Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Decrying the state’s new gun law

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published April 30, 2014  | En Español

A new gun law has now been enacted in Georgia. I regret that legislative action more than I can possibly express in this brief column. I publicly supported and continue to endorse the objections of many of our religious and civic leaders as our elected officials were weighing this measure. And before this legislation takes effect in July, I will officially restrict the presence of weapons in our Catholic institutions except for those carried by the people that civic authorities have designated and trained to protect and guard us—and those who are duly authorized law and military officials.

The last thing we need is more firearms in public places, especially in those places frequented by children and the vulnerable. I do not want to suggest restricting firearms in places where they are needed, to protect one’s home and property or to defend the public by officials who are entrusted with our protection. Yet this new legislation de facto makes firearms more available in places where they may allow violence to escalate.

Churches and other places of worship are intended to be sanctuaries—holy sites where people come to pray and to worship God. In this nation of ours, they have seldom been the locations where violence has disrupted the otherwise peaceful atmosphere. Yet even those occasions—rare as they may be—are not sufficient reasons to allow people to bring more weapons into God’s house.

The new legislation makes weapons more readily available in places where alcohol is served. Most jurisdictions have rather specific laws regarding driving under the influence of alcohol. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), along with many similar related organizations, continues to remind the public that operating a vehicle always demands a sober mind. How can we who seek to keep our highways safe from people driving under the influence of alcohol justify allowing the presence of firearms in bars and saloons? Are not the same potential dynamics present when people with guns may be imbibing alcohol and less capable of making prudent decisions? Are we in the era of the fictionalized Wild West where people wore guns on their belts and settled disagreements with shoot-outs?

I trust our public agents and police officers to secure our safety. We may very well need more of them in some areas, and we should support legislation that honors those public servants and adequately provides for their civic duties and needs.

We obviously do live in an increasingly violent society. The long list of places where human carnage has destroyed lives and families is shameful:  Newtown, Connecticut; Fort Hood, Texas; Virginia Tech; and Columbine High School, Colorado, to mention only the more recent ones. Each one of those sad situations identified a person or persons with serious mental illness as the perpetrator. Often they may have been under some form of clinical treatment but obviously not sufficient to avert their brutal behavior. We need more professional mental health officials with the necessary resources to care for those whose unbalanced personalities can flare up into violence in public places.

Will more guns halt the violence that so terrifies us with increasing frequency? Is there no relationship between the violence that masquerades as entertainment and those who act out their rage in our midst? Does the world of communications not share some responsibility for broadcasting violent language, hate speech and brutal diatribes under the guise of First Amendment rights? What is the relationship between mental health and uncontrollable rage against other people or classes of people? These are serious questions that demand serious discussion and effective response and should not be swept under the rug.

During the recent past, we have witnessed the antics and heard too many of the diatribes of some personalities that brimmed over with hate against a race, a religion, those of gay or lesbian sexual orientation, the undocumented in our midst and those with differing political opinions. The language and sometimes even the behavior of these personalities are despicable and vile. Sadly, we know that such individuals do exist and their opinions garner far too much public attention. They become celebrities of the media and thus spew their hatred far too widely and too often firearms become part of their persona. Rather than more guns, we clearly need more facilities to help these types of people to at least control their rage and thus make us all safer.

Misuse of firearms is certainly not by any means limited to those suffering mental illness as we see guns used in the heat of anger in domestic situations, in suicides during fits of despair, in accidents resulting from inadequate training or negligence in securing weapons, and in blatant criminal activity.

Rather than making guns more available as a solution, we need leaders in government and society who will speak against violence in all aspects of life and who teach ways of reconciliation and peace and who make justice, not vengeance, our goal.

Read the Georgia Bulletin story on the new gun law here.