Self Defense

Right to Keep and Bear Arms…

Right to Self-Preservation…

A Catholic Moral Imperative?


The consistent traditional moral teaching of the Catholic Church on self-preservation is clear. This is true even in the acclaimed teachings in one of the most recent books the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Under the topic “Legitimate defense” numbers 2263-2267 the Church teaches that individuals, those with the care of others, and the state all have rights and obligations to protect innocent life even with the use of deadly force when necessary.


CCC 2264 states that, “Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life.” Notice the important points. “Love toward oneself” is a natural and good thing. Jesus recognized this when he ask us to love others the same as we love our self. In fact, this love of self is so good that it is a principle of morality. In other words, it is at the heart and soul of how we come to moral conclusions. It cannot be ignored nor contradicted. With this in mind, the teaching continues to INSIST on respect for one’s own RIGHT to life. It does not suggest or recommend or think it would be nice if others would consider it, it INSISTS, it demands.


CCC 2265 states that, “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.” First we see the use of the word “legitimate” and this is a good and necessary word to be used when talking about self-defense and the defenses of others. Legitimate means more than the lawful or permissible thing to do. It also means the sound, well founded, justifiable, reasonable, sensible, just and fair thing to do. In other words, it needs to be the necessary and right course of action in the midst of a terrible situation. It cannot be done out of anger or revenge or any other evil reason. It must be done to promote the good intension of preserving your life or the life of another innocent person as a response to “love of self” or for the common good of society.


CCC 2265 states that self-defense is not only a right. As a right we can do it, but we do not have to if we do not want to (CCC 2306 speaks more on the right to be a pacifist.) The beauty of a right, is that you can do it or not, it is up to you. BUT with CCC 2265 it cautions us. It states that self-defense can be not only a right, but also a grave duty. A duty is something that is of obligation, we must do it, we cannot say no. And not only is it a duty, it is a grave duty, an important and necessary duty, a duty not to be taken lightly or ignored. It is not like saying “OPPS! I forgot to take out the garbage.” It is elevated to a moral dictate that is of serious importance. It is matter for mortal sin if you fail.


Here is an example. People will agree that people have the right to protect themselves, but they themselves would never kill as if to say that to not kill is of a higher moral value and that killing is something unworthy of a holy person. If we are talking about dying for the faith, to be a martyr, then I would agree. Otherwise we must consider the common good. What moral good does one do if he lets someone kill him? You can stand there as a pacifist or a coward, whichever you are at that moment, and let the unjust aggressor kill you. But remember that this person is just going to go and kill another and another. How many must suffer at his hands before he is stopped? Do not just think of the individual lives that are taken. What of their spouse, children, family and friends that suffer for their lose? What of the social unrest it causes, people living in fear? In that situation one may have a moral obligation to kill if they can so that others are not harmed. This is for the common good of society and the promotion of peace and justice.


What of the pacifist rights in CCC 2306? It says they may do so “provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies.” It is like the right to swing ones arm. You have the right to do so, but that right ends at the tip of another persons nose. A person’s right to be a pacifist (or coward as the case may be) ends when it interferes with another persons right to self-defense. An example may be this:

You do not like guns, You would never kill for any reason even to preserve your own life. You are a pacifist. This is well and good if for the right reasons and not simply out of cowardice. In either case, you may not say that others may not have the means (including guns) to protect their lives and the lives of their families. That is a legitimate duty of a parent, to protect and defend the family from an unjust aggressor. Since it is their right and duty as parents and as individuals, they also have the right to posses the prevailing means of the day to protect themselves and their families. A pacifist may not then vote in a democracy or even give legitimacy to ruling or governing officials that it is some how good or beneficial to take these rights away from good law abiding citizens.


Thomas Aquinas, the greatest mind ever in the Church, is quoted in CCC 2264. He teaches that “it is not 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.” Moderate self defense refers to the need to not use more force than necessary to preserve your life. This is a good and necessary teaching so that we do not unnecessarily cause more harm to others than we have to. We must respect life, this is an absolute moral principal also. Thomas Aquinas says that we may omit the act of moderate self-defense, how can this be? Take the scenario where a man has a gun pointed at you. You are able to draw your gun and you shoot. He is still up and holding is gun. You do not know if he is able to still shoot or not and you still feel your life in danger. You shoot again and again. You empty your gun on him. If we were omnipotent, we might have known that the third shoot would have been enough. Problem, only God is omnipotent. You did not know this. You did not have time to shoot and ask, “Are you down yet?” Shoot again and ask, “Are you down yet?” Shoot again… That would be silly. Even police are taught to shoot until the threat is eliminated. By doing this we omit the principal of moderate self defense, but in another way, we are upholding it. We shoot until the threat is eliminated from our perspective, not God’s. This is the right and moral course of action. In other words, we do not eliminate the threat, the man is still alive and so we go up and pop one last bullet in the head to finish him off. This would not be moderate self-defense but would then be murder.


