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Some things seem naturally abhorrent – forceps to crush a cranium in an abortion, a needle to deliver a sentence intravenously on death row, and an assault weapon in the hands of the man on the street. Each instrument may have a purpose some time, somewhere, but as used above, each reflects brutality in our society.
The Catholic Church opposes use of all three instruments to take a life. The church’s pro-life stand against abortion is undisputed. So is its pro-life stand in opposition to the death penalty. It can only be justified if there is no other way to keep a deadly criminal from hurting more people. And in the most recent – and all too common – threat to human life, the church opposes the growing preponderance of lethal weapons on the streets. It stands as another important pro-life position.
The injustice of taking innocent life lies at the heart of the church’s pro-life position. There is no question about the innocence of pre-born children. And Americans are becoming more and more uneasy as we learn of people on death row eventually found innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. And surely, after the gunning down of primary grade children in Newtown, Connecticut, it is clear assault weapons stand out dramatically as a threat to innocent life.
The U.S. bishops now call on people to support federal legislation to require background checks for all gun purchases, to limit civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines and to make gun trafficking a federal crime. The bishops also want a ban on assault weapons.
A mere look at the evening news drives home the fact that we are living in a culture of violence and it affects us all. It undercuts the sense of peace we all need. It clouds our view of the beauty about us. It drives away joy and fuels a pervading sense of sadness.
Catholics have opposed abortion for centuries and have become activists against it since 1973, when the Supreme Court voted to permit abortion up until a child was born. With society’s increased ability to isolate murderers from those they would harm, the death penalty, which seems to deny the possibility of redemption, no longer can be justified. The church now sees that protecting innocent life also means limiting the means of taking it, that is, limiting weapons that pose a danger to anyone going off to kindergarten, strolling on a college campus, watching a movie at a cineplex or speaking at a political rally at a shopping mall.
A pro-life stance is a noble one. Sadly it must confront the ignoble reality of abortion, the death penalty, and another threat to peace and human life, the preponderance of assault weapons.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh is Director of Media Relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.