Toward a safer America

February 1, 2013

CHA president and chief executive officer

On Dec. 28, Catholics celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents. This liturgical remembrance pays tribute to the children killed when King Herod, perceiving a threat to his throne by the newborn baby Jesus, ordered all boys in Bethlehem under two years old to be executed.

This year, the feast of Holy Innocents came exactly two weeks after 20 children's lives were cut short by a hailstorm of bullets at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. As our nation celebrated Christmas, a season of birth and hope, we stood in solidarity with the residents of Newtown, Conn., who face unimaginable loss and enduring grief. In addition to the young victims, seven adults were killed at the school, including the principal, members of her staff and the gunman.

In the U.S., we have become all too familiar with mass shootings. We in Catholic health care also recognize that daily gun violence is taking a terrible and continuing toll across America, particularly in some of our cities. Since Newtown, individuals and groups on both sides of the gun control issue have taken up their causes with greater urgency and hardened their stances, when what is needed now is constructive dialogue and common sense. As a nation, we should study and debate each serious policy proposal put forward to reduce gun violence.

Certainly, the country needs to better monitor the availability and sale of guns. This can be done in a number of ways, including universal background checks that should make it much more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain a firearm. We should also restore and strengthen the federal assault weapons ban.

In addition to considering gun policy measures, it is clear we need to look at other cultural factors that may make people numb to the abomination of violence. Video games conflate violence and play. Movies and television shows vividly depict gun violence, often in prime time when children are watching. Meanwhile, gaps in our mental health system mean too many vulnerable — and possibly dangerous — people are suffering without treatment or compassion. As we examine gun policies, let us be sure as well to repair these gaps in our mental health system.

There is no one solution to the gun violence challenge, but there are many steps we can take together. There are ways each of us can contribute to making our world a safer and more peaceful one. In this spirit, CHA has joined Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, an interfaith coalition to encourage meaningful action. As the work of this group moves forward, CHA will share with the ministry ways they can be involved and contribute.

The Catholic Church has for years spoken out about the urgency of reducing gun violence, and following the Newtown shooting, the bishops endorsed once again efforts to strengthen regulation of firearms and improve health care access for the mentally ill. On behalf of CHA and Catholic health care, I am pleased to join in this work with our bishops and our partners in the faith community.

I believe we can protect the rights of gun owners and the rights of children in schools, families at malls and movie theaters, and people celebrating their faith in a church, mosque or synagogue. I believe we can uphold the Second Amendment and protect the safety of our communities.

When our framers wrote the Constitution, they did not envision weapons that can kill many people in rapid fashion without reloading. They could not have anticipated that violent criminals would obtain guns as powerful as those employed on the battlefield.

Catholic hospital clinicians and administrators bear witness to the human impact of gun violence. They see it in the faces of trauma patients and in the pain of families whose loved ones have been injured or killed. They count the cost in lives and dollars — costs that could be prevented with wiser gun policy and a stronger mental health safety net.

Working together and emphasizing dialogue over division, we can make real progress on this important issue. And we must.


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.