Mass shootings bring renewed calls for Catholics to prioritize common good over guns

By Kate Scanlon | OSV News

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — At least four people were killed and eight injured in a shooting at Old National Bank in downtown Louisville, Ky., on April 10, local police said. The gunman was also killed. That incident followed another mass shooting where six people, including three children, were killed at a Nashville school two weeks earlier on March 27.

The mass shootings are just some of the violent events with multiple casualties involving guns that have become more common in the United States in recent years. Last May at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers.

Theologians and church leaders told OSV News that a public policy response to gun violence representing a Catholic perspective should start by prioritizing the common good.

In response to the Uvalde shooting, Congress passed a modest gun safety bill — the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — that expanded the background check system for prospective gun buyers under 21 years old, closed a provision known as the “boyfriend loophole,” banning domestic abusers from purchasing firearms regardless of their marital status, and funded new investments in mental health resources.

But following the Nashville shooting, congressional lawmakers acknowledged that with the House now in Republican control, Congress is unlikely to pass further regulations on civilian gun ownership that President Joe Biden, a Catholic Democrat, has sought.

People in New York City protest gun violence as they cross the Brooklyn Bridge during the “March for Our Lives” rally June 11, 2022. A public policy response to gun violence from a Catholic perspective should prioritize the common good, theologians and church leaders told OSV News. (CNS photo/Eric Cox, Reuters)

Many Republican-led State Legislatures have, in fact, moved to relax further their states’ gun regulatory framework. Since the Nashville shooting, both North Carolina and Florida have enacted laws that dismantled permitting regulations for purchasing handguns or carrying concealed loaded weapons. However, in Missouri, some Republican lawmakers crossed the aisle to join Democrats in stopping a GOP-sponsored bill that would block federal funding for “red flag databases” meant to help law enforcement keep guns out of the hands of people reported to be dangerous.

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, in whose diocese is Uvalde, has emerged in the wake of the tragedy as an advocate for more gun ownership regulation. He told OSV News in an interview that gun violence is tied to a host of other signs of an acceptance of violence in the culture — from abortion, to domestic violence, to a lack of regard for the immigrant, to failing to care for creation.

“It’s a violent environment,” he said. “We’re talking about arms that used in wars, in that context, are used locally. And what that does is it diminishes the dignity of the human person in societies because people are afraid.”

Archbishop García-Siller said he has spoken with lawmakers in Austin about a public policy response to prevent similar violence. He said some “see the need for some kind of new understanding of guns.”

But sometimes, he said, “everybody’s talking” but they don’t make the time “to listen to the stories” of people impacted by gun violence.

In Texas, he said, a state where one drives past billboards advertising gun dealers and where “Don’t Mess with Texas” is an informal motto, guns can seem “untouchable.” The archbishop likened it to an idolatry where “guns are more important than people.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a total ban on assault weapons, a term that refers commonly to military-style semi-automatic, rifles, shotguns, and pistols fed by ammunition magazines of various capacities. Most AR-15 rifles, for example, come with 30-round magazines, but manufacturers have developed larger capacities for the semi-automatic platform, including 40 rounds, 60 rounds and 100 rounds. These tactical weapons allow a shooter to maintain a steady rate of fire limited by the need to reload once the magazine is depleted.

The bishops support an assault weapons’ ban similar to the one they supported in the 1994 crime bill, which Congress allowed to expire in 2004. They also support limitations on civilian access to high-capacity ammunition magazines. The 1994 crime bill banned ownership of magazines with capacity for more than 10 rounds.

A March 27 Washington Post demonstration showed how a shooter with a semiautomatic weapon could discharge a fully loaded 100-round magazine at a steady rate within 30 seconds. A shooter with a 10-round magazine could discharge 30 rounds within the same timeframe, with magazine changes taking 7-8 seconds, before the shooter resumed firing.

Other gun regulation measures the bishops support include universal background checks for all gun purchases.

Archbishop García-Siller said they called for those measures because “people are really suffering.”

“We have the teaching of Jesus about being peacemakers,” he said. “We have to continue advocating, to continue promoting justice, to promote behavior that goes more along with our dignity,” he said.

Tobias Winright, a professor of moral theology at St. Patrick’s Pontifical University in Maynooth, Ireland, told OSV News his daughter survived a school shooting in St. Louis, where his family previously lived. He said the intruder had an AR-15 and 800 rounds of ammunition.

But Winright draws from his experience as a theologian, as well as prior professional experience in law enforcement, qualifying as a sharpshooter, and firearm ownership, to argue for more civilian gun regulation.

Winright explained Catholic tradition recognizes a right to “legitimate defense” against an unjust violent attack, “whether in defense of oneself or other innocent persons, individuals possess this right, which is rooted in their right to life.”

“However, in Catholic teaching, legitimate defense is primarily the responsibility of authorities who are tasked with serving and protecting the common good,” Winright said. “Today this means the police in most countries, and citizens should not need to defend themselves or others unless no police are available or able to respond in time.”

From a Catholic perspective, Winright said, “rights always correspond to responsibilities to the common good. Excessive individualism regarding rights is out of sync with a Catholic theological anthropology, or understanding of the human person.”

“When opponents assert that guns are not the problem, but people who use them are, this is an oversimplification,” he said. “A Catholic perspective considers both.”

David Lincicum, an associate professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, praised Archbishop García-Siller’s advocacy. Lincicum told OSV News communities of faith should recognize “there is a conflict here between organizing your life around this symbol, the gun, and the way the Christian church organizes its lives around a symbol of the cross.”

Lincicum said a political solution in a polarized climate would require “politicians with real moral courage and conviction, who aren’t necessarily going to be narrowly tailoring everything they say, toward the prospects of reelection.”

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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