Reacting to the horrific school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, that resulted in the murder of six innocent people, three of them small children, a Tennessee Republican congressman opined on a national television news network that nothing could be done in Congress about the terrifyingly high number of cases of mass gun violence in this country because “evil” cannot be legislated.
Really? For 50 years, in Washington and in every state capital, Americans who cherish the value of human life, especially of the innocent unborn, have worked relentlessly to see enacted laws to curtail, or preferably, to halt abortions. The ink on the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade, was not dry when efforts began to find, through the passage of laws, ways to protect innocent human life.
At that time, the strategy was to pass, by favorable votes in Congress and in state legislatures, an amendment to the federal constitution that, in the end, would stop abortions. Since then, thousands of proposed laws, and hundreds of political candidates, have been judged based on how a law, if enacted, or a candidate, if elected, would affect abortion.
(To be fair, the Tennessee congressman who made this comment consistently voted to pass laws to impede abortion in this country.)
The countless efforts to curtail abortion through legislation are dramatic examples of the philosophy that drives, and always has driven, lawmaking in this country. Stop evil. Enable good.
Laws, with penalties, are in place to safeguard lives or properties. Persons have the right to life. Laws protect this right. Murder is a serious crime everywhere. To emphasize the seriousness of murder, legislatures in all 50 states prescribe significant punishments for convicted murderers. In some states, convicted murderers face being executed, because legislators have voted to allow such a possibility.
People have the right to hold, and to use, property secured through honest means. Laws prevent others from taking away, or harming, someone else’s property.
Laws, duly adopted by legislative bodies, regulate business, and the professions, to halt evil. By law, businesses cannot cheat employees. Physicians must care for patients according to laws enacted to safeguard the lives of patients. Congress passes laws to maintain the national defense, to assure that the people of this country do not experience the evil of being invaded.
Legislatures pass laws regulating the speed of vehicles on thoroughfares to protect innocent people from drivers who go so fast that they cannot control their vehicles quickly enough in potentially dangerous moments. It is against the law for grocery stores to sell contaminated food. Pharmacies cannot sell certain drugs without a licensed doctor’s prescription.
Congress prescribes laws requiring citizens to pay taxes, and Congress sets sanctions for any citizen who refuses to pay taxes, to see that all in this country benefit from services provided by the government, which must be funded.
Treason is a crime, expressly defined by Congress. By law, the government enjoys the benefit of the doubt. It creates an environment that is good and just. Any attempt to overthrow it is a crime, explicitly declared as such by Congress.
The list goes on and on. Bottom line: Securing the well-being and enjoyment of rights, of all, is the obligation of government and of lawmakers. This is good.
The Nashville tragedy, on the 86th day of 2023, was the 39th school shooting in this country this year, to say nothing of mass shootings in other places. Mercifully, not all have ended in deaths, but people are worried.
Along with teaching children reading, writing and arithmetic, schools now teach students to “run, hide, and, as a last resort, fight back.”
Some say that the United States has per capita more cases of mental disturbance, or more Americans are indifferent to evil, than in every other developed democracy on earth — assumptions difficult statistically to prove.
Even so, we are different. Why? Something must be done.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.