The Heart of Darkness in our Nation

We are once again confronted with a horrendous act of violence directed against innocent people. A young man, obviously disturbed, gained access to a powerful weapon and an unlimited supply of ammunition, and brought death into a school, traumatizing dozens of families, a community, and a nation. This comes as a tragic exclamation point to weeks of news about violence against women, either in the form of sexual harassment or domestic violence.

The public policy debate over gun control will be raised to a fever pitch. That is entirely right and good. There must be a public response to these events — and all the similar ones like them — as a defense of the common good and innocent vulnerable people.

We like to consider ourselves the most powerful, technologically and socially advanced nation in the world. Yet we seemingly cringe in a self-perception powerlessness when it comes to gun violence. We are the only nation in the world where these mass shootings happen on a regular basis, yet we seem unwilling to learn the lessons of other nations or to take them seriously.

How many more tragedies have to happen before we strictly limit access to firearms? In Florida, where this most recent tragedy took place — and in most other states — it is pretty much as easy to buy a gun as it is to buy a can of soda. Under their laws, you don’t need a permit to own a rifle or handgun, you don’t need a permit to carry a rifle and you can get one to carry a pistol for a small fee, you don’t have to register the weapon, you can you don’t have to take safety classes, you can buy the gun from anyone, you don’t have to pass any screening beyond the perfunctory federal questionnaire, you don’t have any limits on the number of weapons or the amount of ammunition that you buy, you don’t have a waiting period to buy a rifle and only a three-day limit for a handgun, there are no on-going permit or inspection requirements, and you can bring a weapon in from out-of-state without any restriction or regulation.

This is absurd. It is more difficult to obtain a barber’s license than it is to get a gun. We cannot stand by any longer and allow this to go on.

This is an important pro-life issue. Obviously, abortion is a much more grave threat to human life than gun violence — about 900,000 unborn babies are killed in abortion, while there are about 35,000 deaths from firearms (of which fewer than half are from assaults, the majority being suicides or accidents). But the amount of gun violence, and the availability of guns, are significant contributors to a culture of violence in the United States. They are a key part of the “Culture of Death” so often condemned by St. John Paul II:

This situation, with its lights and shadows, ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the “culture of death” and the “culture of life”. We find ourselves not only “faced with” but necessarily “in the midst of” this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life. (Evangelium Vitae 28)

It is also something that Pope Francis has talked about. Last year, one of his monthly prayer intentions was for the elimination of the global arms trade. He said this:

It is an absurd contradiction to speak of peace, to negotiate peace, and at the same time, promote or permit the arms trade. Is this war or that war really a war to solve problems or is it a commercial war for selling weapons in illegal trade and so that the merchants of death get rich? Let us put an end to this situation. Let us pray all together that national leaders may firmly commit themselves to ending the arms trade which victimizes so many innocent people.

The arms trade has been denounced repeatedly by the Holy Fathers and the Holy See and our Bishops. But it’s not just an international problem. Over 27 million guns were sold in the United States in 2016 — enough for just about every single person in both New York and New Jersey to own one. That is ridiculous. There is no justification for such an arms trade in the United States, and it must be stopped by legislation restricting gun ownership and gun availability.

At the heart of all this violence — and the other violence we’ve seen in the news, particularly violence against women — is a darkness in the human heart. In The Gospel of Life, St. John Paul repeatedly referred to this darkness, the loss of the sense of God and the good, the turning against neighbor as Cain turned against Abel, and the fruits of violence in death. But he also pointed to the solution to this darkness — the light of the Gospel and the light of Jesus Christ Himself. The Apostle John says it very clearly:

I am writing you a new commandment, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:8-11)

We don’t know what darkness lurked in the heart of the young man who killed all those children in Florida, any more than we know the darkness that lives within each one of us. But we do know that we have a duty to the common good to stop wringing our hands and pretending that we don’t know how to reduce gun violence. We do, but our political classes lack the courage to do it.

And we also have a duty to proclaim boldly to our deeply wounded nation that the answer to our darkness is not to choose hatred and sin. It is to open ourselves to the healing love of God the Father through Jesus Christ.

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