Like so many Americans, I was deeply moved and inspired yesterday--both by the President’s words and by his actions.
The figures are numbing: Over 30,000 Americans die each year from gun violence, over 20,000 children have had their futures cut short over the last decade, and over 4 million Americans have faced assault, robbery, and crime at the barrel of a gun over the last decade. These numbers, and the lives they represent, have become almost daily news alerts coming across phones and TVs each and every day. Despite all of this, we have continued to avoid steps to do anything about it--until yesterday.
As I was watching the President’s remarks from the White House announcing his Executive Actions to prevent gun violence, I couldn’t help but remember a similar call from Pope Francis. A few short months ago, the Holy Father stood in the House Chamber to address a joint session of Congress. He raised the issue of violence saying, “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” He also pointed so clearly to the reason we allow it to happen: “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem.” In our political context, we understand that this money is not just the cost of a weapon, but also the money spent by powerful lobby groups wishing to expand access to them.
I couldn’t help but see how deeply President Obama has felt the pain of those who have been affected by violence, how he heard the call of Pope Francis, and how he chose to take action.
With the President’s new Executive Actions he is addressing the epidemic of gun violence holistically. He is keeping guns out of the wrong hands by strengthening background checks, he is giving more resources to local officials to help enforce the law, he is investing heavily in mental health treatment, and he is working to ensure that we shape the future of gun safety technology.
As the faith community, we have a unique responsibility to lift up the stories of those who have been affected by gun violence and demand action. As the President said, “Sympathy is not enough to stop gun violence.” Congress needs to take action now to enact and expand common sense reforms that have the wide support of the American people--including Americans who own guns. At the end of the day this is not an issue of politics or party--it is a moral responsibility. We have a shared collective responsibility to support the wholeness of life and uphold human dignity. When the lives and safety of our neighbors are in danger we must all take up the burden and act.
Yesterday, I couldn’t be prouder to call Barack Obama my President, and I hope that Congress will listen to the message of Pope Francis and follow the President’s example.