National News

After Virginia Beach Tragedy, Bishops Call for Curbs on Gun Violence

Women attend a June 1, 2019, prayer vigil for the victims of a shooting at the municipal government complex in Virginia Beach, Va. In the wake of the May 31 mass shooting that left 12 people dead in Virginia Beach, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development called for American society to examine why such violent incidents continue to occur. (Photo: Catholic News Service/Jonathan Drake, Reuters)

By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent

NEW YORK – Following another deadly shooting which killed 12 individuals in Virginia Beach on Friday, the U.S. Catholic Bishops are calling for legislation to curtail gun violence.

“This shooting reminds us yet again that something is fundamentally broken in our society and culture when ordinary workplaces can become scenes of violence and contempt for human life,” said Bishop Frank Dewane, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) committee on domestic justice and human development.

“As Americans we must deeply examine why these horrific occurrences of gun violence continue to take place in our communities, in order to root out the causes of such evils,” he continued. “Action is needed to attempt to reduce the frequency of these abhorrent acts through legislation and training. I call on Catholics around the country to pray for the dead and injured, as well as for healing in the community.”

Saturday’s statement marks the third time in 2019 alone that the U.S. Bishops have weighed in on gun violence, which came after a gunman opened fire at a municipal center in Virginia Beach. Among the dead, 11 were city officials and another a contractor working on-site.

To date, no official motive for the attack has been discussed by authorities investigating the tragedy.

Bishop Barry Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond, which encompasses the area of Virginia Beach, issued a statement on Friday saying “as we await more information from law enforcement regarding the devastating news late this afternoon confirming 11 individuals have lost their lives in Virginia Beach, my prayers and thoughts are with the people of Virginia Beach and the community of Hampton Roads.”

“Tonight, I will continue to pray for those who lost their lives, those who are injured, the medical personnel and first responders who are assisting the victims, families and all affected. I would ask all the faithful to pray with me during this time,” he continued.

More than 38,000 individuals in the United States die from guns each year, and since the 1990s the U.S. Bishops have advocated for a comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence, which includes tighter gun control laws, heightened security screenings and background checks, and improved mental health care.

On Twitter, several other bishops weighed in to comment on the Virginia Beach shooting.

Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee wrote, “Another mass shooting killing! Welcome to America!,” a line he has used before after incidents of national gun violence.

Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland, Ohio issued a statement referring to “another act of senseless gun violence.”

In Arlington, Bishop Michael Burbidge expressed his “solidarity” with his fellow Virginia bishop, adding “this attack is a reminder of the deep spiritual wounds that exist in our society, where some feel they have the right to violate the inherent dignity of the human person. Such acts of violence are as evil as they are irreversible.”

In 2015, when Pope Francis spoke to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, he called out the arms trade and asked, “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.”

Concluding his statement, Bishop Dewane said, “may Jesus, whose victory over death we celebrate during this Easter Season, bring consolation and healing at this time of great sorrow.”