Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington reflects on what it will take to change the apparent lock that the gun lobby has on legislators and the culture.
A journalist in Arizona called to ask if I had any thoughts on how Richard Martinez, the outspoken father a young man killed in last Friday’s shooting in Isla Vista California, could craft a persuasive gun control message. In his grief, Martinez has said that he is determined to speak and to act until something changes. But the journalist had her doubts. Angry, grieving families and rising body counts aren’t persuading those opposed to measures such as universal background checks, limits on high capacity magazines, stricter gun trafficking laws, a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, and addressing the inadequacies of our mental healthcare system.
“I’ve been following the gun legislation debates since Arizona congresswoman Gabriel Giffords was shot three years ago,” she told me. Nothing has changed. I told her that many of the religious leaders who took up the cause for sensible gun legislation in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, including me, thought that the tide was turning, and that we could finally overcome those who financially benefit from the sale and illegal trafficking of increasingly lethal guns. We were wrong.
While small gains have been made in some places, to date, we haven’t been able to move national legislation. And so the shooting continues, every day, somewhere, as if this were normal; as if, in the words of the satirical newspaper The Onion: There is No Way to Prevent This.
And yet, I told her, if you want to understand the kind of work we’re engaged in, think back on other changes that we take for granted now that seemed impossible as people fought for them. When you watch an episode of Mad Men or a movie from the 1960s, you see people chain smoking cigarettes everywhere. Do you remember how impossible it felt to change laws that affected our smoking habits?
Or consider, I said, the long struggle for basic civil rights for African Americans and other citizens of color in this country. While we have a long way to go toward the goal of racial equality, fifty years ago people were beaten, arrested, and even killed for trying to integrate restaurants and buses. Can you imagine living in that America now?
Or remember even as recently as a decade ago, when the idea of marriage equality for gays and lesbians was unimaginable, and the forces opposed to gay marriage—even the most basic of civil unions—prevailed in the cultural debate. That tide has turned in ways that even the most ardent, hopeful marriage equality advocate of ten years ago would have found hard to imagine.