Of Guns, Dreamers, and Politics

by Fred Kammer, S.J., J.D.

The headlines staring from my morning newspapers are all too familiar: Another unstable person uses an automatic weapon to slaughter teenagers at their high school and the U.S. Senate stumbles again on immigration reforms. We have been down both roads far too many times and bemoaned our inability to take common sense steps to remove combat weapons from our communities or to reasonably accommodate people fleeing poverty, starvation, and war. The world’s oldest continuous democracy flails about in the face of real but not insoluble problems.

Despair is not an option. While almost everyone acknowledges the current heightened political polarization, we must not abandon the political process. Political participation is one essential way in which we exercise our responsibility for co-creating the world entrusted to us by God and through which we express the communitarian nature of the human person. “Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics.”[1] Political participation also enhances human freedom because, “Freedom acquires new strength … when a person consents to the unavoidable requirements of social life, takes on the manifold demands of human partnership, and commits himself to the service of the humancommunity.”[2]

As the U.S. Bishops put it recently, “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.”[3] This obligation flows from our duty to promote the common good and “is inherent in the dignity of the human person.”[4] 

When we look at the issues facing us now, despair tempts us powerfully. Yes, the National Rifle Association repeatedly has used its disproportionate wealth and power in servitude to gun manufacturers to block the expressed desire of the American people for safer streets and safer schools. Yes, unwarranted fears of dark-skinned foreigners have been stoked intentionally for political gain, even from the highest offices in the land. But there is an antidote to despair.

It is hope. Hope tells us that we must go to the public square again and again, demanding what is right and just from policy-makers—whose fundamental moral responsibility is the common good. They must be reminded continually that they are to serve “we the people,” not party, nor donor, nor career. If that is too high a moral standard for them, they should step down; or we the people must remove them from office. Hope tells us that “no” is not an acceptable answer and failure is not an acceptable endpoint.

In 1986, in the face of the Communist oppression of his homeland, Czech poet Václav Havel described hope this way:

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. . . . It is this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.[5]

This irrepressible hope must renew and sustain our ceaseless efforts to create the just and peaceful world longed for by people of good will here and across the world.


[1] Pope Benedict XVI. (2005). Deus Caritas Est: God Is Love, 28.

[2] Second Vatican Council. (1965). Gaudium et Spes: The Church in the Modern World, 31.

[3] U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2015). Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility, 13.

[4] United States Catholic Conference. (1995). Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1913.

[5] Havel, V. (1991). Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Huizdala (Chap. 5). New York: Vintage Books.