In the time since the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the ongoing debate about the proper role of guns and the menace of gun violence has captured the attention of our nation. In April of last year, the United States Senate debated – perhaps for the first time in its history – measures intended to curb gun trafficking and violence. The National Rifle Association has continued to advocate for greater and greater access to weapons of all types.
As with so many issues in our nation, the loudest voices in the gun control debate are often those on the far extremes, leaving the great mass of people in the middle without clear guidance or perspective. As Catholics, as followers of Jesus Christ, and as members of the local and national community, now is the time to educate ourselves on the issues and to faithfully prepare to participate in the debate over the extent and limits of gun rights that is likely to play out on the national stage for years to come.
The Church has long held that the legitimate defense of our own lives and the lives of those entrusted to us are both a right and a grave duty. We live in a world in which evil exists, in which violence toward ourselves and our families is for some a daily and tangible risk. In the face of such threats and in recognition of a legitimate right to self defense, many have chosen to “keep and bear arms” in order to hold real and perceived dangers at bay. When we read every day about random and senseless acts of violence, it can be difficult to deem such a choice unreasonable.
And yet, can we be content to simply answer violence with violence? Does our participation in the American gun culture, even when motivated by a sincere desire for self-preservation, serve to perpetuate that culture? As followers of Jesus, we are commanded to witness to His peace. Jesus asked His disciples to turn the other cheek, to not defend themselves. Jesus did not defend Himself, even to the point of His own death. This example cannot be easily reconciled with our own decision to arm ourselves against our fellow human beings.
So what is a Christian to do? Perhaps we can consider two truths: first, no matter where we stand on the gun rights issue, none of us should be satisfied with the level of gun violence in our society. We cannot accept a status quo which leaves the poorest residents of our inner cities to bear the heaviest burden of violence in our country. We cannot surrender ourselves to a status quo in which our own safety can only be secured by our willingness to meet violence with violence. We must demand that our elected officials openly and honestly seek out all means to reduce the level of gun violence in our country. Second, following in the path of Jesus requires courage. We all hope for a future in which the peace of Jesus is embodied in our society. But for that hope to be made real we must have the courage to see past our own fears and follow the command of Jesus to put our sword back into its sheath. This is the challenge with which we are faced.