Solutions to gun violence can’t be kicked down road

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary 

Full disclosure.

I was born and reared in south Louisiana.

I don’t hunt.

I’ve fired a shotgun once in my life, at an outdoor gun range on the West Bank. I hit a few clay targets.

I don’t own a handgun.

I never served in the military.

As a kid, I threw a football in the streets, drank water from a hose and played soldiers (“G.I. Joe” vs. “Nazi”) after Hurricane Betsy felled some willow trees to create secret hiding places.

I’ve never played video games.

I have thrown a golf club. It went 30 yards into an oak tree.

I despise horror flicks.

I’ve done jury duty in Orleans Parish when the attorneys asked for a show of hands: “Has a member of your family been a victim of gun violence?” Dozens of hands went up. My head swiveled. My hand stayed down. My jaw dropped.

I wonder as I drive home on I-10 every evening how many people have guns in their cars. I don’t even want to know.

I think about road rage, Will Smith and Joe McKnight.

I think of Columbine, Parkland, Orlando, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and now El Paso and Dayton.

I am nauseated because I don’t know the answer.

And, I’d bet, neither do you.

There is no single solution to the existential crisis of mass murder, American style.

The crisis is a witch’s brew of ridiculously easy access to weapons of mass destruction by individuals who are – take your pick – mentally unstable, clinically depressed, virulently racist, demonically possessed, culturally despoiled, irreligiously indoctrinated or hypnotically controlled. Or some combination of all of these.

All I see are bodies – and talking points. Plenty of them.

As I try to make sense of the inscrutable, I keep coming back to a question Jesus poses to his disciples: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” (Luke 11:11-12).

Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.


My common sense tells me something else.

When our Founding Fathers birthed the Bill of Rights – and the Second Amendment – the common guns of the era included flintlock pistols and muskets that had to be patiently and inconveniently reloaded. Even being repacked in the hands of the quickest marksman, the best he could do was squeeze off three rounds in one minute.

In Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were killed and 27 others injured on Aug. 4, police responded from around the corner within 30 seconds. They took down the gunman in near-record time.

In 30 seconds: Nine dead, 27 injured.

This was video-game beast mode. Now, beat that score.

Would the Second Amendment and its protection of the people’s right “to keep and bear arms” have been written in a slightly different manner if the America of the 1790s were a killing field in which malcontents, inflamed by something they read by candlelight, could exhaust a 100-round drum magazine with an assault rifle in the time it takes to tie your shoes?

The Founding Fathers were dealing with fish and eggs. We are dishing out snakes and scorpions, and the lunacy of that escapes me as another Garden of Innocents is watered, somewhere in the U.S., by the blood of martyrs.

Many of the daily shootings across the country – not the “mass” shootings – involve the use of higher-powered machinery that, instead of merely piercing a body, pulverizes tissue and bone to the extent that an ER surgeon has no chance to put back together what someone with a submachine gun has torn asunder.

Where is the moral calculus that stipulates it should be harder for a person to get a driver’s license than a military-grade assault rifle? Should the background check for someone wishing to buy an assault rifle be a little more rigorous than for someone asking for condensed milk on a grape snowball? 

There is no simple answer that checks all the boxes. There are plenty of other ways to produce mass murder for those determined to do it. Cars and trucks come to mind, and, no, no one is asking for those to be banned or restricted.

But if submachine guns are not needed to hunt giraffes or rabbits, what exactly is their purpose other than to provide for the unhinged ready instruments of fast-food murder?

For years, the U.S. bishops have supported a number of reasonable measures to address gun violence: utilize universal background checks; ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines (that ban, full of loopholes, was tried for 10 years, from 1994 to 2004, but was allowed to sunset); limit civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines; expand mental-health resources; limit and regulate the purchase of handguns; create better child-safety devices on guns; and assess how violent images and experiences affect young people.

We also could call out spineless politicians who do nothing and say nothing in the face of hateful rhetoric.

And, yes, we can pray.

Or we can do nothing, prostrating ourselves on the altar of an unfettered right to bear the equivalent of bazookas.

Just because we have that “right.”

St. James said it best: “Faith without works is dead.” Right about now, we need a little “ora et labora.”

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at

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