A Quick Note re: the Church and Gun Safety Legislation

I was reading the WBEZ website yesterday, and came across a story about Cardinal Cupich, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Cardinal Cupich called on legislators to pass legislation to curb gun violence.

“The Second Amendment, unlike the second commandment, did not come down from Sinai,” Cupich told NPR. “There is an understanding that we all have in our hearts, engraved in our hearts, a natural law about the value of human life. And there is no amendment that can trump that.”

So can he do that? Can he speak out about political issues? Is he, the leader of the 3rd largest archdiocese in the United States, with more than 2 million Catholics, risking the Catholic Church’s tax exemption?

The answers, in order: yes, yes, and no.

Likewise, our church faces no legal impediment to talking about gun safety legislation, asking members to support it, or even lobbying on behalf of such legislation at the state or federal level.

The church does face certain limitations: lobbying can only make up an “insubstantial” part of the church’s activities. But, while there’s no bright line definition of what counts as “substantial,” given all of the time and money the church puts into its religious mission, as a practical matter it probably couldn’t reach lobbying substantiality even if it tried.

In fact, the only real impediment to the church engaging on this issue is its own internal policies. And even those really don’t impede its actions. While the church generally refrains from engaging in politics, it says that:

In exceptional cases, when moral issues or the Church’s practices are involved, the Church may take a position on political matters. In such cases, the Church may engage in political discourse to represent its views.

Does promoting gun safety legislation represent a moral issue? Cardinal Cupich argues that it does. It’s a moral duty, he says, because “it’s about saving lives.”

Now I’m not making a normative case for church involvement here. What I am saying is, if the church doesn’t engage with this politically, that’s its decision. It isn’t boxed into a place of inaction by law. Nothing that prevents them from engaging substantively on the question. In the end, the choice is entirely theirs.

Also, whether or not the church acts, there is nothing to prevent members from engaging and trying to shape law and policy in a way that will protect lives. The church, after all, encourages us to “participate in worthy causes to make their communities wholesome places to live and raise families.” If we fail to participate civilly, that’s our choice.

Comments

  1. The simple answer you are looking for is to repeal the 2A. This is what democracy looks like. Gun controllers are in the minority, but by constantly screaming about “doing something” they are unwittingly the best gun salesmen.

  2. The church could do something more. The church could say that it’s time for its members to beat their swords into plowshares. Make owning a gun a violation for a temple recommend. If you’re an officer of the law and use a gun for work, it’s your works gun. Do you like hunting? then switch to a cross bow. Safety from animals? bear spray.
    The church can lead society towards one where there’s no need to own guns.

  3. Bro. Jones says:

    @jader3rd Hoooo boy the d*zn*t crowd and even the rural Utah membership would explode if that ever happened.

  4. While I’d prefer to repeal the 2A, I can see cases where people need them. If I was up to me, I’d use girl’s earrings as my template: If you desire to have a gun for hunting or protection from bears, you can have 1 modest gun.

  5. Mark l, that’s not, in fact, the answer I’m looking for on this post, because that’s not the issue I’m addressing. Rather, I’m underscoring the fact that the church has the legal ability to weigh in on the question of gun safety legislation.

    Will the church support the repeal of the Second Amendment? I doubt it. That’s frankly not a realistic option at this point. And it’s wrong, factually and strategically, to say that’s the only option. In fact, there are plenty of ways we could reduce gun violence short of constitutional amendment. I have my preferences; the church may have its. And we can both engage in the political process to push for our preferences.

  6. I dunno if repealing 2A is a good idea, that just makes it even easier for cops to kill/abuse people, any demilitarization of the people needs to matched by some degree of demilitarizing the police, if you don’t that’s how you get all those early 20th century massacres when the police would just shoot striking workers

  7. The point of calls to repeal the second amendment is not to create a gun-free society. The purpose comes from the gun lobby’s successful corruption of any legitimate reading of that amendment, preventing any hope of rational gun control. Knocking out the false prop of unlimited gun ownership, transfer, and use clears the way for new law that recognizes a reasonably limited right to gun ownership AND society’s right to protect itself, its children, its elders, its churchgoers, its shoppers, its movie watchers, its festival goers, its nail salon operators, its office workers, its nightclub attenders, its innocent bystanders, its battered wives and former girlfriends, and all others from the carnage wreaked by those who misinterpret the second amendment.

    The Church’s willingness, should that ever develop, to ask politely, pretty please, if you don’t mind, wouldn’t you please begin to start to think about not sanctioning these killing machines in the hands of every angry young man without purpose or any remaining flicker of the Light of Christ, is, quite literally, the next-to-least thing* the Church could do, and as Sam has repeatedly reminded us, there is no legal impediment to its doing so.

    *The least thing, of course, is doing/saying absolutely nothing.

  8. Thank you Ardis. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that the church would join in the chorus asking for reasonable gun safety regulation, whatever the church decides that reasonable regulation looks like.

  9. If there were a proposal out there that would be workable and have a high likelihood of actually making a difference, I think the Church should absolutely throw it’s support institutionally behind it. If it’s just going to be ineffectual nonsense that arbitrarily limits some weapons but not others (like the “assault weapons” ban), better for the Church to stay out of it.

    Personally, I think we ought to start treating firearms like vehicles, where you have to have a license (issued after a basic background check and 12-ish hours of firearms training, including range time) and proof of insurance. We can address second amendment questions by making the license “shall issue” and even by requiring only a background check for small capacity long guns. This wouldn’t solve the problem, but I think it would help.

    But we’re not realistically going to see this happen, ultimately because our culture has a weird obsession with guns and our primary system is broken.

  10. Thanks,. Dcs. In fact, your preference is a proposal out there, and there are A. Lot. Of. Proposals.

    None of them is likely to end all gun violence, but many of them (that don’t involve doors, at least) are likely to reduce it. The church could absolutely adopt and push for one, or come up with its own proposal. There’s nothing stopping it!

  11. The Church could also actively teach principles of restraint and peace and respect for life, specifically making reference to guns, without yet having any definite legislative proposal to back.

  12. Old Man says:

    If the Church made a statement supporting “principles of restraint and respect for life, specifically making reference to guns” it would prove even less effective than the First Presidency’s statements on vaccinations, masking and social distancing. I believe President Kimball’s observations that we are a warlike people back in 1976 is even more true today. Firearms are among the false gods we worship in 2022.

  13. Roger Hansen says:

    It seems looks me Church leaders could encourage members to: limit the guns they have; discourage purchase of automatic weapons; safely store (secure) the ones they do have; and preach responsible gun use to their children. This wouldn’t offend conservative members and at least provide a minimum of gun safety among members.

  14. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I’m not sure this counts as precedent, but I come from a generation where most of the young men I grew up with learned firearm safety and respect for guns from involvement in scouting, through the church. Now, there are all sorts of problems with scouting and I’m not advocating for a return to that, but that could be considered at least tacit church support for responsible firearm behavior.

  15. Geoff - Aus says:

    In one of Australias most unified approaches by state and federal governments, it was ruled that:

    Semi-automatic weapons would be banned in the vast majority of cases

    Gun sales had to be registered in a national database and could only be sold via licenced dealers

    Gun licenses could only be issued to people over 18,

    all new applicants had to do a safety training course and permits had a 28-day waiting periods

    Domestic violence offenders would be banned from holding a gun licence for at least five years”

    Self-defence” was no longer a valid standalone reason to buy a gun

    Anyone who owned prohibited weapons after the laws changed had 12 months to surrender them for compensation,

    and licensed owners had to adhere to strict storage requirements.

    This was in 1996, after the port arthur massacre where a person with an AR15 killed 35 people. And was vehemently opposed by gun advocates.

    Since then 2 people killed in 2014, and 6 in 2019 in 2 incidents. We do not have a second amendment, or a Republican party or the gun entitlement culture.

    I wonder if making amunition too expensive to be viable could make all the guns useless?

  16. Geoff - Aus says:

    The church should use its influence, but I will be surprised if it does. It is too influenced by the right of politics to do that.

  17. Jonathan says:

    First of all, the Church (or, at least, some leaders) have spoken out. Most recently we heard from President Nelson but I can remember back to an address by President Oaks to all of Utah county specifically mentioning that if you are collecting guns and ammunition to use against the government you are in the wrong. Throw in the fact that firearms are banned from meetinghouses and there is a message being conveyed.

    What frustrates me about this post (and it is a general trend online) is the desire to use the Church as a club to advance a social view or political belief rather than fashioning a political belief around the Church’s teachings. Are we Republicans or Democrats who happen to be Latter-Day Saints or are we Latter-Day Saints who happen to be Republicans or Democrats? On the right, we struggle to place the Church’s teachings on immigration, vaccines, and guns ahead of our own political leanings (and the left is always happy to use that as a club against their right-leaning brothers and sisters). On the left, we struggle to place the Church’s teachings on abortion, gender, and sexuality ahead of our own political leanings (and the right is always happy to use that as a club against their left-leaning brothers and sisters).

    Both we on both sides should spend a lot less time wanting the Church to agree with us and a lot more time looking at what the Church teaches and bringing our political views into conformity with that. But, as we worship at the idol of politics nowadays, that is increasingly uncommon.

  18. “Most recently we heard from President Nelson but I can remember back to an address by President Oaks to all of Utah county specifically mentioning that if you are collecting guns and ammunition to use against the government you are in the wrong.”

    Oh? Has the Church disciplined the Bundys?

  19. Jonathan says:

    “Oh? Has the Church disciplined the Bundys?”

    How would you know unless the Bundys told you?

  20. Yes, that’s right. We all know that the Bundys are very private people who would never play the victim when under attack.

  21. Prediction: The Church will do nothing. Why? The Brethren appear to be afraid of the substantial right-wing arm of the kingdom. The single email last August urging members to get vaccinated and wear masks was ignored by most members and was not followed up by reminders or even more strongly worded statements. It’s basically the same group of “individual freedom” Mormons that the leaders appear reluctant to cross. How times have changed.

  22. Loursat says:

    To be more specific about the statements that Jonathan seems to be referring to, President Nelson made a statement four years ago, in February 2018, during his speech at a regional event for youth in Las Vegas. Commenting on the Parkland shootings in Florida, he said, “God allows us to have our agency, and men have passed laws that allow guns to go to people who shouldn’t have them.” It’s a politically slippery comment. He did not endorse gun regulation, but his statement arguably tends in that direction.

    President Oaks spoke ten years ago, in September 2012, at a Utah County regional stake conference. He criticized “right-wing groups who mistakenly apply prophecies about the last days to promote efforts to form paramilitary or other organizations. . . . We counsel against joining or supporting paramilitary organizations.” He said, “The Church has counseled the storage of food and water, not the storage of arms and ammunition.” Again, the words here are slippery. He did not condemn the storage of guns, he just said that the Church’s teachings on food storage don’t include weapons storage. But what he seems to have had in mind here was the problem of right-wing political groups, not the problem of gun regulation. Neither President Nelson’s nor President Oaks’s statement was publicized by the Church.

    The policy prohibiting guns in meetinghouses was created in August 2019.

    I’m not aware of other statements by the Church or by Church leaders on this topic. It would be helpful to know of any others.

    My impression is that Church leaders are, at most, lukewarm on this topic. These statements are now several years old, and they do not represent an effort to influence government law and policy. The Church could make an official statement advocating responsible gun regulation. Or there could be a statement along the lines that Ardis describes. (Personally, I’m 100% with all of Ardis’s comments here.) Maybe they will make a statement after the pending Supreme Court decision in Bruen comes down. Of course I have no idea what the Church will do. But Church leaders have not done enough at this point for anyone to say that they have taken a position on the question of gun regulation.

  23. Jonathan says:

    @Loursat:

    One correction — the policy prohibiting guns in meetinghouses was added to the handbook in 2019 but had been in place since a letter from the First Presidency all the way back in 2004 (signed by President Hinckley).

    “Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. The carrying of lethal weapons, concealed or otherwise, within their walls is inappropriate except as required by officers of the law.”

  24. Loursat says:

    Where the earlier statement said that carrying guns was “inappropriate” in meetinghouses, as of 2019 the policy was reworded to make guns “prohibited.”

    “Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world. With the exception of current law enforcement officers, the carrying of lethal weapons on church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited.”

    “Prohibited” removes any wiggle room.

    It is possible that the Church chose the word “prohibited” in order to comply unambiguously with the Utah statute that allows a church to ban the possession of firearms in a house of worship. Utah Code § 76-10-530. I have no idea what legal implications the word “prohibited” might have anywhere other than in Utah.

  25. The Other Brother Jones says:

    I think the that the Church Leadership does not like to command in all things. It is clear from the statements quoted above, and others about eliminating contention, that the church is against the kind of violent actions such as the one that prompted this post. But to be more specific on guns would be a political stance. But more specific on how we should act towards each other, they have been very specific.
    Also. The church is clearly trying to change its focus to that of a worldwide church, and this is a specifically American issue.

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