United States

The grim idolatry of guns in the U.S.

Last July 4, Independence Day in the United States, a man opened fire with his rifle, leaving six dead and 25 wounded near Chicago (Illinois). Three more were killed and seven wounded in a shooting in Gary, Indiana, and another shooting in Philadelphia. Greg Erlandson, director of Catholic News Service, analyzes gun violence in the country.

Greg Erlandson-July 7, 2022-Reading time: 3 minutes

Photo: Anti-gun demonstration in the USA ©CNA Photo

Translation of the article into English

As of mid-June 2022, there have already been more than 260 mass shootings in the United States, defined as four or more fatalities or injuries. But three recent mass shootings - at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, with 10 killed, at a Uvalde schoolThe deaths of 21 people, including 19 fourth-graders, and of four at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have shaken the nation.

A satirical website called The Onion points to many of the mass shootings with the same headline, "'There's no way to prevent this,' says the only nation where this happens regularly."

Americans' obsession with guns and their willingness to use them against others and themselves is increasingly seen as a public health crisis,

but there is little political will to address it. It is believed that there are now more guns than people in the United States. An estimated 42% of U.S. households own guns. Those that do are likely to own more than one.

Gun sales soar

What is it about Americans and guns? Some blame it on our Wild West myths, cowboys and gunfighters. Some blame Hollywood or video games. Some blame it on a society that no longer trusts its police, fears its government and fears its fellow citizens. Gun sales skyrocket during the pandemic. Gun sales skyrocket after massacres. Gun sales skyrocket in good times and bad, but especially in bad times.

Guns are talismans of safety. One of the many ironies of America's gun culture is that the solution to shootings is often more guns. Lawmakers in Ohio and other states are now proposing that teachers carry guns while teaching.

The best-selling rifle in the United States is the semi-automatic, often called the AR-15. It is an imitation of a military rifle, and kills in an ugly way, blowing targets away instead of a clean entry and exit wound. Some of the 10-year-olds shot in Uvalde had to be identified by their shoes or clothing because their heads were unidentifiable.

More children die than police officers

However, the real horror of America's gun idolatry is not mass shootings. It is the fact that there are over 40,000 gun deaths each year, and over 50% of all gun deaths are suicides. Guns don't just kill bad guys or strangers. Guns kill their owners.

In a recent speech, President Joseph Biden stated that, over the past 20 years, "more school-age children have been killed by firearms than serving police officers and active military combined." There were 42,507 deaths of children ages 5 to 18. Of police and military: 29,110.

The U.S. bishops have consistently advocated stricter gun laws since at least 1975. In a letter to Congress on June 3, following the three recent massacres, the bishops said they supported a total ban on assault weapons and limiting civilian access to high-capacity guns and ammunition magazines. They also cited their support for universal background checks for all gun purchases.

Impact of violence

"Gun violence is a pro-life issue when you start looking at the statistics and the impact that gun violence has on lives and the destructive impact it has on society," said Sister Mercy Mary Haddad, president of the Catholic Health Association.

But with Congress in a political stalemate and Republicans blocking potential legislation to limit access to guns, many Americans sympathize with the bishop's outrage Daniel Flores of Brownsville (Texas) at the news of the Uvalde massacre:

"Don't tell me guns aren't the problem, people are. I'm sick of hearing it," Bishop Flores tweeted May 25. "Darkness first takes our children who then kill our children, using guns that are easier to obtain than aspirin. We sacralize the instruments of death and then are surprised that death uses them."

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