Fabiola Santiago

God forbid she served on Planned Parenthood board. But gun maker? That’s just dandy.

The ripples of the Parkland school shooting are never-ending. Everyday brings a new indignity to the forefront.

A week before Nikolas Cruz gunned down 17 students and educators armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle — a shooting that has prompted unprecedented activism and changed the stalemate status of the gun control conversation in America — the new chief financial officer of St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens added on an unusual role.

Anita Britt became a member of the board of trustees of American Outdoor Brands, the parent company of Smith & Wesson, manufacturers of Cruz’s firearm, the AR-15, favorite of mass murderers.

Even before the second-deadliest school shooting in the country took place in our own backyard, Britt’s dual commitments to a Catholic institution and a gun manufacturer in lockstep with the NRA should have raised eyebrows.

That in its aftermath the association is being condoned and explained away with a listing of NRA talking points by the university’s president, the Rev. Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale, is downright outrageous.

Casale
The Rev. Monsignor Franklyn Casale, president of St. Thomas University, has defended the university CFO’s membership on the board of the manufacturer of the AR-15, the weapon Nikolas Cruz used in the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Roberto Koltun El Nuevo Herald

St. Thomas is based in a community that has endured countless gun violence tragedies, the kind that only a ban on assault weapons can begin to address. The Florida Legislature failed to pass such a ban in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings.

And here again, that pain and reality is not taken into account by one of our universities.

Then there’s the position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which quite clearly favors “a total ban on assault weapons,” universal background checks for all gun purchases, limitations on civilian access to high-capacity weapons and magazines, and “regulations and limitations on the purchasing of handguns.”

The Catholic hierarchy, placing the value of human life above other considerations, feels strongly about the life-threatening effects of our gun-worshipping culture. Almost, I’d say, as strongly as it feels about abortion.

But while Britt’s serving on the board of Planned Parenthood might have prompted her firing, Casale downplayed her gig at the gun manufacturer in an explanatory letter to the university community.

“Ms. Britt’s position with American Outdoor Brands provides her the opportunity to participate in helping the company achieve its objectives of making our communities safer,” he wrote, adding that “her role with the company does not conflict with her responsibilities here at St. Thomas.”

Britt referred Herald calls to St. Thomas’ communications office, which in turn referred to Casale’s statement.

Some faculty and students aren’t staying silent at the administration’s strange disconnect on the issue and the lack of accountability to the community at large.

A petition is circulating asking for Britt to end her association with “a company that profits from making and selling the AR-15 rifles used in numerous school shootings and mass shootings across America.”

Despite fears of retaliation, the faculty forum’s executive committee has approved a resolution of disagreement with the university’s administration, and all its members will vote on it on Thursday.

“I’m shocked at the resounding acceptance that this was a wise decision. If Ms. Britt was a board member in a contraceptive company, they would be up in arms and I wouldn’t be surprised if they even fired her,” Darrell Arnold, a professor of ethics and philosophy and vice chair of the forum, told me.

BARRY AND ST THOMAS UNIVERSITY a epf
The west entrance of St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens. PATRICK FARRELL pfarrell@miamiherald.com

He’s right. The Catholic Church shows little tolerance for employees who don’t toe the line on religious doctrine. I recently wrote about a beloved first-grade teacher at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School, a gay woman who was fired for marrying her partner and posting a photo of the wedding on social media. Despite overwhelming support from parents, she remains fired from the job at which by all accounts she excelled.

So what does St. Thomas have to gain by Britt’s association with a gun manufacturer? Nothing. What does American Outdoor Brands Company and Smith & Wesson gain?

“It benefits from having a Catholic aligned with its institution to represent Christian values and American values,” Arnold says.

He’s concerned that Britt’s association will affect recruitment, especially from neighboring Broward, at a time when students, sick of the killings and the lack of action, have become game-changer activists, a voice for their generation.

“We come to this institution,” he says, “out of a commitment to Catholic social justice issues,” including gun control.

University students work hands-on with community organizations on immigration, affordable housing and gang-gun violence.

An association with one of America’s largest manufacturers of assault weapons is hardly a good fit for St. Thomas.

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