Editor's Note: This column was written prior to the multiple accounts of gun violence in July.
There is an old proverb that says, "What the eye does not see, the heart does not grieve over." How difficult it is for us to truly empathize with the sufferings or pain of another if we are not really witness to it, or have a connection with the one suffering.
Last month we were witness to tragedy and racked with sorrow and grief over another mass shooting, this time in an LGBT nightclub in Orlando. Leaving nearly 50 dead, it has now been termed the worst such incident in U.S. history. The pain inflicted on the families, friends and the nation from this attack is unconscionable, and even now our hearts are still tender from the wound this atrocity inflicted.
It did not take long, however, for that grief to give way for some who nearly immediately began to defend the "right to bear arms." With almost lightning speed, many took to social media, the airwaves and print journalism in order to assert that this most recent mass killing should not incite us to consider additional restrictions on guns. Voices from many corners offered a wealth of explanations for why any further laws limiting gun sales, purchase or ownership are somehow ineffective, unnecessary or un-American.
The challenge for us, of course, is that we must think and act as Catholics first, and citizens second. So, we have to judge the range of arguments for or against gun control not primarily by their constitutionality, or their effectiveness, but rather by their conformity to the Gospel. We are required to consider the issue through the lens of our faith.
Our position on guns necessarily derives from our belief in the sanctity of life. Each life, regardless of the conditions that surround it, has an infinite worth in the eyes of God. That is true for the unborn, the elderly, the poor, those with disabilities, and everyone on the margins of society.
We must admit that guns are deadly weapons, designed to kill or maim their target. So we ask ourselves whether restricting their abundance will reduce the number of deaths - by murder, suicide and accident.
Ask whether we should restrict the nature of guns by eliminating those that are semi-automatic or assault weapons, and are capable of causing massive deaths, like the most recent cases. If we are honest about the nature of guns and we are serious about our commitment to life, how can we oppose more restrictive gun control?
Our U.S. bishops have repeatedly - at least since 1975 - called for reasonable regulations and controls for guns, especially handguns, and for a ban on assault weapons. Just a few years ago, after another tragic shooting, the bishops sent testimony to Congress to push for better gun controls with a specific goal to build a culture of life and confront the culture of violence. Congress took no action for tighter controls.
Last September, when Pope Francis addressed Congress, members of Congress stood to applaud his call for an end to the weapons industry that is motivated by "money that is drenched in blood," and to endorse his call "to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade." No action resulted from the pope's address either.
As Catholics, we are called to be the leaven that brings the Gospel message to society. It is time for us to take a courageous stand against the violence wrought by guns, to work vigorously for their restriction, to eventually eliminate handguns, and to ban assault weapons.
Our eyes have seen the tragedy from gun violence; the grief of our hearts must now be turned into action.
Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and is a Global Fellow with Catholic Relief Services. He may be reached at email@example.com.