Tag Archives: gun control

Gun rights: Human rights guaranteed by natural law

In arguing for the wisest public policy proposals to bind our fellow citizens, we must look to the broad vision of human flourishing and the common good that we draw from our Christian heritage.

Jason Scott Jones

Jason Scott Jones

Doing so prevents us from lapsing into the most common deadly errors that pervade a culture enfeebled by a cheap utilitarianism, which sees the goal of government as maximizing the number of happy moments for the greatest number of voters. We must look to natural law, the law of human flourishing that God wrote on our hearts, which is equally available to pagans and to Christians

Citing Church documents — none of them with infallible authority, by the way — is a feeble means to persuade our fellow citizens and is anyway unnecessary. We have all the tools we need in our God-given reason and the wholesome civic traditions we inherited from British Common Law, whose medieval origins ensured that it served the dignity of the human person, a dignity reinforced by Christ’s incarnation.

On the issue of gun rights and gun control, we are speaking of perhaps the most basic human right imaginable: the right to defend yourself and your family against an immediate threat of violence — either against your person or your hard-earned property. The primary function of the state is more effectively to guard our lives, liberties and property from aggression, coercion and theft.

But the state cannot be everywhere, nor would we want it to be. Given that, there will always be situations where citizens must defend themselves and their families against immediate threats from criminals. That is their inalienable right, and for the state to deprive them of that right would be intrinsically evil. No situation justifies doing what is intrinsically evil. Therefore, no argument of public policy, no appeal to some “seamless garment” or sentimentalized version of Christian non-violence, could ever justify preventing citizens from protecting themselves from violence.

In seeking the common good, of course, we see that rights hang in tension. We must preserve public order and make sure that one person’s attempt to exercise his rights and protect his human dignity does not infringe on someone else’s rights and dignity. Someone who wishes to protect his property from trespassing children, for instance, may surround it with it fence, but not a lethal electric fence. Our efforts to defend our rights must be proportional to the threat and must not directly or through negligence harm the innocent.

Therefore, the state has good reason to regulate the level of lethal force available to private citizens, to make sure that it is proportional to the threats they may face. This means that there is no “one-size-fits-all” firearms regulation appropriate to all people everywhere. Christians living in the lawless parts of Syria, for instance, may well have to own and operate military-grade weapons to protect their families from the depredations of ISIS. For U.S. citizens, such weapons would be totally disproportionate.

In many American cities, violent crime is a constant threat to citizens’ well being — not only to their safety and that of their children, but to the fruits of their hard work. The home, the car, the possessions that a member of the working poor has managed to accumulate might have taken them many years to acquire and could prove impossible to replace. But short of full-on surveillance, there is no way for the state to provide such citizens adequate protection. So these citizens must be allowed to arm themselves in a proportionate manner.

The laws governing self-defense should rightly center first and foremost on the absolute right of each human being, the image of God, to protect himself and his family — not on the calculations of distant bureaucrats or the wistful imaginings of high-minded idealists.

On top of our right to defend ourselves against the daily threat of lawless people, we also have a right to resist the lawless actions of government. In virtually every case, this will take the form of going to court or voting in elections. However, we have seen that governments are just as tainted by original sin as any human institution. They can turn to evil with devastating force. According to scholar R.J. Rummel, governments in the 20th century killed some 262 million people — not including casualties of war. In most cases, those civilians were totally unarmed and hence unable to defend their most basic rights.

We know well that totalitarian governments such as the Bolsheviks and the Nazis made it among their first priorities to confiscate all private weapons from their citizens — where previous, well-meaning progressive governments had not already done so. The resistance movements that pushed back against the government brutalities relied on private weapons that still survived among the populace.

This grim history tells us that the American Founders were wise indeed to put a Constitutional protection of the right to private firearms in our country’s central document. They did so out of respect for natural law and our human dignity as images of God.

JASON SCOTT JONES is filmmaker, pro-life activist and co-author of The Race to Save Our Century. He is an At-Large member of Legatus.

