We have yet another school shooting, with more innocent students and teachers dead, and the predictable politically “orchestrated” outrage. The Catholic Church has weighed in on this topic, now and in the past. The Catholic teaching is powerful and reconciliatory. As early as 1994 the Church recognized the problem of gun violence; the magisterium of the Catholic Church asked Catholics to consider gun control, and the resulting document, “International Arms Trade: An Ethical Reflection,” states; “It is urgent to find an effective way to stop that flow of arms to terrorist and criminal groups. An indispensable measure would be for each State to impose strict control on the sale of handguns and small arms. Limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe upon the rights of anyone.”
Archbishop Chaput gave his testimony before the U.S. Senate after the tragic Columbine (1999) shooting. He also added this sobering note:
“The experience taught me that assault rifles are not a birthright, and the Second Amendment is not a Golden Calf. I support thorough background checks and more restrictive access to guns for anyone seeking to purchase them. . . But it also taught me that only a fool can believe that “gun control” will solve the problem of mass violence. The people using the guns in these loathsome incidents are moral agents with twisted hearts. And the twisting is done by the culture of sexual anarchy, personal excess, political hatreds, intellectual dishonesty, and perverted freedoms that we’ve systematically created over the past half-century”.
It must be pointed out that an initial point of reference is found in the Gospel of Luke, where our Lord indicates the legitimacy of the right to self-defense, telling the disciples, “Let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one” (Luke 22:36). The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges the right to use lethal force in self-defense, including on behalf of others, when the use of this force is moderate—i.e., when it is not practical to use less force (CCC 2264-2265). The Catechism does not specify the means by which one may use lethal force in self-defense, but this may be inferred: If you are in a situation where the only effective means you have of defending your life (or that of another) is a gun, then you may use it.
Regarding the most recent shooting in Texas, the UCCB added. "Let us all strive to ensure that such tragedies can never happen again." The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offered the following statement from its spokesperson, Chieko Noguchi, director of public affairs;
“There have been too many school shootings, too much killing of the innocent. Our Catholic faith calls us to pray for those who have died and to bind the wounds of others, and we join our prayers along with the community in Uvalde and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller. As we do so, each of us also needs to search our souls for ways that we can do more to understand this epidemic of evil and violence and implore our elected officials to help us take action.”
Our Conference will continue to support measures that control the sale and use of firearms, that make guns safer, that provide for sensible regulations of handguns, and that limit assault weapons. Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for many of these policies, such as universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders. Even something somewhat more controversial like licensing handguns has large majority support, and is supported by a clear majority of gun owners. These initiatives for future legislative action are summarized in our backgrounder on addressing gun violence, as shown in our next slide. They are consistent with approaches historically taken by our Conference on these matters.
Priests and prelates have no pertinent expertise in crafting gun control legislation or, for that matter, in preventing the arming of rogue states. Most clerics understand this and keep their comments to a moral and ethical sphere. Those killed by a butter knife, an AK-47, or a neutron bomb are equally and indifferently dead. In each case, the resort to arms will be judged just or unjust by the same moral criterion. The Church must always uphold the integrity of justice, and justice not only permits but requires defense of the innocent against unjust aggressors, i.e., those who inflict harm without due cause.
Pope Francis offered a statement that seems to blur the line between politics and religion. He said; "My heart is broken over the massacre at the primary school in Texas. I pray for the children and adults killed, and their families," the Pope told the crowd, according to a translation provided by the Vatican. "It is time to say “no more” to the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons."
For Catholics in the United States, the topic of gun control is sensitive and fragile territory. If, as a Catholic with a well-formed conscience, you decide to own a gun for protection, sport, or hunting, you are free to do so without moral implications. As with many topics in ethics, intentionality is the measure of guilt or innocence. Perhaps, instead of an extremist solution, we might adopt a reconciliatory approach. Could we follow the Aristotelian and UCCB model of finding a middle ground: Mandatory certifications for different calibers of guns, Registration for weapons, or Universal background checks. This way gun rights are protected and we have knowledge of the guns in question. We have a registration process for voting, driving, even owning a dog. In light of this “registered” society, the refusal for such measures with guns seems empty.