Gun control: If not now, when?

A few short weeks ago a man named Stephen Paddock brought an arsenal of legally acquired firearms to his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas and began shooting concertgoers at an adjacent country music festival. 58 people were killed and 546 more were wounded in the attack.

The shooting was the deadliest in the United States, surpassing the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting which killed 49 people.

In fact, this seemingly random act of violence is reminiscent of any number of terrible tragedies that have taken place in the United States in recent memory. The aforementioned Pulse nightclub shooting, the 2015 shooting at a San Bernardino social services center, the 2012 massacre of 26 children and teachers in Sandy Hook, and many others share a common thread.

In each case, the assailants murdered dozens of innocent people with weapons purchased legally.

This most recent terrible incident is yet another call to all of us to act and prevent this kind of tragedy from taking place in the future. It is high time that we as a nation rethink both our gun control policies and the lack of adequate care for people with mental illnesses. Addressing both of these issues would go a long way towards making these mass killings fewer and further between.

After the events of the Sandy Hook massacre the Roman Catholic Bishops of the Commonwealth said in a statement that "any law that would address the role that violence, some mental illnesses, and substance abuse play in many tragedies involving firearms would be a welcomed advance in this area of the law and would be a great benefit to our society." Further, they reminded each of us that "No community is immune to the possibility of a devastating tragedy. Whatever its final form, it is abundantly clear that legislation aimed toward the reduction of preventable deaths is necessary."

Years later, their statement remains relevant. We as a country still find ourselves faced with the same problem. How to curtail these acts of violence.

We at Catholic Charities have long advocated for more stringent gun control policies on both a national and local level because through our work in the community we see how devastating gun violence and its aftermath is for our communities. We know, for example, that 99 percent of the nearly 500 middle and high school students that participate in our Teen Center program know someone who has died as a result of gun violence. Likewise, our students in programs from Brockton to Lowell know all too well the impact of losing a friend or family member whose access to a gun ended their own, or someone else's life.

Our story is repeated in communities across the country -- the not for profit Gun Violence Archive reports an astonishing 11,600 deaths and 273 mass killings in 2017 alone. Sadly, guns are the third leading cause of death for children in the United States.

We are grateful that Massachusetts has some of the most stringent gun control laws in the country. In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, we are equally grateful to our legislature for working to enact new legislation banning bump stocks, which can be used to increase a firearm's rate of discharge to imitate an automatic weapon.

It is long past time for our federal government to follow our lead and pass legislation that both protects the Second Amendment and our safety. If not now, when?

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- Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.