WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) ─ In the wake of the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, "we must do more," to address gun violence, said Bishop Mark E. Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston.
Bishop Brennan wrote to the Catholic people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, asking them to join with the world in prayer for the victims of the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 children and two teachers dead and several others injured.
"As Catholics, we are called to pray for those who have died and assist in healing the deep wounds of those who mourn," the bishop said in his letter of May 25. "But we must now do more than offer prayers and support. We must encourage concrete action in the hopes that never again are schoolchildren the target of these heinous acts of violence."
The next day on "Talkline" on West Virginia's MetroNews radio network, Bishop Brennan urged West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice to call a special session of the Legislature to ban high-capacity, semi-automatic rifles. "Because what happened in Texas two days ago could happen in West Virginia, just as easily," the bishop said on the program.
In an interview with WTRF-TV 7 News in Wheeling June 1, the bishop said he is speaking out on the issue because "as a religious leader I have to be concerned about the welfare of our people."
The bishop told WTRF that he commends the governor for the excellent work in West Virginia during the pandemic of keeping the public safe, adding that the current issue is a matter of public safety as well.
In his May 25 letter to the faithful, Bishop Brennan said it is obvious that mental health issues, unchecked anger, and rage are part of the problem and can lead to people committing "unspeakable acts of evil and violence, and we must address these issues, but it is equally apparent that those perpetrating these terrible atrocities are able to do so because they wield powerful weapons that are able to kill and maim dozens of people in just seconds."
CNN reported that the shooter in Uvalde, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, who was killed by law enforcement officers at the school, legally purchased two AR platform rifles at a local federal firearms licensee May 17 and May 20 and 375 rounds of ammunition.
"We must do more as a society to limit the availability of these types of weapons," Bishop Brennan wrote, "especially to those whose sole purpose is to use such weapons to commit atrocities against our brothers and sisters."
Bishop Brennan ended his letter by calling on everyone to pray "for an end to this evil and implore both gun owners and our elected officials to work together and take action to ensure the safety of our children, our schools, our churches and our communities."
The tragedy in Uvalde took place just 10 days after a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, where 10 people, all of whom were Black, were killed in a supermarket.
Authorities said the shooter, who was white, was motivated by hatred for Black people. NBC News reported that Payton Gendron, 18, was indicted June 1 on charges of domestic terrorism motivated by hate and 10 counts of first-degree murder.
"All violent taking of life violates God's commandment: 'You shall not kill' (Exodus 20: 13) but it is especially galling to learn from news reports that the lives of these victims were taken precisely because they were African Americans," Bishop Brennan said in a May 15 letter to the Catholic people of West Virginia following that shooting.
The bishop wrote that he recognizes that most gun owners have them for the protection of their families and themselves or for hunting but challenged them to propose ways in which the availability of guns could be significantly restricted.
Gun owners in West Virginia can help shape public policy that allows for both responsible gun ownership use, balanced with common sense rules, to limit the use of military style weapons, he said.
On the same day of Bishop Brennan's interview with WTRF, news broke of another mass shooting at the Natalie Building at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 1, which left four people dead, including the shooter, and injured several others.
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Rowan is executive editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.