Mass. Bishops sign petition to ban assault weapons

BOSTON -- The bishops of the four Catholic dioceses of Massachusetts were among the more than 350 people who signed a petition for the U.S. Congress to pass a national ban on assault weapons.

The petition was shared in The Boston Globe on July 10 alongside an opinion piece by John Rosenthal, a gun owner and the founder and chair of the advocacy group Stop Handgun Violence. Among those who signed were survivors of mass shootings, relatives of victims, members of law enforcement, faith leaders, policy makers, business leaders, medical professionals, educators, and unions and associations.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley of Boston, Bishop William Byrne of Springfield, Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, and Bishop Edgar da Cunha of Fall River were among the faith leaders who signed the petition.

Jim Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the policy-making arm of the Catholic Church in the commonwealth, said that he was glad to get the bishops on board with the statement.

"The bishops were wholeheartedly in favor of signing on to it, because these assault weapons kill people, and they're killing people in the streets in the United States every day, for no reason whatsoever," Driscoll said.

The petition states that the signees "implore Congress to enact a new national ban on all military-style assault weapons and ammunition magazines greater than five rounds."

Rosenthal's piece cites the most recent statistics of mass shootings, which are shootings of four or more people. He also writes that there were over 650 mass shootings in 2022, and 2023 is "on pace to set a new record for mass shootings and deaths."

He quotes Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's words in the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller ruling: "Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever for whatever purpose."

Rosenthal goes on to describe how military-style assault weapons differ from typical handguns. Assault weapons do not require frequent reloading and are designed to cause greater damage to a person's tissue and organs. He argues that police officers as well as civilians are endangered by assault weapons, since officers are typically armed with handguns that they must reload after 15 rounds.

He insists that assault weapons "have no useful purpose for hunting or sport," and points out that hunters are required to obtain a state license and can only carry a limited number of rounds.

Rosenthal goes on to cite the example of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was passed in 1994 but expired after 10 years. During that time, the use of banned assault weapons at crime scenes decreased by 66 percent. According to Rosenthal, this proves "that such a ban effectively saved lives and reduced preventable mass shootings -- without prohibiting most firearms."

"Our nation's citizens should be provided the same respect and consideration our hunting laws currently provide to protect populations of game animals. It will save lives and will not infringe on law-abiding citizens' rights," the piece concludes.