ROME – With debate over gun control in the United States flaring up again following the deadly shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas last week, the Vatican’s top body on life issues has weighed in, saying a deeper reflection on the topic is needed.
Fabrizio Mastrofini, a spokesman for the Pontifical Academy for Life, referring to the tragic killing of at least 19 children and two adults during the rampage, told Crux that, “a more human society is needed.”
“The utopia of Christianity is a society where weapons are no longer used,” or at least where they are used “increasingly less,” he said. Pointing to Pope Francis’s 2020 encyclical on social friendship Fratelli Tutti, he said, “We are all brothers and sisters; there is no need to kill each other.”
In terms of whether further laws need to be enacted limiting access to firearms and imposing stricter background checks on potential buyers, Mastrofini said, “This depends on various states.”
“I can’t say what laws are needed, but it’s true that a just law is one that protects all citizens” and aims “to save lives,” he said. In this regard, every politician must answer to “their own conscience.”
Mastrofini’s remarks come after an 18-year-old gunman entered Robb Elementary School May 24 and opened fire, killing at least 19 children and two adults.
The gunman, identified as a student at the nearby Uvalde High School, had entered the school with a handgun and rifle. He died at the scene.
Last week’s rampage marks the deadliest shooting at a U.S. elementary school since a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, killing 20 children and six adults. The Uvalde shooting also came just 10 days after a gunman fatally shot 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
Armed attacks at schools, supermarkets, churches, and movie theatres have generally been on the rise in recent decades.
The Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999, was one of the first mass shootings of this nature to penetrate and shock the United States’ national conscience. On that day, 15 students and teachers died, including the shooters, and 24 were injured when two students entered the high school with the intention to bomb it and open fire on students and staff.
Since 2000, there have been roughly 367 school shootings, amounting to one every 22 days. Many schools throughout the United States now have metal detectors at entrances, and protocols for what to do in the event of a shooting.
Debate over gun control is once again at the forefront of public discourse following the Uvalde shooting, with advocates saying access needs to be limited, and opponents saying stricter laws themselves won’t solve the problem.
After last week’s shooting, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio criticized the United States’ gun culture, saying elected leaders “in general don’t have the courage to control guns in the country.”
“We the people are on the edge. We don’t know much about the person who committed these killings, but whatever the case is, arms are available, and people are dying, and we have made guns as idols,” he said, adding, “in our faith we would call (that) idolatry, but they are sacred to the point that we don’t take measures to help avoid these situations.”
“So many people are killed daily all over the country because of the use of guns and we protect them. We need to protect people,” he said.
While opinions on gun control in the church are as varied as they are in the political arena, advocates of the church’s social doctrine have long argued that tighter laws are needed to make society a safer place for everyone.
While not wading into policy issues, after Uvalde the Vatican’s Academy for Life, led by Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, has been active in the discussion on Twitter, tweeting on May 27 that “The place of the #guns in United States life calls out for social, ethical, and theological analysis and reflection.”
The day after the shooting, the academy retweeted a remark published by papal biographer Austen Ivereigh about gun ownership in the U.S. that said: “I searched in vain for ‘gun control’ or ‘arms trade’. Nothing about the perversion of gun-owning as a ‘right’.”
“The @USCCB deplores the permissive laws that encourage abortion yet not the permissive laws that encourage massacres of children. Why?” Ivereigh asked.
In response to Ivereigh’s tweet, the academy published a line from Pope Francis’s telegram after the Uvalde shooting in which he offered his prayers for the victims and their families and said, “It is time to say enough to the indiscriminate trafficking of arms. Let us all commit ourselves so that such tragedies can never happen again.”
In his comments to Crux, Mastrofini said the academy is encouraging further reflection on the presence of guns in society because it sees it as a life issue.
“We are concerned with all topics, not only abortion or euthanasia, but also defense of life, so things that deal with the death penalty, and killing due to the dissemination of weapons. This is a line that we have always repeated,” he said.
Weapons, he said, “must be less widespread,” and citizens must also “have a reflection on what kind of society we want to build.”
“A more human society is one in which there is an attempt to reduce conflicts and the use of force to resolve conflicts, any conflict, even conflicts among people,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen