Civil rights leader, Rep. John Lewis on the need for the courage to enact gun control; on kneeling to advance justice “perhaps in Statuary Hall, perhaps in the Rotunda, perhaps on the steps of the Capitol;” on gerrymandering and politicians who choose voters instead of letting voters choose their politicians.
The commentary below was first published by the Honolulu Star Advertiser on October 12, 2017. It is republished here with permission.
In the shadow of so much death, is it too much to hope that we might hear a strong affirmation of life in all its complexity from every pulpit? In the shadow of so much death, is it too much to hope for better policy from our elected officials? As many have noted, the trotting out of “thoughts and prayers” has become a ghastly ritual that signals a shameful unwillingness to move from grief to gun control.
The citizens of other developed countries enjoy the freedom of being able to walk into public places confident that most of the people they encounter are not carrying loaded guns.
What explains the worship of the Second Amendment in America when dozens are slaughtered by a fellow citizen who had the “freedom” to assemble an arsenal?
Are Americans only as brave and free as the number of guns they can own, carry, conceal or shoot? In the shadow of so much that is unspeakable in our current political climate, can we not look to our elected officials to ensure the safety of the commons, and to religious leaders to foster an ethos of caring in the community that gets beyond simplistic labels? Being “pro-life” must mean more than just trying to limit access to contraception.
The Catholic bishops speak out often and loudly on reproductive rights, gender identity, and death with dignity. They preach to the laity, and they lobby legislators.
Isn’t it time to do the same for gun control?
The automated responses to the violence that infects our life does not suffice. With each horrible incident, the media outlets offer ephemeral shrines, flashing snippets from each victim’s life. This maudlin memorializing is a poor substitute for the action that is needed from lawmakers cowed by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The statement from the United Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said, “We need to pray and to take care of those who are suffering. In the end, the only response is to do good – for no matter what the darkness, it will never overcome the light.”
A better response might be to define what doing good means. The bishops could call on lawmakers, like conspicuously Catholic House Speaker Paul Ryan, to address the “carnage” the President promised to end.
In the shadow of so much death, those we elected into office must act. And those we look to as guides for our spiritual lives must call for a change of heart. Public opinion is overwhelmingly for restricting gun ownership. But public opinion alone should not dictate what we do. Public health and the right of citizens to not have to live with the constant threat of violence from within should.
There have been multiple assaults on public health and the lives of ordinary Americans in recent days.
The House Republicans passed a budget that promises more than $5 trillion in spending cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other domestic programs. This hurts children, working families and the poor, but paves the way for tax cuts to the rich. On October 5, DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—officially ended, leaving thousands in limbo.
The White House also announced that employers no longer have to include contraception in healthcare coverage for employees. The bishops no doubt welcome that.
Will they now be as vigorously “pro-life” in calling on lawmakers to enact gun control laws as they were in calling for controls on women’s reproductive choices?
Yes, our instinct is to offer thoughts and prayers to those who are touched by tragedy. But we cannot stop at thoughts and prayers.
It isn’t enough to move, as Bayard Rustin said we must, from protest to politics. People of faith have to move from prayers to politics to protect each other in the places we share.
Will the bishops lead?