Hello again. It has been a while since I wrote last. A lot has happened since that time about which I could have, and perhaps should have, written. Lost opportunities…
I do not want to miss out on this one, however. I was asked to write on a situation where a priest was going to have a CPL (Concealed Pistol License) class at his parish. He even went as far to tell his people that they should take the class and to carry a pistol to protect themselves. In response, his bishop said that a church is no place to have a CPL class. Let us look at this.
I answer in short by saying, “What better place to have one?” Why? In a CPL class one is taught the legal aspects of when to carry, how to carry, when to draw and when to shoot. In a really good class, one is also taught how to avoid situations where one would have need to shoot. An example is: “Do not go where you do not belong!” While you have the right to go to a bar with a bad reputation, one needs to ask oneself: ”Do I have need to go to that particular bar?” You can still go, just know that you may be putting yourself in a situation where you may need to draw and shoot. If you want to avoid such a thing (which I recommend) then do not go there. This is important as one is also taught in a CPL class that the ultimate goal is to never have to draw and certainly never have to shoot. The gun is the last resort when all other avenues have run out. (As a disclaimer, please note that you are not legally allowed to carry a gun in a bar.)
So why would it be a good thing to teach the CPL class in a church? If the Church is sponsoring the class, then they could add other components to the class. Imagine if the CPL class not only taught the legal aspects, but also the moral and doctrinal aspects as well. That would be a well-rounded course for any Catholic. As the Catholic Church, whose duty it is to teach truth, this becomes yet another opportunity for us to teach TRUTH. The fullness of truth and not just the legal aspects.
The following are examples of what we could teach:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2263-2267, teaches several things. These teachings fall under the heading of “Legitimate Defense.” It first states the difference between murder (the intentional taking of an innocent persons life) and self-defense (the preservation of ones own life by the killing of an unjust aggressor). Next it teaches that love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality and so it is legitimate that one demand respect for one’s right to life. Continuing, it teaches that one must use moderation in protecting one’s self. One may not use excessive violence. At the same time, it is not necessary for salvation that one omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other person since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s. To show how serious the Catechism is on this issue, it continues to say that legitimate defense cannot only be a right but also a grave duty. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.
With all this in mind, it is true that a person has the right to self-defense. Unfortunately, the Catechism does not say how one is to secure their right to life. It is reasonable to believe, though, that if one has the right to self-defense, that one also has the right to the means of self-defense. What do I mean by that? In the beginning cavemen would fight with their bare hands, then they learned to use stones then spears of sharpened wood, then with the use of sharp stone tips. Then came the sword and the bow and arrow. Then the musket, the riffle and the handgun. At each time in history, one had to have the prevailing weapon of the time to defend himself. Otherwise the aggressor would have the upper hand and one would not be able to defend himself or his family. It is reasonable to say that if one wants to have the opportunity to defend his life, should the need arise, that one needs to have a gun.
Jesus himself said in Luke 22, “and he that hath not, let him sell his coat and buy a sword.” In this same passage, we see Peter drawing his sword and striking the servant of the high priest. We see here that Peter carries a sword – the prevailing weapon of the day that a person would need to defend himself. He was carrying it at the last supper. Jesus did not tell him not to carry a sword, that it was “unbecoming an apostle.” But at that particular moment, Jesus did tell him to put it away. This is an example of a time when it is better to die than to protect.
What is the difference between a good time to defend and other times when it is better to die? If it is a case of martyrdom, to die for the faith as a witness to the faith, then it may be better to die. In any other cases, self-defense may be the better way. Even in the case of martyrdom, I would say that one may find it better to self defense, like a father with several children to feed. No need to unnecessarily burden the wife and mother because of some idiot who hates Catholics.
In any case Jesus did not give evidence of disgust that His apostle had a weapon. He only said that something greater was happening here and that he would have to let it be. We may find the same situation in our life, that something greater than self-defense is occurring and that we may decide to die for it. This is not a case of pacifism. It is not that I am saying we need to be a pacifist, and never use violence, fight, cause harm, or kill. Rather I am saying that one may choose to fight a different battle than the one of self–defense. A battle that takes a different kind of heroism, a different kind of action. Note that I am calling for action, for bravery, for justice. The action of a martyr is not one of a coward, but is bold and beautiful. To die over one’s shoes – that is just a wasted life. Better to kill than to be killed in that case.
Note further, that when the Catechism speaks of the common good, it REQUIRES that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. I do a good and virtuous deed when I protect the common good. If I let a man kill me, how many more innocent people (women and children) will he kill? I have a legitimate, legal and moral opportunity to prevent any further unjust, immoral and evil transgressions against the common good. If I fail, due to inaction, when I had an opportunity, then shame on me.
