The recent bouts of gun violence in the United States, especially last month’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn., have brought the gun control debate to the forefront of American politics. The essay below appeared Jan. 25 on the author’s blog, Dating God.
At the end of December, Mark Shields, a PBS commentator, said on the PBS NewsHour that since 1968 “more Americans have died from gunfire than died in … all the wars of this country’s history.” There has been some interesting response to that claim, because it seems somewhat hyperbolic. That is, until you look at the actual numbers. The Pulitzer-Prize Winning PolitiFact, a fact-checking organization, consulted the numbers of U.S. casualties from all of the wars in which the United States had been involved dating back to the Revolutionary War and compared the total number of deaths from war with the reported deaths caused by gun violence in the United States since the year 1968 until now.
The facts are startling. Here is the complete PolitiFact report.
The summary is that there have been nearly 1.4 million deaths on record caused by firearms in the United States since 1968 compared to the nearly 1.2 million U.S. casualties over the course of the nation’s entire history.
These fact-checking details come during the same week that Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Press Office of the Holy See (the Vatican), wrote an editorial in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, which stated:
“The initiatives announced by the United States government in view of limiting and controlling the diffusion and use of arms are certainly a step in the right direction. It is estimated that Americans today possess about 300 million firearms. No one can be under the illusion that limiting their number and use would be enough to impede horrendous massacres in the future, such as the one in Newtown, which shook the conscience of Americans and of the world, of children and adults alike. But it would be much worse if we were to satisfy ourselves with only words. And if the massacres are carried out by people with mental illness or distorted by hate, there is no doubt that they are carried out with arms. Forty-seven religious leaders of various confessions and religions have issued a call to American politicians to limit firearms, which “are making society pay an unacceptable price in terms of massacres and senseless deaths.”
I’m with them.
Lombardi goes on to direct our focus to the broader concern about violence around the world.
“But while American society is engaged in this debate of dutiful civil and moral growth, we cannot but widen our gaze to recall that arms, throughout the world, are also instruments for legitimate defense, but surely they are everywhere the main instruments used to bring threats, violence and death. Therefore, it is necessary to repeat tirelessly our calls for disarmament, to oppose the production, trade, and smuggling of arms of all types, fuelled by dishonourable interests for power or financial gain. If results are achieved, such as international conventions, the ban of landmines and other deadly arms, the reduction of the immense and disproportionate number of nuclear warheads…all the better! But weapons are and will always be too many. As the Pope said while travelling to Lebanon, we are all distraught by the massacres in Syria, but the weapons continue to arrive. Peace is born from the heart, but it will be easier to achieve if we have fewer weapons in hand,” He said.
We would be wise to pause and reflect on this information, both the disturbing reality of the reach and effect of gun violence in the United States and the encouragement that those, like Lombardi and other religious leaders, offer us to reduce weapons in our nation and around the world.
For all those who are thinking about “life issues” today, don’t leave the victims of gun violence out of your thoughts and prayers. To be “pro-life” is also to be anti-gun.
— Fr. Dan is the author of several books, including Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis. The friaris currently completing his Ph.D. in systematic theology at Boston College. Friars interested in submitting reflections about holy days, holidays and other timely topics are asked to contact the HNP Communications Office by phone (646-473-0265 ext. 321) or email