Again and again and again. Gunshots ring out, students are dead. When will it stop?
Our hearts go out to the community of Umpqua Community College in Oregon where yet another gunman killed yet more people who thought they were in a safe place of learning and intellectual advancement. As President Obama said bleakly in his news conference yesterday evening, “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” When will we — We, the People who supposedly govern this nation — when will we do something about the endless carnage?
This time last week we were reveling in the gauzy glow of good feelings that Pope Francis seemed to exude at every stop along his journey through Washington, New York and Philadelphia. But along with the bright smiles and cheerful waves, he had a very serious message for our elected representatives in Congress:
“Your own responsibility … is to enable this country…to grow as a nation. …You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.” (Pope Francis addressing the U.S. Congress, September 24, 2015)
That’s the best statement of the moral responsibility of lawmakers imaginable: they have a clear responsibility to “defense and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens,” to “demand pursuit of the common good,” to ensure the growth of the nation by protecting all members.
Of course, Congress acted like bad boys with spitballs hidden behind their backs, returning to their customary disgraceful antics the day after the Pope left town, heedless and even contemptuous of his call to work together for the common good. And so it is, just one week after that moment of grace, more bodies lie bleeding their young lives away on classroom floors because this nation’s lawmakers worship at the altars of greed and self-interest.
This is the same Congress, by the way, that cloaks itself in thunderous righteousness should any college or university suffer criminal actions on campus, since Congress sees fit to impose on collegiate administrators a standard that approaches what lawyers would call strict liability to protect students from any and all harms. While I surely do not shrink from my responsibility in this regard, how dare Congress hold me to the highest standard while allowing the most appalling dangers of virtually uncontrolled weapons to roam freely across the landscape, victimizing children in schools and people in churches while elected politicians protect their seats and pay obeisance to the gun lobby. Surely, the victims of gun violence, especially those in schools, are among “those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk” that Pope Francis insisted are those most in need of legislative protection.
President Obama was right to call out the opposition today, saying that if they want to call his remarks political, so be it — as the Pope himself said, political action is absolutely necessary to defend and grow the life of the nation. And let’s not allow those tired old refrains about “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” or “good guys with guns” to obscure the most fundamental issue: the prevalence of guns — enough guns for every single person living in America right now, and then some — is clear evidence of the violence of our society. The gun is the symbol of the evil that will not stop, the predator that makes everyone afraid and constantly wary, the ultimate sign of a society that has lost its moral center in a confused argument about words in a Constitutional Amendment that meant something quite different in a colonial culture that existed 225 years ago.
No justice, no peace, that is true. Getting a grip on guns in this country is a fundamental issue of justice; until that happens, there will be no peace.