Guns & Religion

Since the Newtown school killings, and the capitalizing on this horror by Barrack Obama and other politicians to push for further restrictions on the right of citizens to own and bear arms – including a proposed ban on so-called “assault weapons” – it seems that quite a few Catholic churchmen and media figures have been quick to jump aboard the “gun control” bandwagon – sometimes going so far as to paint those of us Catholics who oppose such “gun control” policies as dissenters opposed to “Church teaching,” or being “not pro-life.”  Not surprisingly, quite a bit of controversy and drama has arisen among Catholics over this issue.

The drama intensified following a (highly misleading) CNS story alleging that the Catholic Church teaches that “firearms in the hands of civilians should be strictly limited, and eventually completely eliminated,” and came to a head when Vatican media spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi made statements in his weekly editorial supporting Obama’s “gun control” initiatives as a “step in the right direction” towards the goal of eliminating civilian gun ownership.

Popular left-leaning Catholic blogger Mark Shea followed with a defense of Lombardi and attacks on the “gun culture” and “nutjob secessionists” who support a right to bear arms for self-defense.

Last weekend, while visiting family out-of-state, I saw in the local diocesan paper a CNS story celebrating Vincent DeMarco’s organization’s “faith-based” efforts to get “gun-control” legislation enacted, as well as a column by the local bishop, which, among other things, accused those in favor of allowing people to own “assault weapons” of being “not pro-life.”

So, from listening to much of the mainstream “Catholic” media, you would quickly conclude that Catholic moral teaching is solidly against civilian ownership of firearms, and that any Catholic opposed to restrictions or bans on the right to own and bear arms is a dissenter from Church teaching, and at least border-line heretical.

The truth is that, on the contrary, the Church has no binding moral teaching against the ownership of any type of firearm by private citizens, nor are Catholics in any way obligated to support the various “gun control” measures proposed by Obama and other leftist politicians.  Neither Fr. Lombardi, nor any of the other Vatican officials cited has a shred of binding magisterial authority.

The Church teaches, rather, that all people have a right to self-defense against an aggressor, using lethal force if necessary.  Furthermore, the Church teaches that persons have a “right and grave duty” to defend those whose lives are entrusted to them against aggressors.  (This would include men protecting their families from attackers.)

The following is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.66

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

The prior-mentioned CNS article quotes from the last sentence to claim that Church teaching restricts use of arms to employees of the state, or holding “legitimate authority,” but the dishonesty of this assertion is clear from reading the passage in context.  The last sentence refers to police work and such against “aggressors against the civil community,” but there is nothing in that passage to negate the use of arms by civilians to defend their lives or those of others.

Some argue that so-called “assault weapons” such as the AR-15 (which are no different than semi-automatic hunting rifles, except for their military-looking aesthetics) or high-capacity magazines are unnecessary to defend oneself.  While this may be largely true when dealing with, say, a single mugger, there are real documented situations in which more ammo may have to be expended when defending against multiple armed attackers.

Many people in debates on the subject have brought up Korean shop-owners using semi-automatic weapons for defense during the infamous “Rodney King” riots in L.A. in the early ‘90s.  This should serve as a reminder of how quickly order can break down even in a supposedly “civilized” major city.  I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to believe that even larger breakdowns in public order may occur in the foreseeable future due to political unrest, or natural, man-made, or economic disaster.  While most of us would hope to never be in a situation where use of such weapons is necessary, I think the old Boy Scout motto (before they went all gay) can still apply:  Be Prepared.

The bottom line is that I don’t believe it’s the place of the government to dictate to law-abiding citizens exactly what kind of weapon and how much ammo is necessary for defense in every conceivable situation, and there’s no pressing need for the State to hack away at the right of citizens to bear arms for self-defense.

As I’ve said before, existing gun laws have proven woefully ineffective at preventing violence by the “bad guys,” who will find ways to unlawfully obtain guns or to commit massacres without firearms.  (The largest mass-killings on American soil in recent times, 9-11 and the Oklahoma City bombings, were committed without guns.)

All “gun-control” legislation will do is further compromise the ability of private citizens to defend themselves against aggressors.

As Catholics, we believe the Church teaches infallibly only regarding matters of faith and morals, when taught dogmatically through the magisterium.  Vatican officials and media spokesmen have no magisterial authority, nor do the prudential or political opinions of individual churchmen, including the Pope himself.  The idea that government “gun-control” measures and disarming of private citizens is necessary is a prudential judgment, and a poor one at that.

Over the past several decades, the US Bishops and other churchmen have jumped onto a number of left-leaning political causes, including “gun control,” amnesty for illegal aliens, environmentalism, and greater government regulation of the economy – usually touting ever-bigger and more intrusive centralized government as the cure to all our ills.

Many in the Church seem to have a naïve, overly-benign view of the modern state – which is in reality hardly amicable to the Church’s interests.  Thus, our good bishops were shocked when the socialist medicine policies they have long ardently supported came back to bite them in the collective ass with the HHS mandate denying Catholics freedom of religious conscience.

In these spiritually-ignorant times, the majority of Catholics and non-Catholics alike are not well-informed enough to distinguish from infallible moral teachings, and prudential political opinions.  Thus, the dabbling of Church officials in “liberal” secular politics has the unfortunate effect of creating confusion regarding actual Church teaching on faith and morals, which gets lost amidst the political noise.  For the average “low-information” pew-sitter, Catholic moral teaching on matters such as abortion, birth-control, and sexual behavior carries no more or less weight than political opinionizing on gun control and the like.

I say it’s past time church officials got out of secular left-wing politics, and returned focus to the timeless moral teachings of the Church – on which there is so much ignorance and confusion.

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