Bishops seek assault weapons ban, say civilians have no need for them

| Dennis Sadowski | June 24, 2016 | 5 Comments
Men view guns May 21 during the National Rifle Association's Annual Meetings & Exhibits show in Louisville, Ky. Two U.S. Catholic prelates called for a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons, saying they have no place in the hands of civilians. CNS photo/John Sommers II, Reuters

Men view guns May 21 during the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meetings & Exhibits show in Louisville, Ky. Two U.S. Catholic prelates called for a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons, saying they have no place in the hands of civilians. CNS photo/John Sommers II, Reuters

Two U.S. church leaders called for a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons, saying they have no place in the hands of civilians.

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago and Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas issued their appeals in response to recent incidents in which people have been killed by attackers armed with semi-automatic rifles.

“There’s no reason in the world why these guns are available. There’s no logic,” Bishop Farrell told Catholic News Service June 22.

The bishops’ stance puts them in opposition to gun rights advocates, who say that any effort to limit the sale and acquisition of firearms would violate the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was weighing a statement June 23 as the national debate on the need for action on gun control rose in intensity. Since the mid-1990s, the bishops have called for “sensible regulation” and “reasonable restrictions” on firearms.

Bishop Farrell’s appeal came in a June 13 blog, a day after a gunman killed 49 revelers in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub.

In a separate statement, Archbishop Cupich responded to a string of violence in Chicago the weekend of June 18-19 in which 13 people were killed and more than 40 others were injured in shootings. One victim, Salvador Suarez, 21, was killed by an assailant with an assault rifle outside of a Catholic Church as worshipers attended Mass.

Bishop Farrell specifically pointed to the rising use of semi-automatic rifles in attacks as cause for concern and said he decided to express his moral outrage over inaction by Congress in the blog on the diocesan website. Readers overwhelmingly opposed his views in comments on the blog.

“I think of the children who died in Connecticut. I think of the people who died in the movie theater (in Aurora, Colorado). I think of the people in San Bernardino. I think of Orlando. What I think is what other motive would we need (to ban such weapons) than to see the way those people lost their lives?” he said.

“I ask myself, ‘What’s the common denominator in all this?’ The latest incident in Orlando, a person who should not have been able to get his hands on a military-style weapon that’s destined and designed to kill did. This is not a gun that is used for self-defense. This is a gun that’s an attack gun,” the bishop told CNS.

“I respect the Second Amendment,” he added. “If (people) want to have a handgun, that’s their business. The argument that the politicians give is that if we give them (gun control advocates) an inch, they’ll take a mile. On what basis do they make that statement?”

The blog marked the second time Bishop Farrell addressed the topic of guns in a blog this year. In January, he raised moral questions about Texas’ open carry law that took effect Jan. 1, saying it was unfortunate that the state became the 45th to “embrace the cowboy mentality that permits the open carrying of guns.”

The Texas law allows firearms to be banned from church property as long as appropriate signage is posted. Bishop Farrell’s decision to not allow weapons in churches met with a mixed response, with some readers supporting his stand while others were critical of it in the comments section of the blog.

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory took a similar step in 2014 when Georgia allowed licensed gun owners to carry firearms in public places, including churches.

Quoting spiritual writer Father Henri Nouwen, Archbishop Cupich said June 20 that the city’s “terrible violence is destroying not only those killed and wounded, but all of us.”

“If we want to survive as a community that treasures life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we must act now to put an end to this carnage,” the archbishop said. “No doubt there are many causes, but we can start by getting these combat weapons off our streets.”

Archbishop Cupich urged the entire city to step up to end the violence. “Doing nothing is no longer an option,” he said.

Action on any gun control measure has been repeatedly blocked by gun rights backers in Congress. In protest, House Democrats held what they called a “sit-in” that began June 22 and extended overnight to protest Republican leaders’ inaction on guns following the Orlando massacre.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, called the action a “nothing more than a publicity stunt” and adjourned the House session until July 5. Democrats pledged to continue to occupy the House floor throughout the 12-day recess.

In the Senate, two Republican and two Democratic gun-related measures failed to gain the necessary 60 votes for passage June 20. The measures, which observers said had little chance of passage, would have tightened background checks for firearms buyers at gun shows and on the internet; prevented anyone on the federal terrorism watch list from buying firearms or explosives; and addressed the need for improved mental health service to identify potential attackers.

After the votes, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced a so-called “no fly, no buy” bill to prevent individuals on the federal watch lists from obtaining firearms. Collins was flanked by Republican and Democratic senators when she discussed the bill during a June 21 news conference.

About 81,000 people, including about 1,000 American citizens, are on the FBI’s no fly list. Another 28,000 are on a “selectee” list and are subject to unusually intensive screening before flying.

“Essentially we believe if you are too dangerous to fly on an airplane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun,” Collins said.

She said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, pledged to allow a vote on the bill at an specified future date.

Collins’ legislation also would allow anyone denied a gun to appeal through the federal courts and to recover legal costs in pursuing their case. It protects FBI counter-terrorism investigations and includes a “look back” provision to promptly notify the agency if a person who has been in the screening database within the last five years if they have purchased a firearm.

