Bishops remain focused on ‘responsible restrictions’ on gun ownership

Sophie Bell, 9, holds a sign during an interfaith prayer vigil to end gun violence Dec. 19 in front of Los Angeles City Hall. (CNS photo/Jason Redmond, Reuters)
Sophie Bell, 9, holds a sign during an interfaith prayer vigil to end gun violence Dec. 19 in front of Los Angeles City Hall. (CNS photo/Jason Redmond, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — As momentum builds to implement new limits on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, the Catholic bishops of the United States remain focused on seeking “reasonable restrictions” on gun ownership without infringing upon Second Amendment rights.

“The bishops continue to support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and continue to call for sensible regulations on handguns,” Kathy Saile, the bishops’ director of domestic social development, told Catholic News Service.

“In addition to that, we need to make a serious commitment to address the pervasive role that addiction and mental illness have in crime,” she said in the wake of the horrendous events of Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children, six educators and the heavily armed gunman who attacked the school dead.

Police identified the shooter as Adam Lanza, 20, who killed himself as first responders arrived on the scene. Before he arrived at the school, he shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza.

If gun control measures are introduced in the new Congress, the bishops will discuss whether a public statement is appropriate and how active to become involved in the legislative process, Saile added.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a Catholic, welcomed the Catholic Church’s involvement in the conversation on gun violence and possible restrictions on certain firearms.

The senator, a strong supporter of gun rights, told CNS Dec. 19 that the church could play a significant role in upcoming discussions that he hopes will involve not just Congress and the White House, but also mental health professionals, law enforcement officers and child advocates in determining the best path to protect society.

“These are the conversations I’m now willing to have. It’s something we should do now,” Manchin said.

“It you’re blaming it all on guns, then you’re blaming me as someone who’s used guns. You’re pushing me into a silent mode,” Manchin said.

“If it’s all about guns, guns and guns, then you’re accusing everybody who’s a law-abiding citizen, who might belong to the NRA, who has used guns responsibly. You put them in the same box (as someone using guns illegally). It’s a brush on all of them.”

Manchin’s unexpected call on the “Morning Joe” show Dec. 17 for a national conversation on gun violence was uplifting to grass-roots groups that in the days since the Newtown atrocity have renewed their desire to see assault weapons outlawed and stricter limits on all firearms.

The Sandy Hook massacre also prompted at least one retailer, Dick’s Sporting Goods, to suspend the sale of certain kinds of semiautomatic weapons nationwide and stop selling guns altogether at its store nearest Newtown. How long the policy would remain in effect was not known.

And President Barack Obama appointed a task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden to draw up proposals to reduce gun violence. The president wants proposals early in the new year.

The call for stricter gun laws comes as Americans now possess nearly 300 million firearms. The number of guns in private hands has climbed exponentially over the years.

A National Institute of Justice survey in 1994 found that civilians owned 192 million guns. Two years later, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported that about 242 million firearms were owned by civilians or available for sale. That number rose to about 259 million in 2000 and about 294 million in 2007, the latest years statistics are available.

The bishops’ stance on gun control has remained in place since 1975 when they called for a national firearms policy. Their concern then was over the proliferation of “Saturday night specials,” cheaply made and inexpensive weapons that debuted four decades ago and quickly became the weapon of choice for street criminals.

Their distress over gun violence surfaced again in 1994 in a pastoral message titled “Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action.” While they did not call for specific controls on firearms at the time, the bishops cited the proliferation of guns among young people and the rising number of shooting deaths and injuries among children and teenagers as priorities for the country to address.

The bishops since then widened their focus to encompass assault weapons. Prior to the past two presidential elections, the bishops in their quadrennial statement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” supported “reasonable restrictions on access to assault weapons and handguns.”

The bishops are not alone. Other religious leaders, community activists and advocates for families and children have long called for strict regulations and bans on weapons specifically designed to kill, as well as stronger controls on handguns.

