NEW YORK – In response to a recent string of mass shootings, four U.S. bishops’ conference chairmen have called on Congress to work towards legislation that “addresses all aspects of the crisis,” mainly gun control, mental health, and declining family life.
“These tragedies can only bring us to one conclusion: We must unite in our humanity to stop the massacres of innocent lives,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ chairmen wrote in a letter.
“We urge all members of Congress to reflect on the compassion all of you undoubtedly feel in light of these tragic events and be moved to action because of it,” they wrote. “There is something deeply wrong with a culture where these acts of violence are increasingly common.”
In the past three weeks there have been three mass shootings in the U.S. that have captured the public’s attention. On May 14, 10 people were killed in a shooting at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket. Ten days later, 21 people – 19 children and two teachers – were killed in a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. And earlier this week, on June 1, five people were killed in a shooting at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The bishops cited that it’s been a decade since 26 people – 20 children and six staff members – were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, saying, “We urgently call on members of Congress to work together in a bipartisan fashion to make these horrific attacks less likely to happen again.”
The letter was signed by Archbishop Paul Coakley, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage Family Life and Youth; and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Committee on Pro-life Activities.
On gun control measures, the bishops called on Congress to pass the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 and the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021. Both pieces of legislation enhance background checks for gun purchases.
They also called for passage of the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2021. This bill establishes procedures for federal courts to issue extreme risk protection orders, which prohibits 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.
Other gun-control related actions the bishops called for include a total ban on assault weapons and limitations on civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines, measures that control the sale and use of firearms, a more appropriate age minimum for gun ownership, a ban on ‘bump stocks,’ and a federal law to criminalize gun trafficking.
To get their point across, the four chairmen, in part, echoed the words of Pope Francis in a 2015 address to the U.S. Congress, when the pontiff posed the question, “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?”
“Sadly,” Francis continued. “The answer, as we all know, is simply for money, money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.”
The bishops also said that gun laws alone won’t address the roots of the violent attacks seen across the U.S. They cite that many of the perpetrators of mass violence in schools have experienced childhood trauma including familial instability and suffering or witnessing physical abuse, emotional abuse, or substance abuse.
“As we said in our pastoral statement Confronting a Culture of Violence, ‘We have to address simultaneously declining family life and the increasing availability of deadly weapons,’” the bishops said.
“We, therefore, in addition to seeking for all manner of policies be crafted to encourage the cultivation of strong family life, call for improved access to and increases in resources for mental health and earlier interventions,” they continued. “We also encourage peacebuilding in our communities through restorative justice models.”
The bishops’ letter comes as Congress appears stalled by partisanship and unlikely to act. President Joe Biden acknowledged as much in an address to the nation on June 2, where he implored Republicans to join Democrats on gun control legislation.
The bishops didn’t direct their comments toward one party or the other, but instead emphasized the importance of bipartisanship to get things done.
“Bipartisanship is never more important than when it is required to protect life and end the culture of death,” the chairmen wrote. “We invite you to support these measures and be a part of building up the culture of life that is so needed in our society, not just as elected officials, but as mothers and fathers, grandparents, and aunts and uncles of little children or teachers whom you expect to return home safely today.”
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