The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine. He was also a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University (1985-98 & 2006-15) where he wrote Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican. Earlier he worked as a lobbyist for tax reform. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of California Berkeley. He entered the Jesuits in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974 after receiving a M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.
As a bad Catholic, I need to make a confession. I no longer pay attention to mass shootings.
If I see a headline in the newspaper or online, I skip over to another story. If it comes up on my NPR podcast, I touch the arrow that advances me to the next story. If it is on CNN, I switch to the Hallmark channel.
I feel guilty, but I simply cannot take it anymore. I am sick of the violence and our country’s inability to do anything about it. I see no point in listening to the same story over and over again.
News stories about mass shootings always follow the same 10-point template: 1) initial confusion about what happened; 2) onsite interviews with those who escaped the scene; 3) talking heads speculate about the motive of the gunman; 4) a press conference by police chief and mayor; 5) calls for greater gun control from Democrats; 6) calls for thoughts and prayers from Republicans; 7) a Trump tweet; 8) more speculation on motive of gunman; 9) coverage of funerals; 10) interviews with victims’ families.
Nothing changes, except people buy more guns.
We move on to other news until the next shooting. It doesn’t matter where the shooting takes place—gay bar, church, primary school, university, shopping center, baseball game or on the street. Nothing shocks us enough to make us demand change.
And yet, mass shootings are only a minor contributor to the deaths from gun violence. Gun violence is common in most inner cities, but it gets little coverage in newspapers read by the white community. And gun suicides, spousal shootings, and accidents are so common that even white victims are ignored unless a child is involved.
I am afraid that others may soon respond to mass shootings that same way I do, the same way we do to other gun violence—ignore it and move on. No matter how horrible something is, if it is repeated time and time again, we get accustomed to it.
We can’t let this happen. Religious leaders cry out but few listen.
From Rome, Pope Francis took notice of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton on August 3 and 4, where at least 29 were killed and dozens more were injured. These followed closely after the killings at the garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif.
Texas Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the shooting “terrible, senseless and inhumane.”
Franciscan Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, KY, tweeted: “More senseless gun killings… more white nationalism… more disregard for the sanctity of human life… We need to create the beloved community Jesus envisions now.”
Many Catholic leaders have called for government action to curb gun violence. In their 2000 pastoral statement on criminal justice, the bishops wrote, “We support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns.”
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Source: Religion News Service