Put Out into the Deep

Assault Weapons Have No Place in a Civilized Society

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Two mass shootings in one weekend that killed dozens of people in El Paso, Texas and in Dayton, Ohio have left many people feeling disgusted and hopeless about the senseless violence that is too commonplace in America. The unfortunate reality is that violence is, in fact, a part of our history and gun violence really is the worst part of it. But it does not have to remain this way. People have the power to pray for change and make it happen.

There are many factors that have led to this gun violence epidemic, which is why we need to formulate a comprehensive approach that includes common sense gun laws.

There are nearly 400 million weapons in our country. That is more than one for every person.

But the real problem is the assault weapons. Why does anyone need a machine that can kill dozens of a people indiscriminately in a very short amount of time? Assault weapons are killing machines that have no place in a civilized society. They are weapons of war and should not be on our streets.

Assault weapons should be banned as part of any comprehensive legislation. Yet it seems that no one has the political appetite to make this happen. Often, the Second Amendment is used as an excuse for the failure to act. But the Founding Fathers never envisioned these modern killing machines when granting people the right to bear arms. They were thinking that England was going to come back and invade. They wanted muskets available for the new citizens of America to be prepared.

Common sense gun legislation does not seek to take away people’s guns or rifles. We are talking primarily about ridding our society of the high-powered assault weapons which are often at the center of a mass shooting.

We also need to have uniform background checks across the country. Background checks help to keep firearms from the people who should not have them.

Right now, background checks are only for guns sold by federally licensed dealers. But private sales, at gun shows, for instance, are exempt unless a state’s law requires it. Twenty-one states and Washington D.C. have closed this federal loophole. In the rest of the United States, a convicted felon, domestic abuser or another ineligible person can legally buy guns privately. That is unacceptable.

More than 90 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun sales, according to numerous polls. And a 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center found that more than 70 percent of people in NRA households favored background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows. So, the will is there, but we need the might as well. People need to contact their legislators and say enough is enough.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting in California last month happened with a firearm purchased in Nevada. The AK-47 style rifle used in that shooting could not have been purchased in California. Yet the strict gun laws in California did not prevent that shooting because the relaxed regulations in other states make access easy.

The sale of ammunition needs to be looked at as well. You should not be able to buy it over the internet.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the mental health problem in our country. More money needs to be allocated for community mental health centers, which we do not have. Diagnosis and treatment can go a long way in reducing the lives lost at the hands of a gun.

There also needs to be more scrutiny on what kids and teens watch on television and online. Video games and the violence constantly portrayed in movies and on TV serve to desensitize young people.

All these problems in society need to be dealt with, which is why the response to gun violence has to be comprehensive. For instance, Chicago has significant gun violence because of crime, drugs, and mental health problems, despite restrictive gun laws.

Whether victims are shot by a handgun or an assault rifle, the violence continues to scar our society. For too long, we have lived in fear of becoming the next victim.

The bottom line is there is so much political rhetoric around this that nothing ever gets done. And more innocent people keep dying. There is some talk in Washington about taking up the issue when Congress returns from recess. There is talk of establishing red flag laws, where relatives can report loved ones they think should not have guns. Law enforcement officials would be able to confiscate the weapons if the person is found to be a danger to themselves or others. The fact that this proposal has gained steam is encouraging. We can only pray that politicians on both sides of the aisle can move this forward.

While mass shootings have been happening for some time now, it cannot be left unsaid that hate speech and prejudice against immigrants were apparently the motivation behind the El Paso mass shooting. The words heard in our discourse today matter. They affect impressionable minds.

As people of faith, we must continue to pray for all victims of gun violence and for their loved ones left behind dealing with unimaginable pain.

But along with prayer, God’s mercy and wisdom compel us to speak against this epidemic. We, Catholics, need to raise our voices and push for change to our national laws and to the culture that has gotten us to this point.

As we put out into the deep, we should pray our legislators can see our Nation is hurting and the time for a solution is now.

Follow Bishop DiMarzio on Twitter @BpDiMarzio