Monday, March 12, 2012

Self Defense and Catholicism

Guest Post
Originally published under the title "Catholics And Guns", January 23, 2011.

There's an article published by U.S. Catholic that's been getting a lot of press recently. Entitled "Gun control: Church firmly, quietly opposes firearms for civilians," this article quotes from the November 2000 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops document "Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice". The implications of the U.S. Catholic article have raised questions among some Catholic gun owners and others.
"As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer -- especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner -- and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns."

That's followed by a footnote that states: "However, we believe that in the long run and with few exceptions -- i.e. police officers, military use -- handguns should be eliminated from our society."

That in turn reiterates a line in the bishops' 1990 pastoral statement on substance abuse, which called "for effective and courageous action to control handguns, leading to their eventual elimination from our society."

That has led many in the press to make the claim that faithful Catholics may not own guns, or that it may be sinful to do so. A respected gun rights writer tries to make hay by framing this as a Catholic teaching. Even some whom we would expect to use more care have erroneously implied that this view marks the "Catholic Church's position on gun control".

However, this interpretation is incorrect. The Bishops' statement on eliminating firearms from society IS NOT part of Catholic doctrine. In fact, the USCCB has no authority to dictate what is, or is not, part of the magisterial teaching on morality. Simply put, they cannot make doctrine. What this statement refers to is a social norm that the Bishops would like to see come to pass in a perfect world. Wouldn't we all? In a perfect society one would not need guns. However, any hope for that was lost when man was thrown out of the Garden of Eden.

The Church supports the right of self defense for all people. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly addresses this issue.

"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." (CCC 2264).

This actually meshes quite well with secular regulations on self defense. A person is obligated legally use only the force necessary, up to and including lethal force, to stop an attack when one is at risk of imminent serious injury or death. The Catechism also remarks on the defense of others.

"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." (CCC 2265)

As a parent, I hold legitimately authority over those whom God has trusted to my care. It is my "grave duty" to protect them from harm.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes no mention of the morality of gun ownership. Certainly it covers the use of deadly force, but the Church has no official teaching on the tools employed in legitimate defense. Despite the twisting of words, and misunderstanding of these documents, faithful Catholics are not obligated to give up their personal firearms in order to remain in good moral standing with the Church.

From: "Catholics And Guns".


Friday, March 9, 2012

Gun Saint Society Honors Catholic Senator

The St. Gabriel Possenti Society recently named Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns as the group's "Man of the Year." From the Christian News Wire:
WASHINGTON, March 6, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) received a special St. Gabriel Possenti Society award here from John M. Snyder, Society President. 
The Society named Sen. Johanns, a practicing Catholic, Man of the Year for his support of the right to self-defense. 
On February 27, Snyder presented the plaque to Sen. Johanns during a ceremony on the 150th anniversary Feast Day of St. Gabriel Possenti.  Snyder also presented Sen. Johanns with a boxed medallion featuring a profile of St. Gabriel Possenti custom designed for the Society in Rome, Italy.
The  St. Gabriel Possenti Society (no affiliation) promotes the study of the historical, philosophical and theological bases for the doctrine of self-defense.

See "Gun Saint Society Names Catholic United States Senator Man of the Year in Washington, D.C." for photo and more.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Self Defense Common Law in Virginia

The Virginia General Assembly recently rejected two bills to formalize "Castle Doctrine" in the state. There is a lot of confusion, and even misinformation, circulated on the right to self-defense and the resulting civil liability. The Virginia Citizens Defense League has posted a summary of the favorable current situation regarding self defense in Virginia. Please note, this is not to be taken as legal advice, but is posted as informational only.

Virginia currently has excellent protections for those involved in the use of force for self-defense.  Our protections are much broader than the "Castle Doctrines" that many states have.  True "Castle Doctrine" bills provide protection only in a person's home, while Virginia common law provides protections everywhere you might be - at home, in the yard, at work, at the store, in church, etc.  Some states desperately needed "Castle Doctrine" laws, as their existing laws were horrible on self-defense.  Many required a person to retreat EVEN IN THEIR OWN HOME!  Not true in Virginia. 
Virginia is a "stand-your-ground" state.  That means AS LONG AS YOU ARE NOT PART OF "THE PROBLEM" and are innocent, you can stand your ground and use force to defend yourself wherever you may be.  Deadly force is only allowed if you are under IMMEDIATE threat and you reasonably fear that you, or another innocent party, will be killed or be grievously injured.  The death of an attacker caused by use of such deadly force is considered "justifiable homicide."  Note that you don't actually have to be in a deadly situation, but only have a REASONABLE FEAR that you are in such a situation, to be justified in the use of deadly force.  For example, if someone tries to rob you with a toy gun and you don't know it's a toy gun, you would be justified in responding with deadly force since you would reasonably fear that your life was in immediate danger. 
If you are part of "the problem," say by making an obscene gesture or yelling a threat at someone, then, if attacked, you MUST RETREAT.  The retreat must be as far as you can reasonably go and you must indicate that you give up the fight.  Then, and only then, if the attacker persists, can you use force against them. If they are trying to kill you or grievously injure you, and they die because of your use of deadly force, it is considered "excusable homicide," a lower standard than "justifiable homicide."  Moral to the story:  don't give up your right to stand-your-ground by being part of the problem - ever. 
The reason that a person who is part of the problem is required to retreat is to avoid someone committing murder under the guise of self-defense.  Otherwise, a murderer could intentionally badger a victim to the point that the victim attacks out of sheer anger or frustration.  At that point the murderer, standing his ground, could use that attack as an excuse to kill the victim "in self-defense," getting away with murder legally.  Not good, not acceptable, and not legal. 
Would common law or the "Castle Doctrine" bills GUARANTEE that a person legally defending themselves could NOT be charged with murder or sued civilly?  NO.  If the police and/or the Commonwealth Attorney have reason to believe, rightly or wrongly, that you committed a murder instead of true self-defense, you are going to be arrested and charged.  Period.  As far as a civil suit, you can be sued for anything and nothing can stop that either.  However, common law (and the wording in the Castle Doctrine bills) provide a defense.  However, the common law provides the same defense wherever you may be, while the "Castle Doctrine" would only apply inside your dwelling.
See the VCDL post here.


Wisdom Through the Ages

"Though defensive violence will always be 'a sad necessity' in the eyes of men of principle, it would be still more unfortunate if wrongdoers should dominate just men."
-- Saint Augustine