NEW YORK – In a June 23 letter to Congress four U.S. bishop conference chairmen commended the Senate for passing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act regarding gun violence and urged them to continue to work together to “confront a culture of violence.”
It’s the second letter U.S. bishops have sent to Congress on the topic in 20 days, after mass shootings in Buffalo, New York; Uvalde, Texas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma resulted in 36 deaths, and renewed a national conversation on U.S. gun laws and culture.
Concerning the bipartisan legislation, the letter identified several key provisions that “particularly heartened” the bishops. These include:
- Strengthening state crisis intervention programs, including extreme risk protection orders programs that prevent a person from purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm or ammunition at the petition of a family or household member or a law enforcement officer.
- Funding to help schools prevent violence including mental health initiatives.
- Strengthening background checks and closing the ‘boyfriend loophole’ to prevent people convicted of domestic abuse against a dating partner from owning a gun.
- Enhancing reviews of gun purchasers under the age of 21.
- Addressing weapons trafficking by prohibiting the purchase of a gun for someone else – known as straw purchasing – as well as firearm trafficking, and providing tools to investigate, prosecute, and educate around these offenses.
- Investing in children and family mental health services, improving access to mental health care, earlier interventions, and suicide prevention.
- Clarifying the definition of a firearm dealer to make it more difficult to evade licensing and background check requirements.
The Senate passed the bill on June 21, with a bipartisan vote of 64-34; 14 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats. The legislation is the most significant action in decades to overhaul U.S. gun laws. It now goes onto the House of Representatives for vote, where it is also expected to pass and then be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk.
“We are grateful to those senators who led bipartisan negotiations to produce this meaningful legislation … May the Prince of Peace rule your hearts, and ‘may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in every way (2 Thessalonians 3:16),’” reads the bishop’s letter.
The letter was signed by Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities; and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, chair of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education.
The four chairmen identified further actions they’d like to see from Congress including a total ban on assault weapons, limitations on civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines, and a more appropriate minimum age for gun ownership.
They also highlighted that many of the perpetrators of mass violence in schools come from tumultuous situations at home, and therefore “strongly encourage all manner of policies to be crafted to support cultivation of strong family life.”
“Your work to confront a culture of violence must continue,” the bishops wrote.
New York State Catholic Conference ‘troubled’ by Supreme Court ruling
On the same day the USCCB chairmen sent the letter to Congress, the Supreme Court overturned a century-old New York gun law mandating that residents need to demonstrate a “proper cause,” to get a license to carry a gun outside the home, holding that it violates the Second Amendment.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court’s 6-3 majority opinion that “because the State of New York issues public-carry licenses only when an applicant demonstrates a special need for self-defense, we conclude that the State’s licensing regime violates the Constitution.” Thomas added that the Second Amendment protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
Beyond New York, the decision is expected to trigger challenges in other states with “proper cause” or similar conditions in place to get a public-carry license.
In response to the decision, Dennis Poust, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, told Crux that the conference is “troubled” by the court’s decision, and called it “regrettable” that the Supreme Court chose to step in and rule on a law that duly elected members of the state legislature have left in place for more than a century.
Poust said the state’s bishops will continue to support efforts by Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers to pass reasonable gun laws.
“The Bishops of New York State support reasonable gun laws to address street crimes, domestic violence, suicide, and mass shootings,” Poust said. “We are happy to support efforts by the governor and legislature to pass new legislation that will meet constitutional muster with the Supreme Court.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburgUS