2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."65
2264 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.66
2265 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.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Sunday morning found us sitting in the back gathering area at our church, as we had arrived a little late that particular morning. Fifteen minutes, or so, into Mass a young and disheveled man entered. He was muscular with his shirt wrapped around at his waist. Something like a black bandanna was tied about his head. Peculiar hand-drawn tattoos covered his arms. (Someone later said they recognized satanic symbols, but I never noticed.) He was clearly agitated and began pacing back and forth between us and what Protestants would call the sanctuary and Catholics refer to as the nave. He acted as if he was going to go inside and, as my daughter was helping with handing out hymnals to newcomers but had her back turned to him, I was preparing to rise quickly to intercept if necessary. After getting a second drink at the drinking fountain, he suddenly turned and exited on the opposite side he had arrived. Two men immediately followed, and I joined them a moment later. One aggravating thing in this experience was that my cell phone could not maintain a strong call signal with the 911 operator, and I was barely able to report the young man as a suspicious person. It did serve as a sort of wakeup call for me in taking a greater responsibility for the safety of my family.
Let’s face it, the world seems to becoming more schizophrenic with each passing day. We could debate the underlying causes for these societal changes and shifts—e.g. heightened media reporting of violent acts, a lack of reverence for life, no respect for authority, increased signs of widespread linear thinking, deficits of empathy perhaps associated with too great dependence upon social media and a culture demanding instant gratification, etc. Whatever the root cause, however, some important change is happening around us. As J.R.R. Tolkien put it in the last century in the Lord of the Rings, ““The world has changed. I see it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost...” With the ever-more frequent reports of insane and evil acts of violence perpetrated upon the innocent all around us, I suggest it’s time for more responsible and God-fearing men and women to dedicate themselves as silent protectors and begin (legally) carrying a concealed handgun with them on a more regular basis.
That brings us back to church. At first glance, some people would probably feel as if carrying a concealed weapon into a church was somehow a sacrilegious act. After all, holy places deserve a special kind of reverence and respect. Yet, how is the treasuring of the life of those we love considered less than respectful of God? What would have happened if the person whom I described in the first paragraph had pulled out a gun instead of leaving? I have no doubt that enough of us would have rushed him to bring him down, but at what cost to the innocent gathered there? If it feels disrespectful to carry a weapon into a church, imagine the disrespect, the blasphemy, of dead and wounded strewn around a place of worship. Imagine the mothers attempting to shield their children from a nightmare that had become reality. The images we have seen from mass shootings are sobering, and no place is immune. Even my relatively sleepy alma mater of Seattle Pacific University suffered from an act of gun violence in the summer of 2014. I suggest that the media’s reporting likely encourages copycat acts, but what can be done to combat that when we enjoy the rights (and responsibilities) of free speech? As a newsroom editor once told me once, the reporting of these senseless acts won’t change; it’s engaging news, and it sells.
Some might argue that bringing a weapon into a gathering place like a church is only asking for more trouble. What if the gun is taken away from the bystander attempting to intervene and used against him and others? What if a shootout takes place in a crowded room and more innocents die? While there are legitimate dimensions to these fears, it’s also true that these fears represent fictional perspectives encouraged by the entertainment industry. After all, only in the movies can you see someone disarm a suspect through a carefully aimed shot, or successfully fire to wound rather kill. (In all of my discussions with firearm enthusiasts and members of law enforcement, only a single Border Patrol agent from Blaine, Washington told me he could successfully shoot to wound. I suspect he was exaggerating his skills a bit, because this is not what is recommended or taught in law enforcement academies.)
Life is terribly important to me. I’ll never forget two of the chances I had to help save lives myself: once by using a chemical weapon to stop a man’s head from being beaten into a Bellingham sidewalk in the middle of the night and once through CPR of a gentleman who is today a dear friend. All lives do matter, but we share a special responsibility to safeguard those closest to us: our family and friends and, I would suggest, that this includes our parish community. True self-defense represents an ethical and moral act that not only has the power to save one’s self from harm, but save others as well. It’s time that more responsible people learn and become trained and certified to carry a concealed weapon, because we should all endeavor to protect those we love from random and senseless acts of cowardice and violence.
Suppose for a moment that a stranger walks into your church or enters your property with an intent to do harm to whomever he finds there. Talk is unlikely to save you, and don’t depend too much on your phone to be able to reach 911 in time. Even if you do reach 911, what will the officer’s response time be? In western Oregon, for instance, there are areas with sparse patrol coverage throughout the week. In a ride-along with an Oregon State Police trooper, for example, it was made abundantly clear to me that this trooper was essentially it one particular shift with regards to covering a very large assigned area. I respectfully suggest that you should not always depend on law enforcement response to rescue you or your loved ones; you need to be able to do some heavy lifting yourself.
Protecting yourself and your loved ones is a way to concretely demonstrate your willingness to lay your life down in the commitment to safeguard the innocent with whom you come into contact in your daily journey. “Turning the other cheek” should never be misused to suggest we as religious people should avoid commonsense steps towards protecting ourselves and our loved ones. To do otherwise, is failing to recognize the incredible gift of life, failing to shoulder responsibility to protect those dependent upon you.