US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Is an infant's death enough to unite the pro-life movement against gun violence?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The horrific deaths of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut last December has done more than perhaps any other recent tragedy to bring the issue of gun violence into the national consciousness. But the country remains divided on how to curb gun violence, and even many Catholics balk at the idea of laws designed to reduce the loss of innocent life by restricting access to firearms.

During a discussion on reducing gun violence at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual Social Ministry Gathering last month in Washington, someone raised the question of whether the bishops see gun violence as a pro-life issue. A representative of the USCCB staff present at the meeting said that yes, the bishops would frame this as a pro-life issue, but those gathered in the room seemed to agree that many Catholics in the pews haven't made that connection yet. For those who haven't, maybe this will help.

Last week here in Chicago, a man was shot while changing his six-month-old daughter's diaper. Jonathan Watkins was sitting in his minivan with daughter Jonylah in his lap when the shooter approached and fired, hitting both father and daughter. Jonathan was injured yet survived, but Jonylah did not. Though doctors tried to save her they were unsuccessful. Yesterday was Jonylah's emotional funeral.

I hear stories of shootings in Chicago on the local news often, but as the father of a seven-month-old girl, this one hit me harder than most. I can't even imagine how much grief Jonylah's family feels. The whole city has been grieving as the tragic story continues to make headlines.

There are plenty of excuses that can be made, starting with the fact that Jonathan Watkins was targeted by the shooter because of his gang ties. Yes, gang violence is a critical issue that needs to be addressed, but that's not the only problem here. Opponents of gun control laws will also say that criminals would still end up with guns no matter what laws we pass, and the only people punished by these measures are citizens who follow the law. While it is true that someone who would commit a murder might not be deterred by gun control laws, we can try to make it harder for such individuals to get guns in the first place.

But putting aside all the politics, the bottom line is that an innocent baby was shot and killed. For a church that places the utmost priority on protecting innocent human life, this should be an outrage. The pro-life movement should be throwing its powerful voice loudly into this conversation, saying that we cannot tolerate any more deaths of children or infants due to guns--not to mention the lives of people of all ages that are taken by gun violence. But a quick search of the websites of some of the major national pro-life groups turns up not a single story about the shooting death of an infant, nor any calls to action on this issue.

No gun control law will serve as a solution on its own, and there is no easy cure for gun violence. But that is no reason for those who are pro-life to turn away from the discussion or to throw up their hands. If anything, it is even more reason to work hard and to devote our energy to the problem before more human lives are sacrificed.