Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Gun Policy: Trying to Influence It

St. Mary Parishioners Try to Influence Governmental Policy on Guns

American Catholic Bishops have spoken out clearly on gun violence and too-easy access to deadly weapons. Echoing Pope Francis’s call for mercy and peacebuilding in our communities, the Bishops have asked that America implement reasonable regulations on firearms, such as: requiring universal background checks for all gun purchases; limiting civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines; making gun trafficking a federal crime; and improving mental health care for those who may be prone to violence.

To this end, three St. Mary parishioners, Krista Zivkovich, Dan Bergen, and myself, and the leader of the Cleveland Diocese COAR ministry, Mary Stevenson, met on January 27th with Nick Ciofani, assistant to US Representative David Joyce. The meeting was held in Mr. Joyce’s Painesville office and lasted an hour. We introduced ourselves to Mr. Ciofani and were struck by all the personal connections we had to him and his family. Then we each proceeded to tell our stories why we were interested in this issue. The stories were riveting. I told the story told of my nephew Dillon Coughlin being in the Chardon High school cafeteria during the mass shooting that took place in 2012, leaving three students dead and one paralyzed for life. I also told of gun suicides of Lakeland College colleagues: our long-time psychology professor, a campus police officer, and one of my creative writing students. These tragic deaths profoundly affected me, my friends and family. Dan told of his wife’s work as an emergency room nurse and all the terrible shootings she had to deal with over the years. Mary Stevenson, the representative from the diocese’s COAR office, told how she herself had been shot in 1988, and the lifelong physical injuries she lives with. Krista told of her best friend’s suicide, a friend who was her son’s Godmother. In an astonishing twist of fate, that suicide victim was also the Godmother of Nick, Representative Joyce’s aide.

After telling our personal stories, we presented petitions signed by 134 St. Mary parishioners asking for reasonable limitations on gun availability. And we asked Nick to present these to Representative Joyce along with our hope that action could be taken in the future on these issues.

We left the meeting with no guarantees. But we did establish a relationship with Representative Joyce and his aide Nick Ciofani, and we did make clear the wishes of American Bishops and many St. Mary parishioners. We will continue to nurture this connection with our representative and keep trying to advocate for reasonable gun safety regulations. Our goal is in line with the goals of Pope Francis, the American Bishops, and many St. Mary parishioners: a safer, more merciful, and more just community. We are trying to do our part in building the Beloved Community, the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Postrcript: The petitions presented to Representative David Joyce have also been sent to Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and to state legislators, Kenny Yuko and John Rogers. Let’s hope that they pay attention to the wishes of the American Catholic Bishops and many members of St. Mary’s Church in Painesville, Ohio.

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