The Huffington Post | By Meredith Bennett-Smith Posted: 02/19/2013 1:07 pm EST
A respected and popular Catholic weekly magazine has made a landmark — and certainly controversial — call in its latest editorial.
America is a national Jesuit weekly, founded in 1909 and based in New York. The magazine has an online edition and still maintains a print subscription. It is also the only national Catholic weekly magazine in the United States, according to the America website.
In the Feb. 25 edition of America, the editors argue that the only way to start a real conversation on guns is to first get rid of the Constitutional Amendment that guarantees the right to bear them.
“It is time to face reality,” the editorial reads, in part. “If the American people are to confront this scourge in any meaningful way, then they must change. The Constitution must change. The American people should repeal the Second Amendment.”
Father Matt Malone, 40, America’s editor-in-chief, who stepped into his current role last summer, told The Huffington Post that the eight-member editorial board did not make this claim casually.
For weeks following the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., Malone said he and his fellow editors discussed what the appropriate response — both spiritually and policy-wise — should be. And time and time again, he and his fellow Jesuits found themselves stymied by the Supreme Court’s sweeping 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which affirmed citizens’ right to bear arms for “traditionally lawful purposes.”
“We thought the fundamental question here is, is the Second Amendment in the 21st century still useful law,” Malone told the HuffPost. “At first we were kind of reluctant to ask that question, because no one wants to in any kind of casual way talk about changing the Bill of Rights. But you know what, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution are excellent laws, but they are human law. And it seems to us, that if they are the laws of a self-governing country, then the people have an obligation to ask, is it indeed still good law for the times were are living in.”
Vanity Fair columnist Kurt Eichenwald penned a similar proposal in January, writing that, while he believes people “have the right to arm themselves,” he also believes that “for a variety of reasons, the Second Amendment has been twisted and bastardized in ways that could never have been conceived at the time of the nation’s founding.” He goes on to state that “the amendment has nothing—nothing—to do with modern America.”
The America editorial is not a call for the wholesale scrapping of the country’s guns. Rather, the editorial looks at the way the Second Amendment has shaped, or impeded, efforts at potentially necessary or appropriate reforms:
Americans must ask: Is it prudent to retain a constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms when it compels our judges to strike down reasonable, popularly supported gun regulations? Is it moral to inhibit in this way the power of the country’s elected representatives to provide for the public safety? Does the threat of tyranny, a legitimate 18th-century concern but an increasingly remote, fanciful possibility in the contemporary United States, trump the grisly, daily reality of gun violence?
Father Malone said that the editorial was motivated by the magazine’s Catholic principles. Catholic bishops in the United States have consistently spoken out in favor of gun control, according to Malone, who points in particular to the U.S. bishops’ conference in 1975.
“At the conference, a committee identified ‘the easy availability of handguns in our society’ as a major threat to human life and called for ‘effective and courageous action to control handguns, leading to their eventual elimination from our society’ with ‘exceptions…for the police, military, security guards’ and sporting clubs.”
While the American Catholic hierarchy may historically come down on the side of strict reforms, it should be noted the same cannot be said for all American Christians, or rank-and-file Catholics, for that matter. For one, Vice President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, is a vocal supporter of the Second Amendment. There is also the argument by the National Review’s David French, who wrote recently that bearing arms is a God-given right that Jesus would have approved of.
In January, a survey from the National Association of Evangelicals showed that nearly three-quarters of evangelical leaders support increasing restrictions on guns, while still pledging their support for the Second Amendment. This dichotomy is consistent with Americans in general, who in the summer of 2012 said they supported the Second Amendment by a two-thirds majority, with a smaller majority also supporting gun-control laws, according to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Malone said that America magazine knew the editorial would be deeply unpopular with a large portion of American readers. Indeed, the response has begun already.
Malone has been monitoring comments posted by readers, as well comments made about the topic on other Internet forums. He said the range of responses has been broad, with some people objecting very strongly. Some have also written in to thank the magazine for “naming the elephant in the room,” while others have threatened to cancel their subscriptions. A select few even claimed the editorial proves an ancient, Dan Brown-esque conspiracy theory involving a secret brotherhood of Jesuits who run the world.
Ultimately, Malone said that the original aim was simply to spark a civil conversation.
“Our goal is to raise the question,” he said, “And to do it in a way that was thoughtful and charitable, and to invite people to re-imagine our relationship to our fundamental law.”
Repeal the Second Amendment: