President Barack Obama began the conversation at a prayer service for Sandy Hook victims on Dec. 16.
“Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm?” he asked. “I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.”
Change must come. Change is long overdue. Haven’t we been saying that since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre?
For the sake of all children, a shift in the culture of violence, with its many layers, needs to begin. From the poor regulation of assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns to the glorification of violence in movies, television and video games, a period of enlightenment must begin. We have to awaken to the fact that laws monitoring the sale, training and use of guns are either non-existent or woefully deficient. It is incumbent upon organizations like the National Rifle Association to show a willingness to bend their unwavering views on gun control.
The U.S. bishops have long supported gun control measures. In a 1978 document, “Community and Crime: A Statement of the Committee on Social Development and World Peace,” the bishops outlined a list of measures to curtail handgun violence. They called for a cooling-off period between the sale and possession of handguns, a ban on “Saturday Night Specials,” the registration of handguns, the licensing of handgun owners and more effective controls regulating the manufacture, sale and importation of handguns.
Gun control is only one concern. Violent video games in the hands of young men who struggle with mental illness could lead to other acts of mass violence. The cost and availability of mental health treatment are two issues that need to be addressed, along with gun control. According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, mental health expenditures from 1986 to 2005 show a big shift from inpatient treatment to prescription drugs. In addition, states cut $1.8 billion from their mental health budgets during the recession, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Additional support for mental health care could come from revenue made from the sale of ammunition, handguns and violent video games.
At Mass last Sunday, I noticed something that I don’t recall seeing so overtly in the past: parents with arms around their young children or simply with a hand on their shoulder or head. It seemed as though moms and dads at St. Bernard Parish, still in disbelief at the senseless slayings of children, understood the fragility of life and needed that physical contact to provide comfort and security.
If only a firm hug could prevent future tragedies. That is why a foundational shift is needed in our culture of violence. Let us continue to pray for all victims of homicide and for new ways to end future tragedies.