Can Catholics Bear Arms?

shutterstock_101034598The 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

Sean Fitzpatrick


Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Mark

    Great article Sean. This needed to be written, I have an NRA sticker on my car right next to the pro life and catholic radio stickers. I have received a few puzzled comments to which I answer “what is the problem? I think good men have the right and duty to arm themselves and fight when needed. Thank you for writing this .

  • Steven Jonathan

    Mr. Fitzpatrick, Excellent article and very important truths so badly misunderstood today. The governmental calls to “gun control” have ulterior motives just as the calls for “birth control.” The government has a vested interest in killing chivalry and the family, the culture of death can not proliferate effectively with either one.

  • Don H.

    Locked and loaded! Got my Rosary in my pocket, and my shotgun at my feet.

  • N Martinez

    We have a RIGHT to self-defense.

  • Manial

    Correct me if I am wrong but I always thought that we as Christians have a moral obligation to defend ourselves and loved ones, even to our own deaths. That, it seems to me, requires that I have an ability to defend. That ability requires me to have something more than a golf club or baseball bat. A proper defense is the ability to overwhelm your adversary and render him impotent to causing harm and the most effective way to do that is with larger caliber weapons.
    Trust me when I say you do not want to break into my house and threaten my family.

  • JMC

    Thank you so much for these wise words! It’s the same argument I have used ever since the issue of gun control first came up in the 1970s, and sad experience tells me that those who most need to hear it, refuse to listen. The NRA has it right: When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. In fact, Mayor John Lindsay of New York infamously proved that point when he decided to take guns away from police. Those were the years when the crime rate in New York skyrocketed. The first act of his successor was to restore firearms to those who needed them most, but it took twenty years to stem the tide.
    They can have my gun when they pry it out of my cold, dead fingers.

  • tanyahe

    gov=so much control

  • Albee

    And, there is this from the Catechism (which is often overlooked, or not even known or referenced…)

    2242 The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”48 “We must obey God rather than men”:49

    When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel.50

    **** 2243 Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution.

  • NYCFiredog

    If good Christian men and nations were “Pacifists”, America would not exist as it is, all of Europe would be facing Mecca five times a day and living under Sharia law. And if we became Pacifists in the 20th Century, Europe would be saying Heil Hitler and or, living in Soviet Europe.

  • NYCFiredog

    Because we protect life IN the womb, and OUT of the womb.

  • Watchman

    If they ever ‘come for the Catholics’ I will have extra clips ready at arm’s length!

  • Shayne

    And St. Joan of ARC???????????????????

  • Ed

    You just have to look at the gun murder stats as the US compared to other first world nations and hardly anyone else comes close with murder rates. I’ve travelled to the States countless times in my life and there’s always the thought that I might get “blown away”. I’ve never had this feeling in the other nations I’ve visited. Others have had the same experience. Reading that President Reagan slept with a pistol under his pillow, not feeling secure with all that security didn’t help. Then again he was still shot!
    Life being what it is there maybe everyone should carry a side arm, just like in the Old West?
    That said I never met any creeps there, mostly very decent people.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    I lived in the West, granted it was Oregon, but I was also in Eastern Oregon where everyone owned a gun. I mean, everyone. We even went to shoot cans in the woods. It never occurred to me to be afraid of people with guns, although I don’t own one and have no desire to own one. I was more afraid of the creepy, drugged out kids in my home town who pulled knives on me when I walked to my car.

    But that’s all subjective on my end.

    You do bring up the murder statistics, which is interesting, particularly where they occur. As much as gun control leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I do have trouble shaking the statistics. When I was living in Chicago I was amazed at how many people were shot in the neighbourhood just a few miles from me while my own was quite fine and I rarely felt unsafe.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    Many early Christians struggled with the question of violence and how to resist it, with more than a few pacifists. Augustine came to the conclusion that while it was better to suffer death than to possibly do evil, there could be conditions where you had to defend the weak and your neighbour. Thus the seeds of the Church’s Just War Theory.

  • Jonathan Garsey

    isn’t Chicago the town with a total gun ban and the highest murder rate in the US? Plenty of stats proving the more honest people own guns the less crime

  • Manial

    Thank you Michael for that explanation. If you haven’t seen the movie For Greater Glory yet I would strongly recommend it. It is the true story of Catholic persecution in Mexico in the 1920’s. There are many Saints that came from that situation, but what reversed the slaughter of Catholics was a full out Civil War. It is an ominous warning to all of us what happens when civil rights are trampled and religious freedom is revoked. There are signs the United States is heading down the same path.

  • jmstalk

    Let’s see…let me get this straight. The Obama Administration allowed guns to ‘walk’ out the door and into Mexico and was running guns through Benghazi to the Syrian rebels before anyone knew we were fomenting a war there, but he wants to strip Americans from their guns…for what reason? So we are safer?

    I do not own a gun. I have children in my home, two of whom would most certainly get their hands on it if I did. But, I am all for my neighbors owning a gun. Maybe it is foolish, but somehow I feel safer knowing my neighbors have guns. I think it gives the bad guy pause to think before entering our homes. If all our guns were confiscated, then I would be afraid of the night.

    Sometimes I think about buying a gun in case of a breakdown of law and order; but then I remember I have to give the authorities the address where they can find the gun when they want to come and confiscate it. That is the first thing they will do. So, their ploy works: ‘force people to register their guns with us and a lot of them will realize it is futile to own one during a crisis because we will come to get it’.

