Chicago’s anti-gun rallies won’t stop the violence

It’s summer in Chicago, which means Independence Day won’t be the only night with bombs bursting in air. The city’s public school officials thought they’d get out in front of the warm-weather gun violence by enlisting religious leaders and their churches to help curb the bloodshed.

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On July 2, over 100 churches on the far south and west sides of the city held “anti-violence” rallies. Elementary school students took to the streets with signs that read “More Peace, Less Guns” and chanted “put the guns down!”

If the pre-made signs are any indication, the rallies weren’t so much “anti-violence” as they were “anti-gun.”

Tragically, the rallies had no apparent effect. Eighty-two people were shot over the holiday weekend in Chicago, 16 of them fatally. The surge in violence led some religious leaders to speak out. Rev. Al Sharpton called for an “anti-violence summit.” Rev. Jesse Jackson called for $2 billion in aid from Washington. A hashtag campaign trended in social media.

And President Obama’s one-time spiritual advisor, Fr. Michael Pfleger, was among the first to the microphones. “With these kind of numbers in Chicago,” Pfleger told the city’s ABC affiliate, “from the White House on down to the city there should be a response.” While the president was silent about violence occurring not too far from his Chicago home, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn joined Fr. Pfleger last weekend in another South Side march.

“I believe governor,” Pfleger addressed Quinn before the crowd, “that the violence we’re facing right now in America, particularly in Chicago, this is our Katrina.”

That was not the first time the renegade priest has taken some liberties with rhetoric. In May 2007, Pfleger notoriously encouraged an anti-gun crowd to “snuff” out a local gun seller.

Pfleger later claimed he didn’t mean it, but his Archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, didn’t believe him. Then in May 2008, as election-watchers vividly remember, Pfleger delivered a sermon from Jeremiah Wright’s pulpit that mocked Hillary Clinton. The cardinal sent Pfleger on a 2-week retreat for that dust up.

When it comes to guns, Pfleger is wont to offer his political opinions. He frequently appears at political press conferences to support various pieces of gun control legislation and recently told an Arizona radio station that he didn’t think “a priest or a pastor should be in ownership of a gun.”

As far as disarmament goes, Pfleger seems to be in-line with his church.

After the Newtown massacre in 2012, the bishops admitted that gun violence does “encompass many areas with various complexities,” but they presented their specific policy proposals anyway. The conference released a statement that reiterated previous calls — as early as 1990 — for the “elimination” of handguns.

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace suggested that States ought to “impose a strict control on the sale of handguns and small arms. Limiting the purchase of such arms,” the Roman curia argue in a 2006 document, “would certainly not infringe upon the rights of anyone.”

But that might patronize the faithful. For a time, Chicago enforced the most restrictive gun laws in the country. It also led the nation in gun violence. Pfleger and his ilk held weekly rallies denouncing firearms, but to no avail.

Academics can debate the reliability of gun violence statistics (and they are tricky), but the reality on the streets of Chicago during the height of the city’s gun ban demonstrates that the bishops’ campaign to eliminate guns is imprudent.

When it comes to street violence, the bishops and other religious leaders should stick to what they know. Pastors probably don’t have time to understand the latest crime statistics or parse any number of gun bills making their way through Congress, and nor should they.

Clerics are spiritual shepherds, not political ones. When prelates pretend to be policy wonks, it dilutes their authority on moral issues. Instead of endorsing specific gun policy proposals, the bishops might do well to warn against the collapse of the family.

The crisis of children who are born out of wedlock and raised in single-parent households is a key contributing factor to urban street violence. No gun law can adequately address that epidemic.

“The problem is black criminality,” the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley wrote last week, “which is a function of black pathology, which ultimately stems from the breakdown of the black family.”

Bishops know a thing or two about that, but it is rarely on their lips.

Fr. Pfleger won’t go there either. But he might want to take a cue from an old friend in the White House. President Obama remarked on Father’s Day 2010 that, “Government can’t be there day in, day out, to provide discipline and guidance and the love that it takes to raise a child. That’s our job as fathers, as mothers, as guardians for our children.”

Parents and pastors alike don’t have to agree about guns to say Amen to that.

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