The Catholic Church advocates for the culture of life, for peace, for building the Kingdom of God on Earth. To do so, we must turn our pistols into plowshares; promoting harmony in our world rather than violence. While individuals may have a limited right to carry a deadly firearm, whether and how to exercise that right is a moral decision that must be made carefully and in accordance with our Catholic belief in the dignity and sanctity of all life.
Since the tragic events in Newtown, Conn. last December, some commentators have turned to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" to support arguments favoring even fewer restrictions on gun ownership and use. Many of these arguments center on the Church’s statements about the right to self-defense. But self-defense in the Catholic catechism does not easily translate into a right to carry a firearm whenever and wherever one chooses. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has drawn that line, ruling as recently as 2008 that the Second Amendment does not create an unlimited right to be armed.
Within Catholic teaching, self-defense means a right to protect life using reasonable means. Carrying a firearm as a daily habit is not about protecting life as a matter of self-defense. In fact, carrying a firearm increases the likelihood that the person will use it to threaten or take a life in a moment of anger. Stories abound of people faced with the lifelong regret of reaching too quickly for a firearm in response to a temporary but emotionally charged situation that has nothing to do with self-defense.
Likewise, carrying a gun is not a reasonable means of protecting oneself. Statistically, the chance of being killed by your own gun is far greater than the likelihood of being attacked by a random, gun-wielding stranger. As guns and ammunition become more lethal over time, the risk that an overreaction or accident will be deadly makes putting such firepower in the hands of the untrained even less reasonable.
More importantly, the creation of a culture that glorifies guns and encourages individuals to wear dangerous weapons at all times is contrary to the Catholic belief in the sanctity and dignity of human life. The Catechism reminds us that "those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity ... They bear witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death."
In other words, refusing to carry a deadly weapon is not only safer, it is an act consistent with our belief that we are all one body, and all life has meaning and value.
Life is a gift from God. We are obligated to respect and protect life, but must do so in ways that are appropriate. The sad reality is that people are being killed by guns in our country at an alarming and consistent rate. We can’t just pretend that guns are not involved in some way or another. We need to address the prevalence of guns in our neighborhoods and the disturbing trend of viewing the proliferation of these dangerous weapons as not only acceptable, but desirable. We need to be reminders to our fellow men and women that self-defense is about protecting life, not threatening the lives of others.
Many individuals on both sides of the gun violence debate are strong proponents of life. I know many share an interest in protecting the most vulnerable. What I and the Catholic Church seek is to build on this common ground of protecting life to achieve common-sense gun legislation. Let’s abandon ideas that foster a culture of death and come together with the common goal of passing laws and other measures that will reduce gun violence and promote the sanctity of life.