Confronting gun violence as a moral issue
On the same weekend that five people were shot at three different gun shows around the country; that a New Mexico teenager killed five members of his family with a gun; and that more than a million gun rights supporters across the U.S. celebrated Gun Appreciation Day at events both live and online, the parish of St. Brendan the Navigator in Shallotte, North Carolina, launched a campaign to curb what it calls “the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.” The first step was to invite parishioners and members of the surrounding community to sign a petition advocating for new thinking on gun laws, with signatures to be passed on to local, state, and federal lawmakers.
A petition may seem like a modest response in the face of the weekend’s violence (to say nothing of the ongoing carnage — more than 1,100 gun deaths since Newtown, says Slate). But St. Brendan is grounding the appeal in a larger context. The petition’s call to action:
We believe nothing is more sacred and valuable than human life. Concerned for the safety of our fellow citizens, we ask the support of our elected local, state, and national leaders to unite with us as American citizens in this effort to diminish gun violence.
While respecting the laws of our nation, we believe that it is necessary to re-think the laws governing the regulation of guns. As pro-life people, we believe this is a moral issue.
In the aftermath of Aurora and Newtown, religious leaders and even some politicians have become more explicit in framing gun control as a pro-life position. What makes the St. Brendan initiative worth watching is where it’s being undertaken. Shallotte is in Brunswick County, a growing but still largely rural swath of lowland in the southeastern part of a state that actively works to accommodate firearm possession. North Carolina’s shall-issue law requires authorities to grant concealed carry permits to qualified applicants. There is no waiting period for purchasing guns, and no requirement to register them. North Carolina is also a castle-doctrine state and added “stand-your-ground” laws to the books in 2011. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives the state a failing grade, while the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gives it sixteen points out of a possible one hundred for sensible restrictions. Much of North Carolina’s current congressional slate, however, is in good standing with the NRA: Republican senator Richard Burr, who received $32,000 from the NRA during his successful 2010 reelection bid, has an “A” grade. So does Democratic congressman Mike McIntyre, who represents North Carolina’s seventh district, of which Shallotte is a part; he received $2,000 from the NRA in his successful 2010 campaign and a key endorsement before his 2012 reelection for “his solid and consistent record of preserving the 2nd Amendment rights of American gun owners.”
Shallotte’s population nearly doubled between 2005 and 2011, from 1,940 to 3,700. St. Brendan’s now boasts about 1,800 families, which includes growing numbers of northern retirees and a vibrant Hispanic community. But as St. Brendan pastor Ryszard Kolodziej sees it, “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, but what you stand for.”
“As a human being, I believe I have every right to defend life,” he says, “to protect and respect the inherent dignity and value of all human life.”
In the first weekend, the St. Brendan’s petition received more than 400 signatures, including that of the mayor of nearby golf community Carolina Shores. The local chamber of commerce has posted a copy in its office for visitors to sign; area television stations have covered the effort; and a parish in Asheville, North Carolina—more than three hundred miles away—has inquired about the campaign. Still to come are meetings with local interfaith groups, and presentations on the history of the 2nd Amendment, mental health, and violence in culture.
Writing recently in Commonweal on the need to confront gun violence, Jack Calhoun laid out a range of possible actions for groups and individuals, saying that “each of us must figure out which route to take.” The parish of St. Brendan has done so, and by working in a pro-life context has perhaps found a way to appeal to those who need that specific framework to support tighter restrictions on guns. As of midweek, according to Fr. Ryszard, people continue to stop by St. Brendan’s to sign the petition—“some of them not even Catholic. That makes me very happy.”