It was one among a forest of signs at the recent “March for Our Lives” in Washington, D.C., that attracted hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, but it caught my attention.
Has the eruption of gun control activism following the spate of school shootings, most recently in Parkland, Florida, provided an opportunity for the pro-life movement? If so, will pro-lifers seize it?
For nearly half a century, the pro-life movement has had its own March for Life every January in the same town. It is a stubborn, dedicated manifestation of political will unbowed by the disdain of the secular media and the hostility of many political elites. It is surely the nation’s longest running annual demonstration in defense of the most powerless.
At the same time, the political polarization that has frozen the gears of government has locked us into a frigid status quo. The political parties exploit their respective sides on the issue for material gain, always promising some final victory down the road, and those of us who see pro-life as not just a campaign slogan but as a comprehensive moral ecology are left wondering if polarization is exactly what some people really want.
Yet there are signs that a growing number of pro-lifers want a movement that breaks out of the stereotypes, that transgresses the partisan divide. At the pro-life march last January, there were signs defending immigrants and refugees. There were signs decrying war, reminiscent of the 1980s movement Prolifers for Survival. There were various groups calling themselves feminists for life, gays for life, atheists for life.
Especially among the young, but not just the young, there seems to be a growing desire to recognize that being pro-life means caring for more than just the defenseless unborn. These days, the defenseless born aren’t doing too well either.
There is a hunger for a moral consistency and a political viewpoint that can’t be found in a political party that watches passively as children with Down syndrome and other disabilities are aborted into extinction, or a political party that cuts aid programs for the poorest while cutting taxes for the richest.
Some folks are calling this search for greater moral consistency “pro-life 2.0.” And this is where the recent movement for sensible gun laws may provide an opportune moment.
Gun violence is a pro-life issue. In 2016, more than 38,000 were killed by guns. Twice as many more were wounded. Perhaps not the million that are lost to abortion, but when one factors in the families and neighborhoods, schools and workplaces that are devastated by such violence, the numbers add up.
Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. Smith & Wesson-assisted suicide is still self-murder, is still morally abhorrent. Thousands of children are killed or wounded each year, and the presence of guns increases the risk of domestic violence turning lethal.
Modest gun control measures may not be on the agenda of every pro-lifer, but the high suicide rates and murder rates among the young, among men, among the poor should be. It would be great if future gun control marches had a visible pro-life presence, which in turn might spark a genuine discussion about the common good and what we as a society can do to protect the innocent and the defenseless.
There was another handmade sign I saw at the March 24 “March for Our Lives” in Washington. Its block letters read: “No more empty desks.” There are a lot of empty desks in our country — because of abortion and because of gun violence. It’s a pro-life plea a lot of people would be willing to support.
Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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