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It's time to stop living under the gun.

What if next weekend in every church--Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox--and in every Jewish and Muslim house of worship, the officiating clergy asks just one question: "How long will we, a God-fearing and presumably civilized people, tolerate the easy proliferation of death-dealing weapons, especially handguns, in our midst?"

I'm not naive enough to expect this apocalyptic scenario to take place, but to quote Chief Dan George in Little Big Man, "my heart soars like an eagle" at just the thought. Our pusillanimity in facing this hideous national problem is shameful, shameful, shameful!

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Joan Beck points out that "more children have been shot in the Chicago area in 1993 than all the people of all ages gunned down in England in 1991.

"What kind of people are we?" Beck asks. "Why do we tolerate such deadly violence? People in other industrialized countries don't live with such a frightening level of violence. In 1990, handguns killed 22 people in Great Britain, 87 in Japan, 10 in Australia, 68 in Canada, 13 in Sweden--and 10,567 in the United States." And Beck repeats, "What kind of people are we?"

She asks, "Have we grown so numb, so callous that such numbers no longer enrage us or move us to insist on change?" To which, sadly, I answer, "Yes."

Many Americans, Catholics especially, are understandably and justifiably angry that abortions are killing a sickening number of unborn babies. Catholics and, I assume, other religious people are repeatedly asked in their churches to write their elected representatives to insist that they take legal action to prevent abortions. In some parishes, such a rallying is part of the Prayers of the Faithful every week without fail. But how often do we pray that effective legal action be taken to stop the scourge of murderous handguns?

Gun defenders and their well-oiled lobby are not ashamed to use the rhetorical trick that once served the phony con men selling worthless patent medicine from the back of their wagons: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." It was funny when W. C. Fields used that kind of slippery language to sell a bill of goods in one of his movies, but there is nothing funny when innocent grade-school children are gunned down in front of their homes by drive-by assassins.

The more cerebral defenders of gun ownership are wont to say, "We don't need any more gun-control laws. There are plenty of such laws on the books now." But they neglect to point out that all these laws are "after the fact" laws: greater punishment for a crime committed with a gun and a fine or occasionally more serious punishment for a person "caught" with a gun without a permit. We're willing to disarm gun wielders only after they have killed, maimed, or used their guns to terrorize innocent people. What crap!

Sadly it seems that many, if not most, Americans have been suckered into complacency by the specious arguments of the gun lovers and their well-paid lobbyists. Writing here several years ago, I drove some gun lovers to almost incoherent rage by pointing to their emotional and psychological bonding with their weapons. I did not intend that reaction from them, but I thought it important, as I do now, to recognize the depth of their involvement with gun possession. Anointing their guns with oil while crooning unarticulated macho fantasies has nothing to do with self-defense.

I reiterate these comments to underscore the fact that taking truly effective action to disarm our civilian population (and don't throw the Second Amendment at me; that applied only to a "well-armed militia") will be terribly difficult. The number of guns in circulation in the United States is staggering; and even if we prevented a single additional gun from being sold, the task of gun control would be mind-boggling.

Writer Evan Thomas, who should know better, minimized the gun problem when he spoke of 200,000 guns now circulating in the United States. To which Susan Douglas wrote in the Progressive: "Evan, would you please slide that decimal point over just a tad; the correct and horrendous figure is 200 million firearms in circulation, 60 to 70 million of them handguns, which kill fourteen children every day in this country."

Douglas concludes by asking, "When are our pundits (and talking heads on television and radio) going to get some guts and take on one of the great sources of evil in our country, the National Rifle Association?"

The problems of ameliorating the handgun plague with its often tragic consequences are, as I've said, difficult and complex. But as the cliche goes, where there's a will, there's a way.

We might begin, as Douglas said, by confronting the National Rifle Association and demanding that our legislators, all of them, stop knuckling under to this special interest and begin voting for the general good.

We might then make handgun possession illegal, with or without a permit, except for law enforcement and other authorized personnel, and follow up by insisting that our various governments appropriate sufficient funds to buy back the then-outlawed handguns for the purpose of destroying them. It would be money well spent.

New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, recognizing the enormity of ridding the U.S. of all its handguns, has made an innovative suggestion worth serious consideration: place a confiscatory tax on handgun ammunition with exceptions for the guns of law-enforcement people.

How wonderful our world would be if gun-wielding thugs were firing blanks.

A monumental task? Probably. But if all our churches and church-going people build together a powerful moral force, who will say that it can't be done?
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:immorality of handguns
Author:Burns, Robert E.
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Next Article:Sacraments: enter the world of God's imagination.

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