A Catholic Perspective on Guns

It’s sad when you only find out what your colleagues across campus are doing when you get a pingback on your blog. Yesterday I was alerted to the fact that my colleague in Wake Forest University’s philosophy department, Patrick Toner, has been writing regularly about guns on the Crisis Magazine website.

(N.B.: In the Catholic world, Crisis represents an orthodox, conservative, or traditional perspective, in contrast to something like Commonweal which represents the dissenting, liberal, or progressive perspective of the laity.)


He began with a piece provocatively titled “Chesterton: Patron Saint of Handgunners” and has most recently considered the question, “Should the New U.S. Cardinals Push Gun Control.” Oh, and he threw in a piece about “Catholics, Chesteron, and Concealed Carry” for good measure.

There are alot of simple perspectives on religion, guns, and self-defense out there. I have even posted about the Catholic view of lethal force in self-defense myself. Toner’s pieces are anything but simplistic, and while they don’t represent THE Catholic view (which does not exist, IMO), they do consider A highly considered Catholic view. And that in itself is something.

Toner also provides excellent links to other sites (beyond this one!), such as a link to an essay (on the Catholic apologetics site catholic.com) on the Catholic Church’s views on gun control.

Reading that essay and the comments, I came across a passage attributed to St. Augustine:

Though defensive violence will always be ‘a sad necessity’ in the eyes of men of principle, it would be still more unfortunate if wrongdoers should dominate just men.

I find the language of “sad necessity” very profound. In the cheapened and coarsened online world I spend too much time in, I don’t always see the SAD modifier attached to the necessity of defensive violence.

In his essay on “Catholics, Chesterton, and Concealed Carry,” Toner invokes Massad Ayoob, and appropriately so, I think. When I took Ayoob’s MAG-40 class, there was no sense of celebration of the use of lethal force in self-defense, or even any sense that someone who must do this does anything other than survive. At the time I called it a humanitarian approach to armed citizenship. Maybe it is also a Catholic approach. Or, since Ayoob is of Syrian descent and most Syrian Christians are members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, maybe it is a Orthodox approach. In which case I would say, same difference.



  1. Why do we teach people that it is “sad” to use force to defend themselves and others? Aren’t we teaching them to feel bad for doing the right thing? Aren’t we making PTSD more prevalent by doing this?


    • Good questions. I am not a self-defense teacher and have never used deadly force in self-defense, so I can’t answer these questions from at least those two important perspectives. Maybe someone else can weigh in. I wonder whether it is different for people who pro-actively engage enemy combatants as compared to citizen-defenders, or if that distinction doesn’t matter?

      Also not a philosopher so can’t weigh in fully on Augustine’s notion of a “sad necessity.” That said, I don’t think that feeling bad and doing the right thing are mutually exclusive, and of course, not being able to defend oneself and innocent others would be much, much sadder.

      I don’t know what other emotions people might feel — relief, perhaps. Probably a whole range of emotions. I know, Ayoob for one, was responding to the idea that “when you kill a man, your beer tastes colder, your bed feels warmer, and your jokes are funnier” (attributed to an unnamed gun guy). And counseled that people really needed to fully understand that.

      Not really answers to your questions so much as thoughts occasioned by them, but interested to hear others’ thoughts as well.


      • One needs to ask that question to the psychologists who work with cops who have killed people in the line of duty.


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