It Is Time to Confront the Problem of Gun Violence

President Obama became emotional today as he talked about the costs of our nation’s radically libertarian approach to gun rights to the other rights we value as Americans:

The White House and the have President outlined a package of executive actions that are designed to reduce gun violence:

The package…includes 10 separate provisions, White House officials said. One key provision would require more gun sellers — especially those who do business on the Internet and at gun shows — to be licensed and would force them to conduct background checks on potential buyers. Obama would devote $500 million more in federal funds to treating mental illness — a move that could require congressional approval — and require that firearms lost in transit between a manufacturer and a seller be reported to federal authorities.

At the president’s direction, the FBI will begin hiring more than 230 additional examiners and other personnel to help process new background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has established a new investigation center to keep track of illegal gun trafficking online and will devote $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.

President Obama is right: Americans need to stand up for sensible gun control. Pope Francis put it best, “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem.”

Guns in America: Ideology or Idolatry?

Guns take a life every 16 minutes in the United States—92 lives every day. In a compelling op-ed for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the time has come to address gun violence in response to a public health crisis.

Gun rights activists will quickly retort that guns ensure greater safety and that placing restrictions on gun ownership will only result in fewer innocent civilians being able to defend themselves. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found this to be the overwhelming reason Americans own guns (60% of respondents said personal safety or protection, compared to 36% for hunting and 5% because of the Second Amendment, for example). Even though it is widely claimed that guns keep millions of Americans safe and prevent crime (as touted by the NRA, Gun Owners of America, and conservative politicians), the facts don’t actually substantiate this belief (which you can read about here or here or here, for example). Read More

Top Quotes from the State of the Union

Last night’s State of the Union touched on many issues that are connected to achieving the common good. Check out some of the top quotes below.

On creating a more just economy:

“Average wages have barely budged.  Inequality has deepened.  Upward mobility has stalled.  The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead.  And too many still aren’t working at all.  Our job is to reverse these trends.”

“This Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”

“Give America a raise.” (Encouraging Congress to lift the minimum wage to $10.10)

“I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt.” (A huge issue for millennials)

“Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.”

“Let’s work together to strengthen the [Earned Income Tax Credit], reward work, and help more Americans get ahead.”

“A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.” (Important pro-family policies and matters of justice.)

On the need for comprehensive immigration reform:

“It is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system.”

On the need for increased investment in early education:

“Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old.  As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight.”

On one of the great breakthroughs in recent decades:

“Because of [the Affordable Care Act], no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman.”

On the true nature of democracy:

“It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy.”

On the need for action to end the epidemic of gun violence:

“Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day.”

On freedom and democracy in Ukraine:

“In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future.”

And two quotes that would be great if they were accurate:

“We believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.” (Age is noticeably absent. Unborn children are human beings. It is a scientific fact.)

“We will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.” (Now we just need a policy that matches this rhetoric.)

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Pope Francis the troublemaker by Michael Gerson: “Over the millennia, this strain of impatience with legalism has provided Christianity with an advantage. When the church becomes ossified, legalistic and hypocritical — as all institutions periodically do — it is the radical reformers who carry on its most authentic tradition.”

Reflections on the Jesuit Interview with Pope Francis by Steve Schneck: “Pope Francis overwhelms us. He sweeps away barricades that twenty years of culture war have thrown up between Catholics. The canned worldviews into which so many of us have hunkered down – the ideologies of right and left – just melt away with this guy.”

Pope Francis’ New Balance by R.R. Reno: “Pope Francis encourages a more balanced view of our present circumstances. Yes, some bad, very bad dimensions. But also some good, very good dimensions. We’re to navigate judiciously, neither condemning broadly, nor naively affirming the status quo. This balance is needed.”

Subsidizing Farmers But Not the Poor Still Evil by Jonathan Chait: “Is the ‘work requirement’ they plan to impose on food stamps like welfare reform? There are three highly salient differences. Welfare benefits were specifically designed in a way, dating from their origin as a replacement for a male breadwinner, that discouraged work. Second, welfare reform had funds for jobs and training programs. Third, it was passed in a full employment economy.”

