Catholic bishops gave a shot in the arm to President Barack Obama’s announcement yesterday that his administration will require all gun sellers to register as dealers and complete background checks on all buyers.
“Thank God that someone finally has the courage to close the loopholes in our pitiful gun control laws to reduce the number of mass shootings, suicides and killings that have become a plague in our country,” Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell wrote in a blog post Tuesday.
He called Obama’s proposal “modest,” but slammed Congress, saying it has “unabashedly sold itself to the gun lobby.”
Farrell announced that even though Texas now allows gun owners to carry firearms openly, guns would be prohibited from diocesan-owned property.
“This policy is rooted in the belief that our churches, schools and other places of worship are intended to be sanctuaries — holy sites where people come to pray and participate in the ministry of the Church,” he wrote.
In his Tuesday White House speech, Obama said gun violence was infringing on religious liberty, pointing to several shootings at houses of worship in recent years.
“Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well. And we have to be able to balance them,” Obama said. “Because our right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights, too.”
Obama announced that in addition to background checks, his administration would invest in research for gun safety, including apps to locate missing guns, as well as devote $500 million to mental health treatment.
The head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on domestic justice joined Farrell in offering support Wednesday.
“While no measure can eliminate all acts of violence which involve firearms, we welcome reasonable efforts aimed at saving lives and making communities safer,” said Miami’s Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski.
“We hope Congress will take up this issue in a more robust way, considering all of the varied aspects involved,” he continued.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice advocacy group NETWORK, praised Obama’s announcement, saying that action was needed to combat violence.
“It is urgently needed that we take a step beyond lamentation toward action to effectively prevent further killing,” she said in a statement Tuesday.
Some lay Catholics are calling on their leaders to do more to promote gun control.
In an essay for The Washington Post, Michael Bayer wrote that bishops should to speak out more forcefully about gun violence.
“For decades, the Catholic Church has been the most consistent voice in opposition to legalized abortion, and, in recent years, much of the hierarchy’s political advocacy has centered around issues of religious liberty,” he wrote.
“And yet, when it comes to the epidemic of gun violence afflicting American society, the Catholic Church has been, for some time now, largely quiet. This needs to change.”
Bayer pointed to an October op-ed from Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, in which he called for greater gun control, as an example of what he’d like to see from other bishops.
“It is time to heed the words of Pope Francis and take meaningful and swift action to address violence in our society. We must band together to call for gun-control legislation,” Cupich wrote.
But not all Catholics are on board with increased gun control.
In a blog post entitled “Buy a Sword,” Sean Fitzpatrick, headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Pennsylvania, said gun ownership can be virtuous, and making it harder to obtain guns will only embolden criminals.
“To a particular type of virtuous man, the Second Amendment bestows the potential to be a lifesaver. In these dark days, exercising that right may even be considered a responsibility,” he wrote at Those Catholic Men.
A 2013 poll by the Religion News Service and the Public Religion Research Institute found that about 62 percent of US Catholics support tightening gun control measures — and even the pope seems to be on board.
“Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood,” Francis said in a September speech to the US Congress. “In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”