracies – taxes and immigration, for example – Christians and their neighbors are 25 times more likely to be killed by guns in just one of these countries: the United States.
Who is to blame for the lax gun laws that allow this shameful national embarrassment to continue? The legislature and the gun lobby both come to mind. But honestly, I was also part of the problem – because I’m a Catholic who for decades has tacitly supported laws and policies that increase gun deaths through my lifelike vote.
While there will never be a complete extermination of gun dead in a country with more guns than citizens, the reason we have around 40,000 gun deaths each year is because we tolerate it. As a Catholic combat veteran, I have spent time carrying both my weapon and my rosary. In the army, we have always valued training, safety, and accountability in any weapon handling. So I am amazed at how irresponsible our civilian arms policy is in contrast.
Though mass shootings – like the recent ones in Atlanta; Boulder, Colorado; and Orange, California – Receive significant media attention. Most of our 40,000 gun deaths occur out of the spotlight each year. There are proven methods to reduce gun deaths and keep guns away from the wrong people. We should start with one of the simplest and most politically popular directives: the adoption of a universal requirement to review the federal background on all arms sales.
The US House recently passed a bill providing for background checks on arms sales, including private sales over the Internet and at arms exhibitions. The same bill was passed in February 2019 and the Republican Senate has never voted on it. This new bill could come to a vote in this Senate, but it will almost certainly fail due to the tenacity of Republican senators.
All this despite 89 percent of voters – including 83 percent of Republicans – in 2019 who supported background checks on all arms sales. This is a bipartisan agreement that is hard to find these days. But the Republican Party leadership listens more to the National Rifle Association than to its constituents. The NRA spent $ 1.6 million lobbying Congress during the 2019 fight to make it easier for domestic abusers, refugees, and convicted criminals to purchase a gun.
Unfortunately, many of us Pro-Life Catholics have supported this dysfunction with our donations and votes, telling us that the issue of abortion is taking more of our partisan loyalty. While polls show that Catholics are just as evenly distributed between parties as the rest of the country, regular mass-goers like me tend to roll their eyes at these polls because we know they are being distorted by people who consider themselves Catholics identify but have not seen the inside of a church for some time.
Among practicing Catholics, partisan allegiances lean much more towards Republicans, and one of the main problems that keeps them there is abortion. However, abortions in the United States had sunk on a steady decline to historic lows through both Democratic and Republican presidencies – lower than when Roe v. Wade in 1973, and abortion was illegal in most states. At the same time, American voters’ views on abortion have stalled, unchanged from 25 years ago.
Instead, Catholic voters should pay attention to where they can make a difference. In contrast to abortion, there is ample opportunity for real-life Catholics to change arms policy to more closely align with the position of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on Arms. The conference advocates background checks of all arms sales, bans on offensive weapons, and other reasonable positions.
Your position is consistent with American constitutional rights. For example, we already have a background check system that works for federally licensed arms dealers – the loopholes just need to be closed. And when it comes to assault weapons, the US has long had restrictions on certain types of weapons that are not controversial in relation to the second amendment.
Here’s why these loopholes need urgent attention: In one tragically familiar story, a Wisconsin man was arrested for raping his wife at gunpoint and released on orders not to see his wife or to have firearms, USA Today Network-Wisconsin reported in 2018. However, after his release, he bought a 9mm Glock pistol and used it to kill his wife and himself with their children nearby.
How did he get it? He could easily avoid the federal background check process by going to ArmsList.com, which the report said brokered a transaction between him and a private seller that they had completed in a Walmart parking lot. In the United States, a gun buyer must pass a background check process when purchasing a gun from a licensed gun dealer. However, people who know they will fail arrange a private sale and avoid the process. The legislation passed by the House closes this gap. In this case, the man shot his wife the next day.
In all of this there is nothing that agrees with the Gospels, and there is no excuse for our silence in the face of so many preventable deaths.
We live in a time of changing alliances, in which voters are re-evaluating long-standing party affiliations and finding new political houses. This offers Catholics a historic opportunity to exert an influence on arms policy that can be more closely aligned with Catholic social teaching.
As things stand, “the believer in the party structure of the United States is literally homeless,” noted San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy on the Voting Catholic podcast last year. “There is no partisan platform that approaches Catholic teaching at all.”
But if Catholic contributors to Republican candidates decided to sit on their checkbooks and Catholic voters decided to sit on the sidelines for an election cycle or two until the party decides to be less affected by the NRA, they could start making the GOP to do so To urge you to better align your arms policy with the gospel-based principles expressed in the position of the Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Many of us Pro-Life Catholics have supported this dysfunction with our donations and votes, telling us that abortion is a priority.
The average Catholic voter has a lot of power in the Republican Party that our immigrant ancestors would never have imagined. Catholics need to go beyond “thoughts and prayers” for victims of gun violence and turn them into action.
We Catholics are an abundance of people. We reject false dualisms. We are an “both / and” church, not an “either / or”. Jesus was both human and divine. We believe in faith and reason, scripture and tradition. Being pro-life cannot have to do with abortion or gun safety. It has to be both, along with other positions that protect and promote life.
Within our forked political system, we can push for a responsible arms policy that corresponds to our Catholic values and does not contradict them. This Easter season is time to celebrate life over death. There is a “better way” to borrow a sentence from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Let’s take it.