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Guns, Part II: Ethics and What It Might Mean

January 10, 2013

ImageIn the last post I addressed the thought process that ought to go into deciding own a firearm for self defense or home defense purposes from a practical point of view.  I would now like to tackle the ethical/moral point of view.  Because if we’re talking about gun ownership for the purposes of defense, what we’re talking about, at the least, is shooting another human being. 

My uncle tells the story of how a business colleague of his, who ran a predominantly cash business, was robbed and murdered one night while making his cash collections.  The perpetrator had figured out where and when the business man would be with the cash from his business and held him up, ultimately resulting in the business owner’s death.  My uncle, who also runs a business where he goes around and collects cash, often by himself and at night, grew concerned.  He thought about purchasing a handgun that he would carry with him for protection.  And, in a conversation which I have never forgot, spoke to me clearly about how long he hesitated and thought about that decision.  As a Christian, he was concerned that having a gun for that purpose could result in his having to shoot another person.  He didn’t know if he was ready or capable of doing that.  So he took a concealed/carry class, in which they taught that if you have to shoot another person in self defense you should aim to kill.  Injuring a robber who is also armed does not prevent them from shooting and killing you.  This only caused him to hesitate further.  He had to decide if he could kill another human being.  After what I suspect was a lot of thought and no small amount of prayer, he purchased a handgun to carry with him when he made his cash collections. 

Would that every person who buys a gun for self defense went through the same agonizing thought process!

You can’t just buy a gun for defense without knowing, and I mean really knowing without a doubt, that you could shoot to kill another human being.  That is simply not something that every person is able to say confidently that they can do.  Every year there are deaths associated with guns that were simply taken from their owners hands and then turned against them when they hesitated to fire.  Owning a gun for self defense might mean that you have to kill someone.  Could you do it?  How does your Christian faith inform that decision?  

Professional police officers and soldiers who have killed in the line of duty are affected for ever.  Often times they never fully recover from their action.  Soldiers especially, who may have killed dozens, are profoundly affected for the rest of their lives.  And they were fully trained, fully prepared!  The average citizen who owns a gun for self defense, I suspect, has neither the training nor the mental preparation of those professionals.  How might the situation in which they are called upon to use their gun in self defense develop?  It could be a scary proposition.  

I am not one who suggests that the right to own and carry firearms should be taken away from citizens.  For better or for worse, it is a part of this country.  But what I can and will say is that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!  Especially if you are a Christian; Jesus asked us to think about a different way of life, a way in which violence was given up for alternative methods, where swords were beaten into ploughshares, where daggers used to assault imperial troops were put aside in favor of healing the wounds they created.  Jesus reminds us also of God the Father’s commandment not to murder. 

I am not suggesting that true self defense with lethal force is wrong.  I am suggesting that before one finds themselves in that situation one needs to consider seriously, to pray, and to soul search, to really look within oneself and ask, “Can I kill?”  You may discover than you can.  You may discover than you can’t.  You may find out that because you can, you feel comfortable owning a gun for self defense.  You may find out that because you can, you do not want to own a gun for self defense.  You may find out that because you can’t kill, you don’t want to own a gun for self defense when you will in all likelihood not be able to shoot, or at the worst, be used against you or your loved ones.

The responsibilities of gun ownership include deep consideration of what owning a gun might mean.  It might mean you have to kill.  It is your responsibility, not only to yourself, but also your loved ones, to decide if that is something you can and/or will do.  If you haven’t spent serious, soul-searching time thinking about that, I don’t believe you have any business with a gun the purpose of which is self defense.

Fr. Ryan+

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