Opinion: Gun control and the right to self-defense in a Culture of Death
Those in favor of gun control are right about one thing: there is no excuse for inaction. But they are wrongheaded in acting toward stricter but ultimately futile regulations.

As the nation continues to mourn the victims of the Uvalde massacre, and with old wounds aching over the sentencing of the Parkland shooter and the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist trial, Catholics should be the ones who offer answers when it comes to gun violence.

Some legislators want to focus on gun ownership and gun control. But the remedy won’t be found there. Rather, the remedy is spiritual. The nation must realize that saving lives begins with returning sanctity to life in all its stages. And sometimes, as counterintuitive as it may seem to say so, it might, at times, actually take a gun to do that.

A common response to the continual tragedy of school shootings in the United States is to assert that if there are no guns, there will be no shootings. But this perspective is both impractical and misguided. Christians are still called to defend the lives of the helpless—and sometimes an opposing firearm is the best tool to accomplish that. To a virtuous person, the Second Amendment bestows the real potential to be a lifesaver. In these dark days, exercising the right to keep and bear arms may even be considered a responsibility where it is permissible.

As the Left makes arguments that gun control is about saving lives, Pope Francis and the American bishops have taken this tack as well. Though the USCCB’s emphasis is certainly on sensible measures (such as reasonable background checks), the push to have Congress tighten the legislation around the buying and selling of firearms ever since Columbine seems a little too in lockstep with the liberal sectors of government—such as their support for banning assault-style weapons and limiting handgun ownership.

In the wake of Uvalde, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago was particularly direct:

The Second Amendment, unlike the Second Commandment, did not come down from Sinai. There is an understanding that we all have in our hearts, engraved in our hearts, a natural law about the value of human life. And there is no amendment that can trump that.

His Eminence is both right and wrong. Yes, the right to bear arms is not a sacred right, as is the right to life. But there is an often-neglected angle of argument concerning that truth that responsible citizens bearing arms can save lives, and at certain times and situations, it does take an amendment to protect the lives that Cardinal Cupich affirms is a duty of natural law.

But, in fact, the criminals and even the criminally insane will often get their hands on firearms. Severe legislative restrictions, however, will keep many honest citizens unarmed, and that can lead to more unnecessary deaths as well. The bishops might say that being anti-gun is being pro-life, but allowing for the increasingly common scenario where the strong will take evil advantage over the weak is not pro-life at all.

G. K. Chesterton was known to carry a pistol in his pocket to honor a longstanding Christian principle and a long-lost Christian tradition. He was aware of the symbolic quality of Christianity involved and invoked in the bearing of arms. That is, the Christian believes in the sanctity of life simultaneously with the conviction that some things are worth dying for or dealing out death for—a principle that should be part of any Christian education and attitude.

The sanctity of life also necessitates the protection of life, which is not possible in our schools or on our streets if Catholics who are serious about being pro-life are unarmed when a killer unleashes an attack. To those who recognize and reject the terrorism of a culture of death, the right to bear arms takes on a truly Catholic and chivalric significance, combatting a hellish ideology and those who have fallen prey to it.

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 noble, old-fashioned zeal to defend the defenseless may ultimately awaken and enliven modern society, but not if we’re deprived of our means of defense.

Those in favor of gun control are right about one thing: there is no excuse for inaction. But they are wrongheaded in acting toward stricter but ultimately futile regulations. To be a Catholic means to be a peacemaker, and peacemakers can be pragmatic. The classroom is becoming more and more of a battleground in more and worse ways. Catholic parents, Catholic priests, and Catholic teachers need to be prepared to do their duty as protectors of souls in whatever way they must.

The discussion of solutions starts well before any mention of guns. It starts with cultivating a culture of life through a lively education that produces righteous and religious young people. This means Catholics, and Catholic teachers and parents especially, assuming moral leadership and initiative in the classroom, in the home, and in society.

In other words, forming souls in the security of what is good, true, and beautiful will protect children from becoming tragic sociopaths, thereby neutralizing the principal ingredient in any school shooting. But there is a deep abyss to climb out of before schools become lifesaving as opposed to death-dealing—and this is so in more senses than just physical death.

In the prevalent throwaway culture, in which barely anything is sacred, the disposable aspect of nearly everything invites a madness disposed even to murder. Young people growing up neglected and un-affirmed in families that suffer from the negative influences of divorce, professional preoccupation, and virtual reality, while attending schools focused on relativism, career paths, and a godless agenda.

The ambiguous and amoral has muddied the waters, and kids aren’t experiencing what every education should be: pointing out things that are good, true, and beautiful, identifying them as such, and delighting in them. Whether in literature, math, or history, the opportunity to use these subjects as grounding in a reality that is good, true, and beautiful is the whole point of education and the start and sustenance of any culture.

The shedding of innocent blood in schools and other public places is ultimately rooted in a problem of family and education. It is not a failure of government, but a failure of culture. It is the natural, or unnatural, consequence of abortion on demand, pornography, relativism, secularism, and other cultural poisons—all undergirded and exacerbated by an education system that fails to provide the pillars of culture by digging into those classical disciplines and works and ideas that do not change and that are good in themselves, and therefore good for the well-rounded soul.

Catholic social teaching surrounding the necessary and sacred nature of the family, the common good, and our commitments and obligations to neighbors as well as individual rights should influence this debate. Catholics have a duty here as well. Cultivating a culture of life through vibrant families, vibrant classrooms, and vibrant parishes that raise young people in the tradition of virtue is paramount in stopping the school shootings. Until we achieve that goal, to borrow an old argument, why should the bad guys be the only ones with the guns?

If Catholics will live as Christ lived, they must live out His teachings. “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.” Christ says this as He is preparing for His Passion and preparing His disciples for their ministry. And though Our Lord instructs His friends to bear arms outside Gethsemane, He then reproaches Peter for striking the slave of the high priest: “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Mt 26:27ff).

However, this is not a condemnation of the sword, but of living by the sword. “Thou shalt not kill,” of course, but the Catechism makes clear that lethal blows made in “legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life, the common good of the family or of the state…” (CCC 2265).

To bear arms for righteousness and to defend the innocent is not living by the sword, as is striking in blind fury at a servant. A blow on the cheek is not a life-threatening assault. Turn the other cheek to insult. Draw the sword to injustice. Making use of the best available means of defending the sanctity of life is a duty of all Catholics, and sometimes a firearm is the best available means—which is a truth that every Catholic should consider carefully.