Lawmakers' action on guns less swift and sure than the president's

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

(CNS) — When President Barack Obama unveiled a series of executive orders Jan.
5 intended to make a dent in gun violence in the United States, people reacted.
And how.

God that someone finally has the courage to close the loopholes in our pitiful
gun control laws to reduce the number of mass shootings, suicides and killings
that have become a plague in our country,” said Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of
Dallas in a Jan. 5 entry titled “The Cowboy Mentality” on his blog.

executive actions, though modest, are first steps in correcting gun laws so
weak that they are ludicrous,” Bishop Farrell added. “Congress has
unabashedly sold itself to the gun lobby. If there was ever any doubt, its
recent action to kill legislation to ban people on the terrorist no-fly list
(from obtaining guns) made it obvious.”

in our society is a complex issue with many facets, taking many forms. While no
measure can eliminate all acts of violence which involve firearms, we welcome
reasonable efforts aimed at saving lives and making communities safer, said a
Jan. 6 statement by Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the
U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

hope Congress will take up this issue in a more robust way, considering all of
the varied aspects involved. In addition to reasonable regulation,
conversations must include strengthening social services for persons with
mental illness, while being mindful that the vast majority of those suffering
with mental illness are not likely to commit violent criminal acts,”
Archbishop Wenski added.

noted, “For a long time now, the bishops of the United States have called for
reasonable policies to help reduce gun violence.”

dates back to at least 1994, when the bishops approved a pastoral statement,
“Confronting a Culture of Violence.”

data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the statement said, “Between
1979 and 1991, nearly 50,000 American children and teenagers were killed by
guns, matching the number of Americans who died in battle in Vietnam. It is now
estimated 13 American children die every day from guns. Gunshots cause one out
of four deaths among American teenagers.” The bishops added that guns in
the United States had quadrupled from 50 million to 201 million between 1950
and 1990. The 2013 estimate: 300 million.

the easy availability of deadly weapons” was one of 14 points in the
statement’s “framework for action.” The statement embraced a broad
definition of violence, from abortion to war to domestic abuse to capital
punishment to “the slow motion violence of poverty.”

bishops lauded the work of Greater Bridgeport Interfaith Action in Connecticut,
which successfully passed a ban on assault weapons later upheld by the courts.
“Legislative networks can advocate for public policies,” the
statement said, that can, among other things, “prevent and combat crime,
restrict dangerous weapons” and promote safe communities.”

The elements
of Obama’s executive orders:

— Anyone
who sells guns is considered a gun dealer and must get a license and conduct
background checks of prospective buyers. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms will in turn work to speed up the background check

— The
addition of 200 ATF agents and investigators to enforce gun laws already on the

— The
expenditure of $500 million to bolster mental health care nationwide, as many who
take part in mass shootings have been shown to be mentally ill. Moreover,
two-thirds of U.S. gun deaths are suicides.

— Added
research into gun safety technology, such as trigger locks and fingerprint
verification to keep stolen firearms from being used. “If we can do it for
your iPad, there’s no reason we can’t do it with a stolen gun,” Obama said
at the White House event unveiling the executive orders. “If a
child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull
a trigger on a gun.”

everyone was receptive to Obama’s executive orders.

Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, which released a series
of surreptitious Planned Parenthood videos last year, said in a Jan. 6
statement, “Yesterday, President Obama wiped tears from his eyes saying: ‘Every
time I think about those kids, it gets me mad.’ Mr. President, show the same
outrage and compassion for the kids who are killed and harvested for body parts
at Planned Parenthood, and parted out and sold across the country like used

presidential candidates also rejected Obama’s executive orders. “If you
live by the pen you die by the pen, and my pen has got an eraser,” said
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he will “fight as
hard as I can against any effort by this president, or by any liberal that
wants to take away people’s rights that are embedded in the Bill of Rights,
embedded in our Constitution.” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey called
Obama a “petulant child.”

more Catholic-affiliated voices supported Obama.

The Franciscan
Action Network said in a statement, “Three years ago, FAN was a
strong supporter of the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey proposal which would have
expanded background checks had it not failed in the Senate. In those three
years since, there have been multiple mass shootings plus killings every day in
cities, towns and rural areas across the United States. We applaud yesterday’s
statement by President Obama and encourage Congress to follow his lead and
revisit gun safety legislation.”

heart aches that gun violence in the United States is all too common, said a
Jan. 5 statement by Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who is
executive director of Network, the Catholic social justice lobby. “Today
President Obama has taken action to do what he can while Congress has refused
to act. It is urgently needed that we take a step beyond lamentation toward
action to effectively prevent further killing. We, as a people, must move to
action rather than be mired by apathy.”

O. Gostin faculty director at Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for
National and Global Health Law, said in a Jan. 5 statement, “Firearm
injuries are, first and foremost, a public health problem. We can and should
use the law as a tool to prevent and control firearm injuries. We can prevent a
great deal of gun violence and unintentional injuries such as by suicide, and
accidental shootings in the home. Firearm injuries are not a disease that we
think of as a public health concern. But the truth is that firearm injuries are
one of the most preventable threats to the public. In fact, firearm injuries
are more preventable than infectious diseases.”

Gold, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown’s medical school, said
in a separate Jan. 5 statement, “President Obama’s executive actions
following the Newtown massacre (in which 26 people, including 20 children, died
at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut) lifted the ban on federal funding
for the CDC (the federal Centers for Disease Control) to conduct research
regarding gun violence. Nevertheless, Congress has refused to pass proposed
legislation that includes such funding. We encourage the executive and
legislative branches of the federal government to also allocate funds for
research that can guide policy.”

therein lies the rub. A GOP-run Congress is unlikely to give Obama a policy
victory on guns in a presidential election year — a fact acknowledged by the
president. “It will be hard, and it won’t happen overnight,” Obama
said. “It won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my

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