An Everett-born Jesuit priest, the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, sits in the nation’s capital, forbidden to buttonhole politicians. A different kind of crucible, a Political Science major, an aspiring politico and Snohomish High grad, squelched.
As chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, Conroy offers spiritual ballast, not policy guidance. Last Wednesday, on the heels of the child massacre in Newtown, Conroy crossed the numinous with hard sense. “As we continue to recover from such a great tragedy, endow the Members of this House and all our governmental leaders with the wisdom to respond with whatever policies and laws might be needed to ensure greater peace and security in our land,” Conroy prayed.
Those policies and laws to ensure greater peace are nearly as absent as the wisdom to curtail gun violence. Even facts are elusive. After heavy lobbying by the National Rifle Association, Congress de-funded research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concerning guns and public health. The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre said in 1995, “The problem that I see with what the CDC is doing is that they are not doing medicine, they’re doing politics.” On Friday, the same LaPierre promoted a police-state approach to Newtown, with NRA-trained guards stationed at every school in the country. Enough. The NRA’s mission is to sustain the NRA, not the public interest.
In the public interest, the gun-show loophole must end, so that all gun purchasers undergo background checks. Yes, to banning assault weapons, yes to prohibiting huge ammo clips. These steps are palliative, one piece of a comprehensive response.
We argue that increased support for mental health, even in a time of budget austerity, is critical. A mentally ill child in Snohomish County is shuttled to Children’s in Seattle or Fairfax Hospital in Bellevue. Resources are scarce. The onus falls on the political class, as citizens elbow lawmakers to do something (ideally not mistaking motion for action.)
Vesting politicians with tough decisions is an act of faith. These aren’t tough decisions, however. Western lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, schooled never to step on a political third-rail like firearms, might review Friday’s LaPierre press conference. That train and its paranoid cant has left the station.
Finally, we have us. We need to foster personal accountability and community engagement to reduce the chances of another Newtown. Reduce and, some day, prevent.
Freedom is a blessing from God, Conroy says. The freedom to commit evil doesn’t illustrate God’s silence. The capacity to take action, to do the right thing to address gun violence, gives freedom authentic expression. The kind of freedom that redeems.