The American right to bear arms is quickly becoming a wrong. Exercising the Second Amendment right is not widely considered as a normal social practice, although it is widely considered as a necessary social peril. A sinister connotation abounds in America surrounding firearms—and with reason, but not always good reason. Gun owners are too often and too quickly reckoned with the wicked.
What the world weighs as wicked, however, should give Catholics pause. If we are to live as Christ lived, we must remember His teachings: “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be fulfilled in me: And with the wicked was he reckoned.” Considering the fierce debate over gun control and the fiercer demonizing of gun ownership in the United States today, this text from St. Luke is particularly poignant because of Our Lord’s advice that directly precedes it:
He that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat and buy a sword.
The context for this passage (Luke 22:36) is Christ preparing to enter into His Passion, and giving his disciples directions concerning how to carry on His ministry without Him and through dark days. It is interesting that He instructs his friends and followers to acquire arms just outside of Gethsemane, and then rebukes Peter for lashing out with a sword once the guards arrive. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. But this reproach is not a contradiction of the precedent Christ sets of carrying a sword; neither is His famous and often-quoted admonition of turning the other cheek. Christ’s message is indeed one of peace, but it is also one of the sword. I came not to send peace, but the sword. To carry arms for the defense of life is not living by the sword—as is striking out in rage at a servant when there are soldiers about. A slap on the face is not a life-threatening assault. Turn the other cheek to insult. But draw your sword to preserve innocent life when it is required.
It is a Catholic duty to be pro-life. The term “pro-life” has an immediate and natural association with being anti-abortion. It can, however, be given a broader application. To be pro-life can mean to be an advocate for life in all occasions, standing up against death through abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, stem cell research, war, or homicide. Making use of the best available means of defending the sanctity of life is also a Catholic duty; and sometimes a firearm may be the best available means.
The recent string of gun-related tragedies in this country is not an occasion to impede the sane in their ability to stop the psychopaths. For the most part, the only ones hindered by restrictive gun-ownership laws are the law-abiding. The lawless will have guns regardless of laws. We have all heard the phrase, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Since it is, then, certain people behind guns that commit violent crimes, why make it harder to put those people behind guns that would counteract violent crimes? To a particular type of virtuous man, the Second Amendment bestows the potential to be a lifesaver—which is nothing to take lightly.
While no amount of legislation will abolish villainy, it can abolish chivalry. Reliance on government has all but replaced that highest of human attitudes which historically clashed with criminals in the name of a God-given responsibility to save lives. Does the presence of modern police forces eliminate the ancient, individual dignity of going about armed, prepared to engage the enemies of order? Once upon a time, men were not called knights because they carried weapons on their bodies, but because they carried a code in their hearts. Though the institution of such knighthood is extinct, this is no reason why chivalry should be dead. There is yet a need for the Christian to be terrible unto the wicked and the evildoer. All Christians are yet called to heed the same chivalric code and, even by Church teaching, to defend the lives of the helpless. There are times, unfortunately, when the responsibility to preserve life is best fulfilled with an instrument of death.
G. K. Chesterton was well known to go about with a pistol in his pocket to honor a long-standing Christian principle and a long-lost Christian tradition. And just as that giant would offer his omnibus seat to four ladies, there is no doubt that he would have offered to defend any one lady in a flash should occasion call. Mr. Chesterton was very aware of the poetic aspect of Christianity involved and invoked in the bearing of arms. The Christian believes in the sanctity of life simultaneously with the conviction that some things are worth protecting and worth dying for. To those who recognize the terrorism of a culture of death, the right to bear arms takes on a truly Christian and chivalric significance, combatting a Satanic ideology and those who practice it. The noble, old-fashioned zeal to defend the defenseless may enliven an ignoble, burnt-out society that is dead. As Chesterton wrote in Manalive, “I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him—only to bring him to life.”
The blood shed in places like Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, Washington D.C., LAX, most recently in Centennial, Colorado, and too many others is witness to a dire problem. The core of this problem, however, is not a lack of legislation but a culture where violence is glorified and death is disconnected from reality. Reinforcing the intrinsic value of human life is the remedy, and responsible gun ownership requires taking human life seriously. The general assumption in the United States is that if there are no guns, there will be no violent crimes. This is a false conclusion that actually produces more death by disarming victims and making crime a safer occupation. Guns save lives as well. Culture control, not gun control, is the key to ending violence.
Catholic social teaching surrounding the necessity of the social virtues, the common good, and the commitments and obligations to neighbors, as well as individual rights, should influence this debate. Cultivating a culture of life through vibrant families that raise righteous young people is paramount in the stand against gun violence. But this will not happen overnight. In the meantime, why should the bad guys be the only ones with the guns?
Catholics are obliged to assume moral leadership in society when it comes to confronting the threat to life. President Obama is right—there is no excuse for inaction. But he is wrong in acting towards stricter regulations that are ultimately futile and even cowardly. To be a Catholic means to be a type of pacifist, but that does not exclude being a pragmatist.
These are dark days. Buy a sword.
image: St. Michael/Shutterstock