    Well, what is left then is to find other ways to defend yourself in a crisis. But, more importantly find a way to feed yourself in a crisis. Start with a crossbow and some small traps, a few good fishing poles and gear, plant fruit trees and foods that come up every year (I think asparagus does this). Then figure out what natural foods exist in nature and be sure you know how to find them. When the authorities come, they won’t be coming to protect or feed you.

  • Switzerland

    ” there is well-founded hope of success”
    I dont understand that part. We only fight if we know we can win?

  • Ed

    Interesting you bring up Chicago, I knew an ER nurse from there back in the 70’s. She said gunshot victims where brought in about every night. To calm her nerves she would have a stiff drink when her shift was over. Hopefully she transferred to another unit.
    I also grew up in an area with a lot of rifles (few pistols), a lot of hunting and fishing (NW Ontario). Murders there where rare, even with all the rifles. So I have no problem with “normal” people owning guns.
    Clint Eastwood made a few films that I think where satires about using violence to solve problems also in the 70’s. There are a constant flood of films which show violence as the only way to solve problems, a propaganda war if you will.
    So now what to do? Prayer and …..?

  • Tony Fusaro

    Study history….The first move to total government control is always the removal of the individuals right to protect and defend themselves when their elected leaders go bad. This country was formed as a Republic and on the belief that God is in charge. Big government has convinced the weak minded that this country is a Democracy. That was never the intent of our forefathers. Noble men like John Adams and George Washington knew the evils of Democratic government. They knew that if 51% of the people could take the country hostage that it was only a matter of time before America went the way of the Byzantines and the Romans. Good law abiding citizens with a firm understanding of the Constitution and the second amendment are well aware of this. I am a daily churchgoing Catholic and I have a pistol license and so do my sons. I have made it a must that my wife and my 6 children understand all aspects of gun usage and ownership. They have all been taught that we have an obligation as Catholics to protect those who cannot protect themselves. If it means we have to use our weapons to protect and fulfill Gods will then we shall. Good people do not kill, they protect. If the right to own weapons are taken away from the good then America will be no more. Good people with sticks vs. bad people with guns….you do the math

  • This is a subject that needed to be brought up and considered. Thank you. The need to rightly understand the teaching of the Church on the matter will only increase, I think, as long as the darkness of our culture keeps increasing. The right of self-defense is more and more important, as the lawlessness of darkness grows.

    Here is more from the Catechism – very important:

    Legitimate defense

    2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor…. The one is intended, the other is not.”[St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 64, 7, corp. art]

    2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

    If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful…. Nor is it 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.[St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 64, 7, corp. art]

    2265 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. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

  • Art M./Colorado Springs CO

    Wow!!! Fantastic article, and one to be forwarded to my family and friends. This puts self defense and defense of the innocent in perspective with our faith. Thanks!

  • brians

    If every German Christian (appx 85 percent of 1930s population) had been a pacifist, Hitler never could’ve raised an army. Sorry to nitpick, but a bad premise with a correct conclusion is still a bad premise.

  • NYCFiredog

    If Germany had enough REAL Christians, they never would have stood by while their Jewish neighbors were being dragged out of their homes and thrown into the Camps. IF they had REAL Christians, and Hitler hadn’t TAKEN AWAY THEIR ARMS, they could have taken UP Arms to defend their neighbors from a tyrannical Government. But of course, they could not have been Pacifists and defend them in the first place.

    And don’t forget, the German mind with the German character, the German person was raised to OBEY authority.

    Evil only triumphs……when good men……..or Pacifists do nothing.

    So the premise is sound after all.

  • Connor

    For a person to defy conscription in any country other than America would be to opt for jail (or in the case of Hitler’s Germany, possibly execution). For all 85% of that population to defy the call to arms at once would require incredible coordination that simply did not exist. Also, for a long time most of them were fooled into believing that the war was a patriotic war earning reparations for misdeeds done to Germany in the first world war.

  • Connor

    Not quite. It means, we don’t throw our lives away in violence for a cause we know that we will not win. It is better that we would practice civil disobedience to the point of death. This is because the violence would only be warranted were it to have any effect.

  • b.f.

    I am a daily mass going mama of two little ones. better believe i am armed to protect my babies

  • Betty Borrough

    Further, the hatred of the Jews, while not specifically religiously motivated, drew on a history of hatred that had existed throughout Europe.

  • Betty Borrough

    I would like to read on the history of Lindsay’s taking NYPD guns, could you provide a link please?

  • Grammar Girl

    Don’t “start with a crossbow” where they are illegal though. Possession of them is legal in most places now but hunting with them is not.

    If you are in a state which doesn’t force you to register firearms the government won’t necessarily know if you still have it or not, based solely on your filing of the federal form. “Oh, I had it fishing with me and the boat capsized and it’s at the bottom of Lake Woebegone.”

  • njblive

    My sons have made 4 swords and a 15″ dagger for medieval history classes. No guns yet.

  • maranathangel

    Thank you, Sir Sean, for an excellent article. Yes, I knighted you. I consider myself one even though I am a woman, because I have always defended my own honor, and have spent most of my life protecting the weak. I was a vet. I no longer have a gun but am a nurse. I got a big kick out of knowing that G.K. Chesterson was packing heat! And I thank God for the comments I see here. I had no idea that there were so many serious Catholics above the Mason-Dixon line who are pro second amendment. It is most encouraging, being a Redneck Catholic Italian American myself! God Bless you all!