After Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,
The Right Reverend William O. Gregg, Ph.D.
To turn hope into action, we first need to know what the matter is that we are trying to put into action. If we know clearly what we are doing, we can frame the questions well and design appropriate, generative, sustainable solutions.
Guns and violence have always been a pair. Even hunting is violent, even when for such a benevolent purpose as providing food for a family. So, just pairing guns and violence is too broad to be helpful.
So what is the question? The question is, I think, “How do we create a balanced solution that works within the Constitution and effects a reasonable regulation of guns?” We need to understand and accept that the solution will provide neither an unbridled non-regulation of arms nor a very narrow, stringent regulation of arms. We shall have to accept that just because I want something does not mean I can or ought to have it. We shall have to accept that just because something can be had it is not simply my right to have it. Likewise, we shall have to accept that there is a legitimate place for and role of guns in our society.
We are going to need to realize that a particular violent incident is a symptom of deeper, broader, and more complex societal issues. What lies beneath violence, I think, is the very unsettling question of how have we come to a point where so many think and act on the notion that violence and killing are appropriate ways to resolves differences and conflicts? There are profound systemic questions as well as the technical fixes possible through legislation. Both must be addressed. It will be hard work.
The President has proposed three possibilities: arming select teachers and personnel in schools; enforced comprehensive background checks; and, raising the legal age for purchasing arms to 21. All are technical fixes that sidestep the deeper societal questions of changing how we think and respond to diversity, conflict, and violence. The first solution above is patently ridiculous. The second is a no-brainer. Already provided for in a limited way, background checks need to be enacted and enforced for all gun purchases. Raising the legal age for gun purchase may help; it cannot hurt.
It seems to me that a reasonable, enforceable step, is to ban all military grade weaponry from public sale. AR-15s are only one example. These weapons fall under the rubric of “I want” and the abuse of the Second Amendment is the justification. Here is the point at which the limit of the “right” of the Second Amendment is reached. Why? Because first, there is no need for this type of weaponry in the general public. Secondly, from a Constitutional perspective, they pose a real and specific threat to the general well-being and safety of the state and the people (See Preamble and Art. I). The Constitution in its entirety is about the provision for the well-being and safety of the people. This concept defines the limit of the “right” of the Second Amendment.
Another item for consideration is whether or not weapon enhancers such as “bump stocks” ought to be available to the public. Further, the question of the size of a weapon’s magazine needs to be considered. Other than military grade weaponry, are there other types and grades of weaponry that need to be banned or limited? What will be the content of comprehensive background checks? Who will enforce these background checks? What system needs to be developed? It becomes easy to see that there are many questions to ask and answer.
What the students of Marjory Stonemen Douglas High School are rightly demanding is that the adults, and especially those in government, fulfill our obligation and responsibility to address thoughtfully, methodically, and creatively the questions and the issues. And then, most importantly, devise, implement, and enforce real solutions. This requires moral and political courage. It means that some legislators will have to dig their way out of the pocket of powerful supporters such as the NRA. It means that some of us (legislators and voters) are going to have to find the backbone to take a strong stand in the electoral process in order to elect men and women who have the courage and commitment to do the necessary right things. It means that the adults are going to have to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work that needs doing.
We have an extraordinary opportunity, as Christians, to fulfill the Gospel mandate to love one another and to fulfill our Baptismal vows to be the Gospel, to strive for peace and justice, and to respect the dignity of every human being. Scripture says that out of the mouth of babes will come the truth. The babes have spoken and continue to speak. Our hope is in our listening. Our hope is that hearing, we then act.