Catholicism and guns: a prudential judgment

In his January 27th article in Our Sunday Visitor, Brian Fraga has prognosticated that the national conversation about gun control “will have a distinct Catholic voice with the nation’s bishops advocating strengthening regulations of firearms as a necessary component of building a culture of life.”

Later on in the article, to my sorrow, The Catholic University of America’s own President John Garvey is indirectly quoted to similar effect as favoring gun control in the context of “fostering a culture of life.”

I want to point out that first, this position on gun control is in not de fide, a truth that every faithful Catholic must hold. Rather, this is a prudential judgment of the American bishops. How do I know that? I would simply point you back to the same Our Sunday Visitor article, where Mr. Fraga correctly notes that the Catechism of the Catholic Church “does not directly address private gun ownership, though No. 2264 affirms that people have the right to defend themselves, even using deadly force if necessary.”

The right to self-defense, I would hold, is de fide, part of the teaching of the Church through the ages–thus its inclusion in the Catechism. In fact, the Catechism has an even stronger statement on this matter, which Mr. Fraga curiously omits. No. 2265 of the Catechism reads thus:

“Legitimate defense can not only be a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life, the common good of the family or of the state.”

A grave duty. If such a legitimate defense is indeed a “grave duty” for parents and perhaps even teachers, why shouldn’t they be encouraged to avail themselves of the best tools possible for the job? It would be heroic indeed were a single mother to attempt to fight off a child abduction with a purse. But it is not likely to be effective. Wouldn’t the right to an end (defending one’s family) logically entail the right to an effective means (like a handgun)? The alternative is to believe that the Lord is asking parents to do something, and then making it virtually impossible for them to do it. That is obviously incompatible with the goodness of God.

But, it might be argued, if all handguns were eventually eliminated in America, as the American bishops favored in footnote 36 to their 2000 document Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration, then there would be no need for parents to have guns for defensive purposes: martial arts training and pepper spray would do nicely. Unfortunately, this is also a complete abstraction from reality. Let’s assume–a big assumption–that the attackers have no firearms. It changes nothing. Even a two hundred-pound parent, no matter how well-trained, would be no match for multiple assailants–and that’s the funny thing about criminals: they often work in groups. I would add to this the fact that such logic discriminates against the poor. Martial arts training is far costlier than a handgun. No, the fact remains that in such cases there is no other means of self-defense nearly as effective as a handgun.

I would leave you, then, with this question: can we truly foster a culture of life if we attempt to impede the defense of innocent life? As Catholics, we need to think through this problem more deeply and prayerfully.Image.

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