We want to remember that God is not against violence. Violence is not evil in and of itself. God uses violence all the time. The flood. The plagues. The Passover. The incident in the Red Sea. The incidents at the foot of Mount Horeb and Mount Carmel. The many wars he called the Jews to fight. Again and again and again, we find violence in the Bible with God as the instigator. There is a time for war and a time for peace. This is wisdom, to know the difference and to act with prudence.
Violence is only evil when used for evil. We would all say that violence is also something that we want to avoid if at all possible. Agreed, so long as when it IS required we are ready and willing to act. To not act at such a time becomes an act of shameful cowardice – a vice and a sin. One must act, to the extent that he is capable, for his own good and then for the common good. Note that no Catholic has ever been able to claim on the basis of being a Catholic that he is a conscientious objector. Further we note how many Catholics join the military and police force. We have always been on the front line fighting for goodness, truth, and justice.
All these things and more, we can teach at a CPL class. So why not? Are we afraid of truth? Do we have an irrational fear of guns? OH NO! “Guns kill people!” – No, bad people kill people using all sorts of weapons, not only guns: knives, poison, cars, bare hands, pillows, baseball bats, hammers, screwdrivers, water, tall buildings, rope, electricity, and the list goes on.
I want to cover two more situations where Church teaching can be presented at a CPL class. The first is Castle Doctrine and the second is the idea of police being the First Responder.
In any situation we find ourselves where we have need to defend our lives, we have the first duty to flee the situation. Only when one is not able to flee, then they may stand and fight.
The Castle Doctrine says that in the home, one does not have to first flee, but can simply stand and fight, including the use of deadly force. To use deadly force, morally in any situation, one needs to have some reasonable belief that his life is in immanent danger or that he may suffer grave harm. In the home, this sense of danger is more readily achieved. One needs to believe that if someone breaks into their home, that this same person is also ready to kill or cause grave harm to the residents in order to avoid going to jail or being killed themselves.
The use of the Castle Doctrine is not for the purpose of protecting ones material things. Between life and material things, life always takes precedence. It is only in the life vs. life or life vs. serious personal harm that one can take life. What is “Serious Harm?” Think of all the harm that comes ones way when the home is violated. Forget the loss of material possessions, even important mementoes. Material things can be replaced and memories are in the heart not the material items, as important as they may be.
Think of the personal harm. First is the physical harm. If I am harmed in a way that I would am physically no longer able to do my job, then I cannot feed my family. Physical harm can also mean I can no longer feed or dress myself. I can simply mean that I lose my quality of life, no longer able to do the things I love to do. Remember the RIGHT to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Another type of harm comes form the fact that the home is one’s castle and place of safety and security. When this is violated, the psychological harm is grave and can have lasting and devastating effects well into the future. This is true, even if one is not home at the time of the break-in. Personal safety and security is not a novelty, a license or a convenience. It is a basic human right. It is one of the first survival instincts we have. After food and water, one seeks shelter and security. It is vital to human survival and psychological well being. No one has a right to take it from us. The home is sacrosanct. You violate it, you place your own life into the hands of another. It is THAT serious.
Some might say, just give them your stuff and they will go. This is not true. You have seen their face. It is true that many people have done everything the assailant asked and still were killed in the end. Turning over your wallet is no assurance that you will live. Not any more, not in today’s twisted society. At one time it was true that if you handed over your wallet you would live, today that is no longer the case. To act reasonably and responsibly, one has to take his current social condition into account when deciding whether he should use deadly force or not.
Protecting the Domestic Church, the home, is a primary duty of the father. Jesus protected His Father’s house when it was violated and made a den of thieves. It is further a father’s duty to make sure his wife is ready and able to defend the home front when he is away. The children too when they are old enough and mature enough.
The second point is to mention that some think the police are there to protect us and we should let them do their job. This is a dangerous way to think. I have a great respect for police. I have been the chaplain to a police department and have been on several ride alongs with others. But we know that when seconds matter, police are minutes away. This is not an insult to them. They cannot physically be everyplace. What this means is that police are not the “First Responders” as they are commonly called today. Think about it. A person is robbing me. Who is the first person that needs to respond to the situation? ME! I am the first responder to my own situation. That response may be to dial 911, but often there is no time, I must act now.
It is agreed that once the police are there, they are the best trained to meet the needs of the situation and that we should stand back and let them do their job. But until they get there, we must deal with the situation as best as we can without (God willing) getting hurt or killed.
Who is the Second Responder? Any bystanders. How would you feel if you saw someone getting raped and you could have done something if only you had gun? But no, the best I can do is break out my phone dial 911 and take pictures. The police show up 30 minutes later and take your statement. The poor lady, well, she is too traumatized or dead to give a statement by that time. In other words, police are the Third Responders. Thank God when they get there, we hope they can find the guy before he rapes again.
Let us empower our people with legal, doctrinal and moral truth so they can make the best decisions that they can in the God given right to self-defense of themselves and their loved ones. For this reason and more, the Church is a GREAT place to have a CPL class.