When a community member brought to the attention of the president of St. Thomas University that his new CFO had become part of the board of trustees of one of America’s largest manufacturers of assault weapons, Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale initially didn’t see a conflict.
The Florida Legislature had made some progress on unprecedented gun legislation and Casale bought into the argument that CFO Anita Britt’s paid gig with American Outdoor Brands — the parent company of Smith & Wesson, manufacturers of the firearm used by the Parkland shooter and favored by other mass murderers as well — wouldn’t reflect badly on the Miami Gardens-based school.
He bought into the company’s public-relations narrative that it is a responsible corporate citizen combating gun violence, not one in lockstep with the NRA against gun control, and Casale thought Britt could be a positive voice inside the gun manufacturer.
“My frame of mind was anything that helps reduce gun violence, I’m all for it,” Casale told me Tuesday. “Having a person influence somehow the reduction of violence seemed to be a good idea.”
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What a misjudgment.
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.
How could the Catholic university endorse an affiliation that’s far from a fit for a campus known for its social justice mission, including human rights activism? University students work hands-on with community organizations on immigration, affordable housing and gang gun violence. The law school’s Intercultural Human Rights Center is highly regarded.
“We’ve had a stellar reputation,” Casale rightfully boasts.
But he was caught off guard by how quickly internal and public opinion moved against Britt. Two law students were particularly eloquent in making the case that their CFO shouldn’t be serving the maker of the weapons they’re so afraid of.
Bombarded by media inquiries, a petition asking for Britt to end her association, and facing a faculty vote in protest of Britt’s affiliation, Casale says he told Britt on Monday night that she had to make a choice.
“I came to the conclusion that St. Thomas was being associated with gun violence and that was not an image I thought was good for the university,” he told me. “That simply is not the case. We are all for changing laws that help protect citizens better.”
On Tuesday afternoon, he accepted Britt’s resignation.
She chose the arms manufacturer over the Catholic university. Student and faculty activism won the day again.
Good riddance, I say.