US Catholic Faith in Real Life

No guns allowed: Limiting the proliferation of guns

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Guest blog

By Father Kurt Hartrich, O.F.M.

Fourteen years ago, during a sabbatical, I was studying at the Oblate Seminary of the Southwest in San Antonio. Besides going to classes and living with a new group of friars, I began helping out in some neighboring parishes when there was a need.

I will never forget the first time I went to St. Leo’s Parish and entered one of the doors of the church only to find a large sign of a gun with a circle around it and a diagonal line posted alongside the door. It was my first time ever to notice a sign stating that guns were not allowed to be brought into the church.

When I arrived at the sacristy, I asked one of the readers what that was about, and he told me because of the law in Texas that had to be done if guns were to be avoided in church. I don’t know exactly what the actual law was in Texas back then, but I did see such signs posted on a number of other churches I visited for Mass during the next few months.

Never in a million years back then did I ever think I would see a similar sign once I returned north after my sabbatical was over. However, that time has come. We now have such signs (albeit smaller than those I saw in Texas) posted here at St. Peter’s Parish, all the result of the new concealed carry law in Illinois.

We felt this was necessary both to protect ourselves for liability purposes and for everyone who comes into St. Peter’s for their safety. True, we cannot guarantee that these signs will keep concealed guns out of church because we cannot search each person entering our premises, but we hope it will at least be a deterrent.

A couple of weeks ago Gov. Nathan Deal of the state of Georgia signed House Bill No. 60 allowing guns to be carried into bars, in some churches, schools and government buildings under certain circumstances. This bill, known as the “Safe Carry Protection Act” and sometimes known as the “Guns Everywhere” bill, is probably the most far-reaching of such bills in the United States.

The NRA applauded the governor, said it was a great day for the Second Amendment and praised the bill as the most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation introduced in recent state history. House Speaker David Ralston said, “We are a community where we cling to our religion and our guns.”

Shortly after that, I was speaking with my sister and brother-in-law in Indianapolis, and they asked me if I knew that the National Rifle Association was having their Leadership Convention in Indy. I said I had just seen a clip about that on the national evening news. They know of my great concern about the proliferation of guns in our society and how opposition to reasonable background checks before the purchase of guns and to outlawing certain military style rifles and large ammunition clips, etc., is almost incomprehensible to me.

During our conversation they told me that at this convention the NRA was proudly advertising “9 Acres of Guns & Gear” —nine acres, mind you—of convention space dedicated to vendors showcasing and selling all kinds of weaponry and ammunition!

As I have stated before, I realize that it is most difficult to keep guns totally out of the hands of those who would abuse them. Criminals and gang members will find ways of buying and selling illegal guns. I also understand it when people say they have a right to protect themselves and that it is a matter of public safety. I fully agree that our present laws need to be enforced to the greatest extent possible, but all this should not limit the possibility of trying to put into place additional precautions and legislation that would most likely make us safer, whether we choose to be licensed to carry a concealed weapon or not.

Right now we seem to have arrived at a point that often any disagreement or confrontation escalates to settling the question with a gun. And all too frequently many of the recent horrific multiple murders that have happened in our schools, universities, malls, and public buildings have been with guns legitimately purchased according to present gun laws. The same is true with domestic disturbances and neighborhood problems.

I applaud the police efforts to crack down on gang activity, on drug sales, and on illegal gun trafficking, but I also hope that more and more Catholics will come to see that additional gun control legislation is really a pro-life issue akin to abortion: In both cases we are attempting to protect both the unborn and those who have a right to life after birth.

Father Kurt Hartrich, O.F.M. is the pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Chicago,

Image: Flickr photo cc by Don Harder

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