The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting in crime-ridden Baltimore, Maryland for its fall assembly, and one bishop used the setting to call for a dialogue between rural gun owners and urban residents. What Bishop Frank Dewane is really asking for, however, is for rural gun owners to bend their knee and accept all kinds of infringements on their right to keep and bear arms in the name of public safety.
He pointed to the need to address gun violence, which has ravaged many urban centers, while acknowledging the legitimate concerns among responsible gun owners of losing access to firearms for hunting or, in some cases, protection.
Since 1975, the USCCB has issued a series of statements and pastoral letters addressing gun violence. Individual bishops, in their capacity as chairmen of USCCB committees, have sent letters to Congress outlining the conference’s concern that lives are being needless lost because of the widening availability of guns, including military-style weapons.
However, Dewane’s call goes beyond legislative efforts and appears to open the door for church leaders to seek a common ground in addressing gun violence.
“Human life is sacred … and we need to approach this with the full strength of our teaching,” he told the assembly.
Bishop Dewane also said the USCCB is not seeking a total limit to handguns, but would welcome broader background checks and some limits on gun ownership.
Bishop Dewane should take a close look at Maryland’s gun control laws and see how well they’re working in Baltimore. Back in 2013 the state passed the Maryland Firearms Safety Act, and homicides in Baltimore have been climbing ever since, from 235 murders in 2013 to more than 300 homicides per year ever since. The Firearms Safety Act wasn’t some minor gun control law; in fact it contained everything that gun control activists had asked for, including an “assault weapons” and magazine ban, a licensing requirement to own a handgun. It hasn’t worked.
Why should gun owners, rural or not, roll over and support these laws that make it harder to legally exercise a right, but don’t do a damn thing about addressing drug and gang-related violence driving the crimes?
Bishop Dewane is correct that human life is sacred. That’s why many of us are gun owners; not because we care little about human life, but because we value it. Life is sacred, and worth protecting. Even Jesus recognized the right of self defense when he told the apostles to sell their cloaks and buy a sword if need be. The bishop himself seems to understand that going after the inanimate object won’t address the sickness in the human soul.
“Such regulations are helpful, but they will not ban gun violence completely. For that to happen, we need new ways of thinking. At the heart of the epidemic is a shooter. That shooter some how in some way turns inward on pain or isolation or illusions that it becomes possible to become desensitized to others, that he loses all empathy,” he said.
I would be happy, as a rural-American, to sit down and talk with Bishop Dewane about his gun control proposals, but I’d also like him to consider the possibility that, rather than improving public safety, many of the policies he’s proposing would in fact make it more difficult, if not impossible, for the marginalized and economically impoverished among us to exercise their right to keep and bear arms and the right of self-defense, if need be. What if the best of intentions are leading to the worst results; higher crime, less safety, and fewer rights? What if, instead of rural gun owners giving up their rights, urban Americans are empowered to legally exercise their own?
I’ve mentioned before that when I met my wife 22-years ago, she was a single mom of two living in Camden, New Jersey, which was the murder capitol of the United States at the time. New Jersey’s gun laws did a great job of stopping her from legally owning a gun, but they did nothing to prevent the gang members and drug dealers in her neighborhood from shooting at each other indiscriminately. Nor did they stop an angry boyfriend from emptying his magazine into what he thought was the front door of his girlfriend’s apartment. In fact, the police didn’t even show up to respond to that incident, according to my wife. My wife has gone from one of the most violent cities in the country to a small farm in rural Virginia, and is now a proud and empowered gun owner. Never again will she cower on her living room floor protecting her children as someone illegally possessing a gun fires round after round at her apartment building. Sadly, that is still the reality for far too many Americans, and rural gun owners are well aware of that tragedy. We just know that the answer to addressing the violence in Baltimore, Camden, St. Louis, Chicago, and other high-crime cities doesn’t involve making it harder for law-abiding Americans to protect themselves.