Politicians usually talk about being pro-life when it comes to opposing abortion. As a Catholic who served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under President George H.W. Bush, I share a deep commitment to protecting the sanctity of life in the womb. But what about our children, teachers and neighbors lost to the epidemic of gun violence?
These innocent victims can no longer speak. Those of us proud to call ourselves pro-life must raise our voices on their behalf and demand that powerful lobbying groups stop standing in the way of sensible gun control measures that can save lives.
I'm a native of Connecticut. The Newtown tragedy hit close to home for me. I have family members whose children attended Sandy Hook Elementary in the years before the horrific shootings two months ago. The image of tiny caskets carried into churches broke our hearts. It must also motivate us to act.
Along with another retired U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz, I recently joined more than 60 prominent Catholic theologians, priests and sisters who are challenging pro-life elected officials to show more political courage when it comes to confronting gun violence. In particular, we urged our fellow Catholics in Congress -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- who earn top ratings from the National Rifle Association to put the common good before powerful special interests.
The religious community is mobilized to make an impact on this debate. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently said that the church's advocacy on behalf of gun control is "a pro-life position." The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, complimented U.S. religious leaders and the Obama administration for advancing sensible gun restrictions. Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence -- a campaign that includes Christians, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs -- has brought together religious leaders from across the country to meet with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House.
Let's drop the false choices. We can honor the Second Amendment and also take reasonable steps to make our communities safer. No hunter or responsible gun owner needs an assault weapon designed to inflict maximum carnage on the battlefield.
The bipartisan task force on gun violence in the General Assembly should recommend a comprehensive package that includes universal background checks, an expanded ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles and better mental health services. The task force would be wise to pay attention to new research that demonstrates the effectiveness of universal background check legislation.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research has studied the consequences of Missouri repealing a 2007 "permit-to-purchase" law. The law required a background check as well as a brief sheriff's review before all gun sales and closed loopholes of private sales. Repeal of the law meant guns could be sold privately in the state without a background check. The Hopkins researchers found that overturning the law resulted in a 25 percent jump in Missouri's homicide rate at a time when gun violence was declining nationally and regionally.
Although a single law or set of regulations can't prevent every tragedy, there is no excuse for not taking action. The moral case is clear. The question is can our elected officials summon the political courage to defy the gun lobby and protect our communities?
Thomas P. Melady, retired U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Uganda and Burundi, is president emeritus of Sacred Heart University. He wrote this for the Hartford Courant.