NEW YORK – Amid a mounting debate in America over the constitutionality of gun control, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark has entered the fray with a different argument: That people should voluntarily forgo their Second Amendment rights for the betterment of society.

“I honestly believe it is the best thing we can do to change the culture of violence that threatens us today,” Tobin said.

“Let’s voluntarily set aside our rights in order to witness the truth that only peace and never violence, is the way to build a free society that is lived concretely in our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities, our nation and our world,” he said.

Tobin made the plea in a recent letter, “Pray for an end to all instances of violence,” where he calls on community leaders and Catholic bishops, himself included, to call for a “synodal effort” to actively resist gun violence. He proposed a threefold process that includes prayer and work, advocacy, and voluntary self-restraint from the Second Amendment.

The letter, published May 26, is the latest call to action amid a spate of mass shootings in recent months. May 30 marked the 150th day of 2023, over which time there have been 263 mass shootings – incidents with four or more people shot – that have led to 327 deaths.

Both figures are records for this early in the year.

Memorial Day weekend was especially violent. Nationwide there were at least 20 mass shootings that left 16 people dead, and at least 80 more injured.

The data comes from the Gun Violence Archive, which has tracked all gun related injuries and deaths in the U.S. since 2013. The organization reports that as of May 31 there have been a total 17,629 gun violence deaths in the U.S. – 7,663 homicides, and 9,966 suicides.

There were 20,200 gun violence deaths in all of 2022, and 21,009 in 2021, the organization reported.

A 2018 report by the Small Arms Survey, an organization that tracks violence globally, found that U.S. gun owners possess 393.3 million firearms, which is well above the nation’s 331.9 million population.

With that in mind, Tobin made the case that while legislation and regulations are necessary, in the case of gun violence, as with all life issues, it’s equally as important to “regulate our behavior in order to protect the vulnerable and ensure the common good.”

“It’s true that we have a Second Amendment right to bear arms, but rights always involve responsibilities – in this case, the responsibility to protect the innocent and to secure public safety and good order,” Tobin said. “The mass shootings we are witnessing almost weekly now are a serious threat to the lives and well-being of all people.”

In the cardinal’s threefold synodal process, he echoes what other U.S. prelates have said, stating that prayers alone aren’t enough to adequately address the issue. Instead, Tobin said that Catholics must combine prayer with action to prevent the root causes of gun violence.

Under the second part of the process, advocacy, Tobin calls on Catholics to make their voices heard.

“As an integral part of our efforts to prevent gun violence, all Americans should make local, state and federal officials know how we feel about this critical issue,” he said. “We should make our voices heard, demanding that actions be taken to protect the vulnerable and keep our communities safe.”

The third and final part of Tobin’s process is self-restraint, which he acknowledges is a challenging and controversial proposal that won’t alone solve the problem of gun violence, but could help change the culture.

“The voluntary self-restraint that I am calling for will not solve the problem of gun violence all by itself, but it can help us change our culture from one that is obsessively focused on individuals’ rights to a society dedicated to ensuring the common good,” Tobin said.

Tobin cited Pope Francis’s statement that “violence is not the cure for our broken world.”

“Please join me in praying for an end to all instances of violence, especially gun violence in our schools, churches, places of business and in the public square,” Tobin said.

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