Me? A Neo-con? by Michael Sean Winters: “Our fellow men and women on this planet are not pawns in a game of real politique. Their needs cannot be ignored behind a curtain of isolationist exhaustion. The world still needs to aspire to create regimes that are built on liberal principles of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.”

Caritas by Cardinal Donald Wuerl: “All human community is rooted in God’s plan that brings us into ever-widening circles of relationship – first with our parents, then our family, the Church, and finally a variety of community experiences.  We cannot find fulfillment unless we have some community with others, a community in which we serve and are served, love and are loved.”

50-Year Sentence Upheld for Ex-President of Liberia by NY Times: “An international panel of appeals judges unanimously upheld a 50-year prison sentence on Thursday given to Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia, for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in a case cast as a watershed for modern human rights law.”

Children and Guns: The Hidden Toll by NY Times: “Children shot accidentally — usually by other children — are collateral casualties of the accessibility of guns in America, their deaths all the more devastating for being eminently preventable. They die in the households of police officers and drug dealers, in broken homes and close-knit families, on rural farms and in city apartments. Some adults whose guns were used had tried to store them safely; others were grossly negligent. Still others pulled the trigger themselves, accidentally fracturing their own families while cleaning a pistol or hunting. And there are far more of these innocent victims than official records show.”

Around the Web: A Week of Violence and Brutality Around the World

The week was full of articles detailing horrible acts of violence, brutality, and terrorism around the world.

Suicide Attack at Church in Pakistan Kills Dozens by NY Times: “A suicide attack on a historic Christian church in northwestern Pakistan killed at least 78 people on Sunday in one of the deadliest attacks on the Christian minority in Pakistan in years.”

Terrifying Images From A Terrorist Attack At A Mall In Kenya by Rachel Zarrell, Buzzfeed: “Warning: Very graphic images. According to the Red Cross, 68 people have been killed and more than 175 injured in a terrorist attack on an upscale Nairobi mall by al-Shabab, a Somalian militant group.”

Nigerian Islamists kill at least 159 in two attacks by Reuters: “Islamist Boko Haram militants killed 159 people in two roadside attacks in northeast Nigeria this week, officials said, far more than was originally reported and a sign that a four-month-old army offensive has yet to stabilize the region.”

Attacks Kill Scores in Iraq as Violence Surges by AP: “A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car near a funeral tent packed with mourners and another bomber on foot blew himself up nearby in a Shiite part of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 72 people and wounding more than 120, officials said.”

The heroes inside Syria by Samer Attar: “The situation in Syria is not just about chemical weapons. It is about the systematic killing of innocents by a tyrannical regime violently lashing out to stay in power.”

The Forgotten Crisis in the Central African Republic by Lewis Mudge: “Little known outside France, its former coloniser, CAR has been bedeviled by the twin curses of poverty and misrule. Its former strongman president, François Bozizé, who took power in a coup in 2003, was overthrown by the Seleka in March this year. Emerging from the remote and impoverished northeast, the Seleka, or “alliance” in the national language, has engaged in widespread abuses.”

On Invoking the Deaths of Children: Where Does the Real “Moral Obscenity” Lie?  by Eric Reeves: “Antonov attacks take place on a virtually daily basis according to multiple Darfuri reports from the ground in Darfur; similar reports come from the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. Destruction of wells and villages, the loss of livestock and an unrelenting death and despair — these are the “bombs” the Antonovs drop. And sometimes the children, invisible to us because we choose not to look, or even compel UN observation, are terribly wounded by these bombs. To suggest that their terrors, their pain and agony, their deaths are any less “morally obscene” than gas attacks on children in Syria is a painfully invidious comparison — the more so since in the end, it is politically expedient.”

U.N. Investigator: North Korean Prisons Like Nothing Seen Since Nazi Atrocities by Hayes Brown: “North Koreans forced into prison camps live out an existence unlike any seen since the killing fields of Cambodia or the horrors of World War II, according to the head of a U.N. panel assigned to investigate Pyongyang’s human rights violations.”

D.C. Navy Yard gun attack kills 12, injures 8 by Washington Post: “A gunman killed a dozen people as the workday began at theWashington Navy Yard on Monday, creating an improbable moment of horror at a military facility with armed guards at every gate and leaving investigators seeking clues about what spurred the attack.”