Two years after Newtown, it's time for the United States to start addressing the realities of gun violence in our communities. People die from gun violence every day around the country, especially in poor and impoverished communities, but the American public is still starkly divided on this moral issue.
While countless groups have been fighting hard for sensible gun reform, national gun politics are at a standstill. In Washington, the next election is always around the corner. Ahead of the 2016 cycle, many are wondering who or what can push this issue forward.
The answer might be found in the Catholic Church. Nearly two years after the election of Pope Francis, the Church is playing a huge role in influencing national politics. From debates about economic inequality to immigration reform and environmental stewardship, the Church has taken a more prominent role in the fight for social justice.
Sadly, the Church's efforts on gun violence have paled in comparison. While there have been some statements, pastoral letters and advocacy on the issue, there has yet to be a national Catholic effort to end gun violence.
Why is this unacceptable? Because soon guns will surpass automobile accidents as the leading cause of death among young people. If the Church in the United States wants to continue its strong defense of the dignity of life, it must speak more boldly against the gun violence that is plaguing our nation.
Pope Francis has said again and again that the proliferation of weapons leads to injustice and violence in the world. It leads to injustice because innocent people die every day at the hands of gun violence. It leads to injustice because guns often find their way to the most poor and economically depressed places around the country. It leads to injustice because people in poverty face the realities of gun violence inordinately, but their suffering is often ignored.
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis said, "...until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities, the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode..."
Catholics need to follow his lead and not only speak out against a violence that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in society--the poor--but also speak out against the kind of inequality that leads people to resort to violence as a means of survival. Passing sensible and permanent gun control legislation will lead to less violence in poorer communities.
Unfortunately, after the tragedy in Newtown, CT, much of the legislation that came from the sudden attention to the issue was on a state level and sadly loosened restrictions on guns rather than tightening them. Nonetheless, the most significant progress for gun control has been made on a state-level. States like Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, among others, have lead the charge to pass bills.
On a federal level, President Obama enacted numerous executive orders to combat gun violence after Congress failed to pass gun control legislation. But, his 2nd term is almost up leaving the nation's few gun control laws at risk. With a new Congress convening, now is the time for Catholics to come together, speak out against gun violence and push for gun reform.
As this debate polarizes the American public, Catholic values can mobilize the country's 70 million Catholics and provide a unifying voice of hope for a future with less violence. Now the only questions is, when will they?