Details of a survey released in August by the Public Religion Research Institute show that 62 percent of Catholics favor stricter gun control laws. That compares with 35 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 42 percent of white mainline Protestants.

Overall, according to the survey, 52 percent of people favor stricter regulations on guns with 44 percent opposed.

Conducted in early August, the survey sampled 1,006 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Such calls, however, have largely been ignored in Congress and in state legislatures over the years. Citing the rights established under the Second Amendment, the pro-gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, has deployed dozens of lobbyists and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to overturn existing regulations on guns and defeat new efforts to limit gun rights for decades.

The killings at Sandy Hook may just cause the political landscape to change, however, especially as some key pro-gun legislators have said their desire is the safety of all Americans. The NRA said it planned to hold a Dec. 21 news conference to announce that it is “prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this (Newtown) never happens again.”

— By Dennis Sadowski Catholic News Service 


  1. I believe every man has a God given right to defend himself, his family and other innocents, and I think most bishops feel that way to. But should Catholic Bishops really get involved in defining an assault weapon… metric calibers, bullet diameter, or shot volume? Chicago averages about 42 murders a month. We can see it as a ‘gun’ problem but I see it as a problem with the eternal soul. How many of these murderers go to Sunday worship? How many pray a rosary or read the Bible? How many have the conviction that Jesus is Lord and Savior? When is the American Catholic Church going to realize the government is the problem? It’s time for Christ’s Church to church the un-churched.

  2. Wow, the US bisops just keep putting their feet in it- cannot help themselves at all! Why not stop the pretence and come out of the closet and declare openly that they are the religious arm of the Democrat Party and the hell with the Catholics in the pews who actually try to live their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Church and not the prodeath DNC?

  3. Ms. Saile claims to speak for the bishops on this matter. Where are the actual statements from the bishops? I’m not sure I doubt what she’s saying…but are the bishops really going to let her speak for them?

  4. This “news” article is obviously written by the left, pursuant to their agenda of weakening the Church with their false claims. They quote the booklet “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” which was originally written by a group of liberal bishops and lay staffers at the USCCB specifically to elect and re-elect democrat party-of-death politicians in 2008. It was immediately discredited by a large group of faithful bishops who described it as “confusing, possible even misleading.”

    As an immediate counter to that false booklet, a real Catholic booklet “Catholics in the Public Square” was written by a real Catholic Bishop, Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted. That booklet continues to be relevant for Catholics, and was in its third edition for 2012. It was also forbidden by the false bishops and priests who are intent on leading their flocks away from the Church.

    Catholic bishops around the globe know that Catholics around the globe are being attacked, tortured and murdered because only the unbelievers have the firearms. Catholic bishops around the globe know that in America, the government is now attacking the Church, intent on destroying religious liberty. Catholic bishops around the globe know that the American Constitution, specifically the First and Second Amendments, were intentionally drafted to allow Americans of faith to protect themselves from a tyrannical government that might seek to destroy their religious freedoms. It is only the false bishops and priests, creatures of the dark, who want to disarm Catholics and other people of faith, lead them away from the Church and make them helpless subjects of a world government.

    Sadly, many Catholic people don’t know history and are unaware of their God-given rights and their Constitutional rights. They have been led to believe that Jesus was passive and submissive – NOT so. He stood up to the government and the gargoyles in the church, knowing he would be tortured and killed. So we must continue to raise our voices in the Public Square, for all people of faith, and we must continue to decry false doctrine that is falsely attributed to our Church.

  5. These Bishops are fanatics to opening our borders to millions of criminal lawbreaking illegal aliens and now they want to deny us our right to protect ourselves…And ohh,,,don’t dare execute any heinous vicious murderers, can’t have a death penalty. Socialized health care is just peachy keen..oops…you mean we have to pay for abortion and birth control?? I was baptized in this faith but have had it up to the gills with this corrupt left wing organization masquerading as a church.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.