School shooting should impact election

Will Jemison

Keeping our faith
By Will Jemison
As of the writing, we have lost at least another 10 innocent souls to senseless gun violence at an American school. I’m certain the calls to prayer and self-reflection from many of our legislators will commence and in about a week, we will have moved on to other issues in the country. What can’t be achieved in that week’s time is the healing that will be needed for the parents and friends of the indirect victims of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) stronghold on some of our elected officials from many statehouses all the way up to the top seats in our federal government.
As Catholics, our social doctrine teaches us that all lives are imbued with dignity and should be protected. Obviously, we send our prayers and thoughts to those who have died, and with current laws, will continue to lose their lives to senseless gun violence due to lax gun laws, but prayers aren’t enough. In addition to our belief in the dignity of life, we also are charged with ensuring that policies and laws that are in effect don’t allow for mentally ill, violent and irresponsible individuals to have free access to weapons.
For the last few years, I’ve attended the annual pro-life events across the state where organizations recognize the works they have done in the arena of abortion legislation and pro-life advocacy. Indeed, many have performed some positive works in exposing the alternatives to abortion that some expectant mothers and fathers had not considered or weren’t aware of, but what has struck me most is the apparent lack by these same groups to effectively advocate either at the local level or statewide to reverse the scourge of the pro-gun movement in this state. Is equipping individuals with unnecessary weapons a legal right or a tool to ensure that some voters are appeased at the cost of endangering others?
In the past few years, we have witnessed innocent children and adults slaughtered in places of worship, schools and offices across the country; yet, we haven’t witnessed any substantive change to the laws that govern how we obtain access to weapons of any sort. As Catholics, we should be concerned. From 1994 to 2004, our elected officials attempted to band-aid the wound of gun violence by banning the sale of assault weapons similar to those used in most of our mass shootings. The problem with the ban was that it only outlawed the sale of new weapons, not the many thousands of assault weapons that were already in circulation and were sold via direct, cash transactions between individuals.
With an upcoming statewide election looming, it’s imperative that we as Catholics exercise our right to advocate and participate in the electoral process to affect positive change. There simply is no justification for individuals to have the right to openly carry weapons in public places throughout this state or casually purchase assault weapons. The intent of open carry laws are to intimidate some and appease others and no child or parishioner should have to be concerned whether it’s safe to attend school or church for fear of someone possibly hurting them or worse, due to our ineffective leadership.
Mississippi’s upcoming elections will be a great test of our fortitude as socially conscious voters and Catholics. At our moral and religious core is the desire to do what’s right and just, will this next round of elections reflect this or will we allow a few self-serving political issues deflect us yet again? It’s time we challenge our elected leadership to act in the best interests of the many and to place a higher value of life for all people and in all stages of life, from conception to natural death.

(Will Jemison is the coordinator for Black Catholic Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson.)