The Idolatry of Guns and the Scourge of Gun Violence in America June 13, 2024

On May 30, MPD Officer Jamal Mitchell was fatally shot in a Minneapolis neighborhood while responding to a 911 call regarding gunfire. Mitchell is the first MPD officer fatally shot in the line of duty in more than 20 years. Mitchell was new to the police department and when asked why he joined MPD, said that he wanted to be part of the change. My heart is filled with sadness at this senseless murder and also with gratitude to the men and women who daily put their lives on the line in protecting the residents of our community. May God protect all of our first responders, and may God bring deep comfort to the family and colleagues of Jamal Mitchell and to the families of all those whose lives are taken while serving and protecting our communities.

This episode of gun violence hit very close to home to our Basilica community as one of the people who was shot May 30 is a Basilica parishioner. As three bullets entered his body, his two-year-old son was safe within the car that he had been driving. We only learned Saturday of this connection to The Basilica. In fact, this parishioner, his partner and their son attended a recent new parishioner brunch and were very happy to have joined our community. Once we learned of the news, the good Fr. Joe Gillespie was dispatched to provide pastoral support and to offer the sacrament of anointing. I was able to visit our parishioner earlier this week and I am happy to report that he is out of ICU and on the road to recovery. I was able to pray with him and his family as we reflected on the significance of what they had all experienced and the deep gratitude he had to be alive. He recounted that he and his son were carried to safety by a number of MPD officers. Please join me in praying for his full recovery.

Guns have become an idol among some in the United States – to be protected at all costs without limit or sensible regulation. As a lawyer who teaches Catholic thought, law and policy, I have examined this issue with law students for years. I believe in the second amendment to the Constitution and the right to bear arms. However, with any right, this is not an absolute right. This right must be checked by the common good and the furtherance of individual and collective flourishing – this how Catholic social teaching (CST) approaches all law and policy and is consistent with constitutional jurisprudence. A right admits of idolatry and extremism when it is approached in a zero-sum game way – give no quarter and offer no compromise, no matter the carnage and the deleterious effects on our society. This is where we presently are with regard to guns and gun violence in the United States, and this crisis shows no signs of abating.

The United States is an outlier regarding gun violence among Western nations. Here is a snapshot from the Association of Health Care Journalists: nearly 43,000 people died from gun violence in the United States in 2023. The number of people who died by gun violence rose by nearly 43% from 2010-2020, and is one of the leading causes of premature death in the U.S. For every person killed by firearm violence, more than two people survive, which gives one a clearer sense of the broad scope of those affected by gun violence. Additionally, we have all woken up to hear on the news of another horrible mass shooting in the United States – and yet little to nothing changes with regard to our law and policy around guns.

What can Catholic do in response to this present crisis regarding gun violence in our communities and throughout the country? We can tell our elected officials and our Church leaders to support sensible and effective legislation regarding gun ownership. Guns do not need to remain an idol in our nation if enough reasonable, informed, and active citizens make their voices heard.

We can also thank, honor, and pray for our first responders and our police officers who, like Jamal Mitchell, daily put their lives on the line in protection of our communities and its residents. To that end, plans are underway to celebrate a Blue Mass at The Basilica for all of our first responders and for their protection. Prudence and Prayer go hand in hand – they are the manifestation of a lively mature faith that seeks to honor God, the dignity of all life, and the flourishing that all people and communities seek.