The National Rifle Association opposes Collins’ measure, calling instead for a stronger effort to fight the Islamic State group and reduce its influence in radicalizing people to strike public venues.

The NRA and other gun rights groups have long opposed any limits on guns including reinstitution of an assault weapons ban, expanded background checks and waiting periods to complete gun sales. Instead, they have sought expanded access to firearms, saying that responsible gun owners could have slowed or stopped attacks before a large amount of deaths and injuries resulted.

A report by the Congressional Research Service in 2012 estimated that 310 million firearms were in civilian hands, including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns, roughly one weapon for every person in the U.S.

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  • tschraad

    Would it be more beneficial for these two Bishops to convince Islam believers to change their belief that they get a free ride to heaven if they kill a non-believer? As long as Muslims teach this as a truth in the Koran, we will never be able to have peace.

    I also believe that these two Bishops do not understand that good people do not kill others, only bad people and those Muslims who believe that it is a fast way to attain heaven.

    These two Bishops should also take a position that bombs are also designed to kill people and demand that terrorists stop using them. I also wonder if these two Bishops know what shotguns would do in a crowd of people. I also wonder if these two Bishops believe we have a right to defend ourselves.

  • Matt Wagner

    This is really poor reasoning by these two bishops and shows their unfortunate ignorance on this topic. There is no functional difference between these rifles and those used for hunting other than “looks”. In fact these rifles can and are used for hunting also. The bishops speak about them as if they were fully automatic, they are NOT. Fully automatic weapons have been banned for a LONG time.

    There are many legitimate reasons for these weapons. They are easy to shoot, low recoil, so they make an excellent gun for training new shooters, or for those of less stature (women, youth). For those with disabilities, a semi-automatic rifle like these can make the difference between being able to shoot or not — I have a friend who suffers from MS, he can’t work a traditional pump, lever-action, or bolt-action gun; but a semi-automatic he can shoot. They are useful for hunting. They are useful for self-defense. They are useful for keeping a government bent on tyranny in-check.

    It’s funny to read these bishops recommend that owning a handgun is fine, but these military-“style” (there’s the reference to the scary looks again) should definitely be outlawed. When in-fact most authorities and government agencies view handguns as the more serious types of weapons to restrict — because they can be concealed so easily. I need a permit-to-purchase from my local police department to purchase a handgun, but not for a rifle or shotgun.

    Really disappointing to read this. I know at least Cupich is very liberal, so it’s pretty hard to read this as anything other than illogical agenda pushing from the left. :-/

  • DebraBrunsberg

    These Bishops need to practice a little discernment and maybe limit their comments to subjects that may actually be within their purview. I understand their need for attention, but they are not able to understand that an Islamic terrorist was responsible for killing the poor souls in Orlando. Cupich might want to ponder the high number of murders in his own city, I believe that is a gun free zone. They may also want to ponder the fascist government we have right now and think again about suggesting any type of gun control.

  • Charles C.

    Archbishop Cupich and Bishop Farrell haven’t thought their positions through, or informed themselves on firearms. The first semi-automatic rifle was designed in 1895 and produced shortly thereafter. “Semi-automatic” only means that the firing of one shot provides the energy to get the next round ready to fire. There’s no such thing as a semi-automatic assault rifle, no matter how many people claim there is in order to work on emotions by using loaded terms. An assault rifle is designed to be able to fire more than one shot at a time by holding the trigger. A semi-automatic requires a separate trigger pull for each shell.

    The bishop says: ““I respect the Second Amendment,” he added. “If (people) want to have a handgun, that’s their business” Does he not realize that pistols are semi-automatic? Does he not know that very few pistols fire bullets as small as the AR-15? Remember the old .22s? The AR-15 shoots .223s. “Dirty Harry” was famous for his .44 Magnum, and the Colt .45 is legendary.

    And why pick on the rifle? In 2014 there were, according to the FBI, 11,961 murders. Firearms accounted for 8,124, or 68%

    Of the firearm homicides, handguns were used in 68% of the cases, rifles in 3%. Other firearms, or firearm type not reported, equaled 28%. Attacking rifles seems to be an indication of confused priorities, especially when you consider that knives, clubs, and fists were used in 2,662 homicides, or 22% of the murders.

    As another bit of trivia, in 2014 the FBI reported that 18 states had over 100 handgun homicides. No state had more than 40 rifle homicides, and only five states had ten or more.

    Besides, Archbishop Cupich is from Chicago. They’ve had 2,052 shootings and 338 deaths just in the first half of this year. Over the last dozen years there has been no reduction in the number of gun deaths, with the body count of 474 a year, plus or minus 42. Remember, the FBI reports fewer than 300 rifle deaths in a year. Chicago is more deadly than rifle fire.

    It appears that the the Archbishop and Bishop Farrell are much less interested in preventing firearm homicide, or any homicide, than they are in jumping on the politically correct “anti-rifle” bandwagon. Besides, they’re too late. Deaths by rifles have been falling sharply for years.

  • therain

    How would a Bishop know what I need to defend my family?