This brings us to the question of the right to keep and bear arms. This is a moral right and a hardy “Thank you” to the Founding Fathers for having produced the 2nd amendment. This amendment allows us to target shoot for fun, hunt for food, to protect our self and our family, to be prepared if there should be an invading army, and to protect our self even form our own government if need be (we pray that it never is, but it is allowed by the Declaration of Independence and CCC 2243 when certain conditions are meet).


The 2nd Amendment speaks a well regulated militia being necessary, not optional. Because of this, “the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Combine this with the 4th Amendment. While it is speaking of search and seizure, it begins by stating a right that people have. It says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects…” We have a right to feel secure. If having a weapon does this, then what concern of it is it to others, so long as the person does not threaten you with it (unless you are an aggressor). Notice this right to feel secure in my person, in my house (my castle where I am king), and in my property. There is what is known as the Castle Law today where if one is in his home, he does not have an obligation to flee if he can rather than use deadly force. In his house a man may stand his ground and fight.


The 2nd amendment along with the right recognized in the 4th are important because we do have a human, moral and religious right to protect ourselves and our property. We do not have to wait for police to do it for us. If they are present, then we should let them do it as they are better trained to do so. If police are not there then we are the only recourse to the protection we have a right to. This necessitates that we have the means to protect ourselves. If bad guys have a knife then I should have the right to have a knife. If the bad guys have a semiautomatic then so should we. We have the right to meet force with force. We have the right to have whatever can counteract what is the prevailing weapon of the day. This is not stated in any formal teaching but it follows from the right too protect one’s self. If we do not have the means, then what good is having the right?


What of the size of the clip for the gun? I love this saying, “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer!” I would hope not. That would be a bad hunter. In fact, every deer I have taken down, I did so with one shoot with the exception of my first deer that took two shoots. I do not know of any hunters that are asking for 10 of more shoot guns to kill a deer. I do know of many, many people who are asking for 10 or more shoots to be properly prepared for any eventuality of self-defense.


What do we mean of any eventuality? We have only been speaking of a threat as if only one person was causing us harm or threat. What if there is more than one person coming at us? Some bad guys work in pairs and more. Not to mention that there are these things called gangs. While we are a civilized society, it is also true that we are never more than one disaster away from anarchy. When things get bad, people will turn to anarchy (lawlessness). When you have a mob come at you, you have the right to self-defense. How are we to protect ourselves and our families from these things? We had a recent event where a woman emptied a 6-shoot revolver on a man in order to eliminate the threat and he was still able to get up and get away. What if there were two men coming at her, she would have needed a 12-shoot gun. This idea that you do not need a 15 or 30 or whatever round clip is absurd. You have no idea what threat is going to come your way. What is wrong if a man wants to be ready for any legitimate contingency to protect himself and his family? If he is prepared for the possibility of a gang or mob coming to cause harm to him and his family, but never has to do it, what does it matter if he has the clips and never uses them?


Further still what of controlling where one carries a gun? Many states limit concealed carry in such places as: schools, daycares, bars (even if you are not drinking), theaters, sporting events, churches, and federal buildings. As long as a person is a law-abiding citizen, with no mental disorders, why are they not allowed to have the means to protect themselves? Do you think that bad guys do not know where guns are prohibited? Remember that only good guys obey the law. Bad guys know this and so know where to safely target the good guys. It is safe because they know the good guys will not carry their guns in a no gun zone. We become an easy pray for the bad guys. So a good guy goes to church to honor his God that gave him the right to self-defense is now denied that right by man, leaving him a pry to the roaring lion. And yes I intended the use of the word “pry” that the bad guy does in comparison to the “pray” that the good guy would have done if he were not gun down defenselessly.


Think of recent events. Where have the gunmen gone on their shooting sprees? They are no gun zones, schools and theaters. Next will be churches.


CCC 2316 does speak of some legitimate control by the government. It states, “The production and the sale of arms affects the common good of nations and of the international community. Hence public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them.” I believe that this teaching is incomplete, as it does not place any restrictions on the government’s role in restricting arms. History and the CCC point to the fact that not only individuals, but governments also misuse and abuse arms. History illuminates the reality that when governments take away arms, they turn to tyranny and abuse the people. History also points out that most people who do bear arms, never abuse them. It is the bad guys, much fewer in number, that abuse the right to have a weapon and use them to harm people.


What I believe the Church is trying to say in CCC 2316 is that people who should not have guns should be regulated. This includes those with mental disabilities (including PTSD), those with a violent felony record and those under the age of 18. It could also mean that a person is not restricted from having a gun, but that they have to take special, yet reasonable, training first. This does not violate any rights, and yet upholds the seriousness and importance of owning and using a firearm. Even the NRA promotes the idea that if you are going to have a gun, you should know how to use it and practice with it often.


The cause of this article comes from an article a bishop wrote in reference to a new legislation that would have allowed people with gun carry permits with extra training to carry in some of these no gun zones including churches. This bishop was proud that he asked the governor to veto the new legislation. This leaves me to ask, Bishop why would you deny people the very right that the faith you profess gives them?

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