The Missouri Catholic Conference calls for addressing “the senseless gun violence that is occurring in our schools, on our streets and in our inner cities.”
Father William Dotson, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in St. Charles, is following the bishops’ call to address the issue, noting that it’s not a matter of “taking sides” but of “finding solutions.” After the bishops issued that statement earlier this year, he gave a presentation titled “The Catholic Church and Gun Violence.” Using the writings and statements of the Missouri Catholic Conference and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he presented the Church’s teachings on gun control and gun ownership and how Catholics are called to work to overcome the violence so prevalent in society. He gave a similar talk at the second annual Sister Antona Ebo Social Justice Conference in September.
The Church has a position because respect for life is a “fundamental moral principal flowing from our teaching of our dignity as a human person,” Father Dotson said at the presentation in September. “Anything that attacks that dignity of human life concerns us.”
Gun violence is a broad topic that includes mass shootings, gang violence, interpersonal acts of aggression, domestic violence, suicide, accidental shootings and more, he said.
There’s no easy and quick solution to gun violence, he said. When someone says they’re in favor of banning certain guns, he said, others might counter that people still kill with other weapons. “That’s true,” Father Dotson said, “we’re not saying an assault weapons ban is going to stop all murders in the United States. It’s a part of it.”
There’s a culture of violence in the United States, he said. Addressing it means addressing issues such as poverty, addiction, criminal justice reform that stresses rehabilitation, building stronger communities and greater solidarity, overcoming isolation and, he added, “most importantly at the heart of the conversion of our culture that glorifies violence, especially among men. If you look at who commits mass shootings and commits most violence in the United States, it’s men because of the way our culture raises men and teaches men.” The Church recognizes that legislation alone won’t solve the problem, Father Dotson said. It also includes conversion, changing the mindset that makes violence possible, he said.
The Church acknowledges there are many faithful people who are gun owners, he added. “The Church is not saying that being a gun owner makes you a terrible person. The Church recognizes the right to legitimate self-defense,” the parish priest said.
Quoting the U.S. bishops in “Backgrounder of a Mercy and Peacebuilding Approach to Gun Violence,” Father Dotson said: “Weapons that are increasingly capable of inflicting great suffering in a short period of time are simply too accessible.”
Some weapons, he said, are created with one purpose: to kill human beings. “And explicitly some weapons are created to kill large numbers of human beings quickly and efficiently. As Catholics who defend and promote human life, we should be concerned about the proliferation of instruments of death. … We say you don’t have a moral right to own an instrument of death, something that was made explicitly for killing another human being.”
Earlier this year, Bishops Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., and George V. Murry, representing two U.S. bishops’ committees, reiterated the bishops’ advocacy in their “Peacebuilding” statement for “a comprehensive approach to the reduction of violence in society and the protection of life.”
Changing the minimum age for gun ownership, requiring universal background checks, as the bishops have long advocated, and banning “bump stocks” are promising concepts, they added.
In April, the Missouri bishops issued a joint statement on the issue of gun violence in American society. Noting the disturbing frequency of violent events involving firearms, the bishops called for “serious reflection on why people are carrying out senseless acts of violence.” The bishops pointed to images of violence in media and how this may affect young people.
The statement called for banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, citing the 10-round limit imposed for hunters in Missouri. In addition, the bishops urged increased access to mental health services.
Gun safety and minimum age levels for gun purchases also are needed, Father Dotson said. “If 18-year-olds are not responsible enough to buy a Budweiser, they’re not responsible enough to buy a weapon of war.”
>> Other activists
Some other Catholics and Catholic school students working on the issue of gun violence include:
• Brianna Chandler, a
student activist at Nerinx Hall High School, who tells of a friend,
Toni Stevenson, from a summer program at Washington University who was
shot and killed last year by two masked men when she parked in front of
her house after attending a basketball game.
• Damen Alexander,
a St. Louis University High School graduate who attends Saint Louis
University, organized the March for Our Lives in St. Louis following a
shooting in Parkland, Fla., and has lobbied legislators. “We all know
there’s a difference between a hunting rifle and an assault weapon,” he
said, adding that the bishops’ have called for responsible gun ownership
and never seek a ban on hunting weapons. He said he understands the
emotions of the issue, but that Catholics should “find our voice” and be
counter-cultural, doing it with respect and sensitivity while stressing
it is part of the Church’s consistent teaching on human life.
• Cathy Gilbert,
a leader with Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety, is
committed to broadening awareness of gun violence and its impact on
American communities. “We are not anti-Second Amendment, we are anti-gun
violence,” she said. Gilbert, a member of Christ Prince of Peace
Parish, said a goal is keeping children safe from gun violence.
• Haley Zink,
Ceasefire STL co-founder and logistics director, a St. Louis University
student also motivated to get involved after the Parkland shooting.