The right to own guns is not an absolute right. As a personal right it always has to be balanced with the legitimate rights of other people and with protecting the common good. That’s a principle that applies to all individual freedoms.
For example, we’re guaranteed the right to free speech, but it’s not an absolute right. It was decided a long time ago that because of the common good and for reasons of public safety you can’t yell “fire” in a theatre.
And you want to test your freedom of speech? Try talking about your fascination with bombs the next time you’re boarding an airplane and see what happens.
As a society we need always to achieve a proper balance between individual freedom and the common good.
The question about the “right to bear arms”, the ownership of guns by individuals, has been forced into public debate once again by the horrific slaughter of 27 people, including 20 little children, in Connecticut by one deranged young man.
We’ll all be thinking about and praying for the victims of that terrible event for a long, long time.
The crime in Connecticut raises lots of societal questions that need to be earnestly addressed – ensuring the safety of children in our schools; improving the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness; the rampant violence that’s glorified in our popular culture these days; the stability of the family unit; and the general lack of respect for human life and dignity in our society, come quickly to mind.
It’s the control of guns, however, that’s emerged as the most emotional and politically divisive issue of the lot. It seems to me, though, that it’s an issue where a little bit of common sense would go a long way in restoring a proper balance between individual rights and the common good of society.
The National Rifle Association has again emerged as a key player in the current debate. Despite its influence, however, the NRA is not a fourth branch of government.
If the association wants to be a respected and credible part of our community, it has to be part of the solution, not the source of the problem. It has to promote the common good; not protect its own interests. The NRA, too, is subject to the law of God.
One of the signature songs of the iconic folk group Peter, Paul and Mary was Blowin’ in the Wind, written by Bob Dylan. There they ask nine questions, including: “How many times must the cannon balls fly, before they’re forever banned?”
In a similar way we can ask ourselves, “How many children must die, how many families must suffer, how many communities must be forever scarred” until we as a society agree to reasonable limits on firearms? If the answer’s not clear now, it never will be.
It’s time for our nation, state and local governments to enact legislation that will severely limit the number and nature of firearms available to the general public. n CNS/excerpted from the Jan 3 issue of the Rhode Island Catholic, Newspaper of Providence Diocese, USA.
By Bishop Thomas J Tobin.
CNS/excerpted from the Jan 3 issue of the Rhode Island Catholic, Newspaper of Providence Diocese, USA.