Guns Do Not Have Rights, People Do. Legitimate Self Defense is One of Them.

Barb Wire

Part III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is entitled Life in Christ. There we find the paragraphs which address the Fifth Commandment, You Shall Not Kill. The entire section can be read here.

Catholics who seek to enter into the debate surrounding what is often called gun control should begin there.

We need to approach all of the social issues we face – especially in a Western culture which has lost its moral compass – as Christians.

However, as in other areas of social concern, Catholics and other Christians too often tend to simply consider the various arguments, choose one they personally agree with, and then jump in.

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Even if the approach is well intended at times, it can lead to error. It can also result in deficient and ineffective social and political participation.

We are called to form our conscience in accordance with truth. We live in an age where there is a denial of the existence of any objective truth. This is rarely admitted in an age of relativism.

Relativism is a philosophy which says “Your truth is as good as my truth, which is as good as anyone’s truth.” In other words, there are no objective truths by which we inform our decisions or guide our moral choices and behavior.

The truth we speak of here can be known. It is revealed in the Natural Moral Law, expounded upon in the Sacred Scripture and Tradition and taught by the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Church.

This is where confusion often arises.

People misunderstand what a conscience really is. They mistake conscience with their feelings. This is often caused by a misunderstanding of  what the Bible and Christian tradition refer to as the heart. The heart is the center of our moral personality. (CCC #2517, Matt. 15:19)

The Catholic Catechism tells us:

Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good -and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.

Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law. (CCC# 1777, 1778)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also gives us an explanation of conscience which sets us on the right path.

Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths. (CCC#1776)

Consciences can be uninformed, poorly formed, deformed, or become darkened and lead us to a confused state. We can end up wandering in our own land of Nod, East of Eden, following in the footsteps of Cain.  (See, Gen. 4:16)

Again, the Catechism instructs:

“Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings. The education of the conscience is a lifelong task.” (CCC# 1783, 1784)

We live in a precarious time in the United States of America. Many of us are deeply concerned about the effort to infringe upon the fundamental rights which were delineated in the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution.

I have written extensively about the threats to the First Freedom, Religious Freedom. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right which is rooted in the Natural Law and secured by the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution.

In this article, I will address another Right secured in the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. This right is controversial in many of the circles where my articles are often read.

There is also a wide variance of legitimate disagreement. So, in hopes of heading off some criticism, let me clarify that I write this article as a private citizen.

The Right to which I refer is secured by the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution. That amendment reads, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

My purpose in this article is NOT to enter into the charged debate referred to in shorthand as gun control. Rather, to expose some poor language which can undermine human rights.

Good people can and do have differing opinions on the legitimate concerns which this debate brings up. My purpose is to attempt to clarify the language and set the issue in a context for my readers, most of whom are Catholic or Christians of another community.

Only Human Persons Have Rights

In an age of sound bites and agenda driven news reports, the architects of a new cultural order have slipped one more phrase into the lexicon of the current cultural struggle, one which we adopt at our own peril.

That phrase is “Gun Rights.

Guns have no rights. People do. Rights are goods of human persons. Human Rights come not from civil government but from God.

Civil Rights are those rights properly recognized by the Civil Government and protected. This is critically important! Let me give two examples where precision of language is important, the Right to Life and the truth about marriage.

Over the course of our human and civil rights struggle to protect our youngest neighbors in the womb from being intentionally killed through procured abortion we have experienced the lethal power of words.

The Right to Life is confirmed by the Natural Law and medical science affirms what our conscience long ago affirmed. The child in the womb is our first neighbor. It is always and everywhere wrong to kill our innocent neighbors.

The phrase “Abortion Rights” was manufactured by cultural revolutionaries who oppose the fundamental Human Right to Life. They inserted it into the lexicon of the contemporary cultural struggle in order to obfuscate. A Complicit Media adopted the shorthand language.

Procured Abortions are always deadly acts. They have no rights. Only human persons have rights. The first of which, the Right to Life, is always violated in every procured abortion because a child is killed.  Sadly, others have adopted the language.

In doing so, some well-intended people are causing confusion.

The same sort of verbal treachery is now being used by those who oppose marriage as solely between one man and one woman, open to life, intended for life, and formative of family. In other words, real marriage.

The leaders of what I have called a homosexual equivalency movement want a society where homosexual sexual practices are considered morally equivalent to the sexual expression of marital love between a man and a woman.

They further demand that homosexual and lesbian relationships, always incapable of achieving the ends of marriage, be given the same legal status as a marriage. They now even use the police power of the State to accomplish their cultural revolution.

Marriage is not simply a religious construct. The Natural Moral Law reveals – and the cross cultural history of civilization affirms – that marriage is solely between a man and a woman, open to children and intended for life.

However, a complicit media, including even some within Catholic and other Christian media, have advance the agenda by using phrases such as gay marriage and marriage equality.

Those who defend marriage are now accused of being against something called “marriage equality ” which, as a phrase, is a subterfuge and counterfeit hiding the real issue.

Guns have No Rights, People Do

A similar pattern is now emerging in the debate surrounding the Second Amendment and governmental efforts to regulate the purchase and use of guns for self-defense.

Let me be clear. I have nothing against gun ownership. I do not a gun – yet.

I do believe gun ownership is protected by the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights. I may choose to own one in the future – if the trends which have been unleashed in the Nation continue.

Trends which I fear threaten the Right to Life, ordered liberty and limited government.

However, I think many of my friends are falling prey to another media short hand verbal engineering tactic when they use the phrase “Gun Rights“.

Guns have no rights, only people do.

Yes, one of them is the Right to Self Defense – and the Right to defend your neighbor. You may ask, “Is this simply a matter of semantics?”  I insist it is not!

The pattern is similar to what was used to undermine the Right to Life and the Defense of True Marriage.

Change the language and turn the debate on its head.

Catholics, other Christians, and other people of good will should really watch our words.

What we must protect is the Right to Self Defense. One of the means we may use to exercise this right is the ownership of guns.

However, the Right to Self Defense is vested in us – not in those objects we use, if and when necessary.

The following sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church should be read and studied by Catholics and anyone else concerned with the threat we face in this area.
The text contains footnotes to the Scriptural text and St Thomas Aquinas which should be read for further assistance.

Legitimate Defense

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.”

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.

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.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Deacon Keith Fournier
Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of the Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance, which are dedicated to the conversion of culture through four pillars of participation; life, family, freedom and solidarity. He is the Editor-in-Chief at Catholic Online. He is a constitutional lawyer who appeared in four cases before the United States Supreme Court on Pro-Life, Religious Freedom and Pro-family issues. He is the author of eight books on Christian living, Christian family and public policy issues. Deacon Fournier is a member of the Clergy of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He holds his BA in theology and philosophy from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, his Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Theology from the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University (MTS), his Juris Doctor Law Degree Law (JD) from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and is a PhD candidate in Moral Theology at the Catholic University.

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