Gun control and the pro-life movement

Last fall, Chicago Archbishop Blaise Cupich said gun violence is “a pro-life issue and should be front and center with all of the others.” He makes an important point.

Mark Brumley

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were some 33,636 gun-related deaths in the U.S. recorded in 2013. While some people, perhaps oversensitive to Second Amendment concerns, may recoil at calling gun violence a “pro-life” issue, the fact that it involves the taking of human life, whether intentionally or by accident, makes it one.

What to do about it? Faithful Catholics disagree. Some call for more regulation while others question the value of the same or contend such laws unjustly undercut gun owners’ rights. Archbishop Cupich himself is a strong gun-control advocate, as is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. We find here the challenging issue of disagreement on political matters among Catholics equally committed to Church teaching. I say “equally committed to Church teaching” because disagreement can also arise from rejection of such teaching. That’s not what I mean. Well-formed, knowledgeable, and committed Catholics sometimes reasonably disagree on a subject — even when they agree on fundamental principles. That fact doesn’t mean there is no right answer on the subject, although it may mean the answer isn’t obvious.

Regarding the political dimension of “pro-life issues,” the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago used the image of the “seamless garment” as his “take” on the more general notion of a consistent life ethic. (The term “seamless garment” comes from John 19:23’s reference to Jesus’ garment, often taken as a metaphor for Church unity.)

Most pro-life Catholics think a consistent life ethic is important — the alternative being an inconsistent one! But they sometimes disagreed about how to understand the Seamless Garment approach. Are all issues touching on human life equally important? Can we disagree about some approaches and still be committed to a consistent life ethic? Not all threats to human life are equally grave, acknowledge most Seamless Garment supporters. Nor, they admit, must everybody agree on the best way to protect human life in all instances. Critics reply that, in practice, the Seamless Garment philosophy often comes across as a list of policy stances on which everybody who wants rightly to claim the name “pro-life” must agree.

Moreover, we shouldn’t confuse issues — even those rightly included as “pro-life” concerns. Take gun control. A consistent ethic of life doesn’t create a set of obvious policy positions on gun violence. Within certain limits, reasonable committed to the dignity of the human person, might come to different conclusions about how to solve the problem.

In this regard, we should resist the temptation to hurl slogans at those with whom we disagree. For example, accusing someone who opposes abortion, but doesn’t accept strict gun control of being “anti-abortion” rather than “pro-life.” Or dismissing a gun-control advocate as a “peace and justice” Catholic rather than a “pro-lifer.”

It’s possible to be inconsistently pro-life — to affirm the principle of respect for human life in one instance, but to fail to do so in another: to be, say, anti-abortion but not consistently pro-life. But rejecting certain legal restrictions on guns as a means of reducing gun violence doesn’t automatically make one “anti-abortion” rather than “pro- life.” Likewise, it’s possible to pursue social justice and reduction of gun violence while ignoring the over one million abortions annually in the U.S. But just because one works against gun violence doesn’t necessarily mean one doesn’t care about abortion.

“Often enough the Christian view of things will itself suggest some specific solution in certain circumstances,” notes Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes. “Yet it happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that with equal sincerity some of the faithful will disagree with others on a given matter. Even against the intentions of their proponents, however, solutions proposed on one side or another may be easily confused by many people with the Gospel message. Hence it is necessary for people to remember that no one is allowed in the aforementioned situations to appropriate the Church’s authority for his opinion. They should always try to enlighten one another through honest discussion, preserving mutual charity and caring above all for the common good” (#43).

Some people may dislike calling gun violence a “pro-life issue,” but it is. Yet we mustn’t be quick to equate our political solution to the problem with the “pro-life” position and dismiss others as not “pro- life.” A thoughtful, vigorous, yet charitable discussion on the subject can also be “pro-life.”

MARK BRUMLEY is the author of “The Seven Deadly Sins of Apologetics” and the former director of Social Ministries for the Diocese of San Diego. He is also president of Ignatius Press.