The “Gun Rights Issue” is once again a top-3 hot-button issue in American politics. The massacre and tragedy in Newtown placed it back into the spotlight for obvious reason, and yet the discussion that has been occurring is so blurred with emotion, misinformation, and faulty reasoning that I honestly dont know if we have moved the ball forward or backwards.1
The issue has so many facets, that when we talk about guns in general, and the laws surrounding them, it hardly even happens where everyone is on the same page. In fact, two pundits can be on the same tv or radio program, and be talking so far past one another that the average listener gets nothing out of it but for the points (regardless of their factual accuracy) they choose to listen to and remember.
One anecdote of this is how people in my life that are for the most part conservative don’t know what the difference between Semi-Automatic and Fully Automatic mean, and how it relates to what an “Assault Rifle” is. In fact, if you want to perform a miniature case study do the following: in your own words give what you believe is the legal definition of an “Assault Rifle.” The following is taken from Wikipedia, but is an accurate and straightforward explanation of what an Assault Weapon is legally classified as:
The term, assault weapon, when used in the context of assault weapon laws refers primarily (but not exclusively) to semi-automatic firearms that possess the cosmetic features of an assault rifle that is fully automatic. Actually possessing the operational features, such as ‘full-auto’, changes the classification from assault weapons to Title II weapons. Merely the possession of cosmetic features is enough to warrant classification as an assault weapon. Semi-automatic firearms, when fired, automatically extract the spent cartridge casing and load the next cartridge into the chamber, ready to fire again. They do not fire automatically like a machine gun. Rather, only one round is fired with each trigger pull.
The key phrase here is: “cosmetic features.” Also of note is the fact that fully automatic features place weapons into the Title II category, and have always been since the early 1900’s – illegal or highly restricted. The Assault Weapons Ban actually originally focused on the AR’s, AK’s, and “Uzi” guns. Most of this had to do with misinformation that they could EASILY be made fully automatic, and therefore were dangerous.
Most of the people I spoke with said Assault weapons are “Automatic Weapons” and when pressed, in their own words they described fully automatic or “Machine Guns.” Once I explained that the firing nature had nothing to do with the law per se, and even in cases where I explained that Semi-automatic meant one trigger pull = one round shot, people did not believe me. The did not think such weapons were the focus of the control. Those that did follow me down the path of truth, then usually went into the argument that “hunters don’t need 30 rounds or ‘military style’ weapons.” Leaving that argument aside, it is the misinformation that is troubling.
To illustrate this point the above pictured rifle is depicted and considered an assault rifle. It is a .22 caliber, rim fire rifle. That means it is one of the smallest caliber rifle that is manufactured. In almost every state this weapon is illegal to use for deer hunting because it is too small/weak for ethical kills, even with its magazine capacity. In fact, in many states it can’t be used for much above squirrels and fox.2 It will kill, even humans and bears, with a well placed shot. But the point is that this isnt about caliber – it is again about cosmetics.
If we are to truly find a way to limit violence and death, we need to find solutions to problems, and not simply take measures that feel good or can be argued to make a difference. What I mean is this: during the period of the assault weapons ban and in places that have kept a similar, or even more restrictive gun laws on the books (Chicago and Connecticut – the state home to Newtown) it has not prevented or curbed violence in any discernible way.
While almost everyone would admit that we want to limit violence and death in our country, there is no clear path or answer to how we do that. In truth, taking measures that do nothing more than make us feel good, until the next tragedy occurs, is a dangerous and offensive game to play. This isn’t just because of its affront to the Constitution, but because it places in a position that exposes us to tragedy under the false veil of safety.
As Catholics, the situation is quite precarious for us. We must pray for and work towards peace and civility, but that doesn’t mean that we should make overarching statements or stances on guns, solely because they are weapons. In fact, it isn’t nuance to argue that guns are as much or more of a defensive tool than they are as offensive. If there is an intrinsic nature to steel, then why do we allow Knights of Columbus to carry swords into Church?3 What we should do is find ways to align our beliefs and actions with those of the teachings of the Church. We can’t hide behind, “We must do something…” and then pass laws that are meaningless.
Statistics left and right show that gun control laws don’t stop the violence. Cosmetic features on guns don’t lead to “more deaths.” While there is an argument to be had about magazine size and capacity, it again won’t solve the problem. The problem is that we live in a culture that reveres death and not life. Or, in the very least in one that doesn’t value the intrinsic humanity and sacredness of life… except in the horrific aftermath of some tragedies. That is when the truth is shown to us that life is precious and that we want to uphold it however we can. Yet, the solution shouldn’t be about political agendas, but about finding ways to stop the people behind these tragic acts. If you can’t stop the people, if you can’t make them love, no ban on anything gun, or otherwise, will stop these acts. We would be wise not to fool ourselves or lull ourselves into thinking that hollow laws that do nothing more but make us feel safe will actually protect us. Our culture is broken, and the Constitutional Right that exists to protect our freedom isn’t the problem that leads to tragedy. It is the way that our society has built itself on holding up and promoting things antithetical to life and love. We live in the Culture of Death, and yet we are unwilling to find or fix the true source of blame in its continuing existence. We perpetuate through misinformation and political agenda.
As Catholics we should worry less about the laws, and truthfully fight against these hollow measures, in order to pursue truth and life. I believe we should focus on the discussion of why we should and shouldn’t own guns, and what the moral and lawful implications are of their use. This question is germane to Catholics not only for self (home) defense situations, but also around the world and in cases of insurrection, state-wide violence, and revolution. These questions shouldn’t be about cosmetics or platitudes, but facts, truth, and philosophical realities.