Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Clinging to God and Guns

I live among the woods and streams of Maine. My nearest neighbor - out of sight and sound - is out of town most of the weekend, and when my husband is away it is only myself and the dog to fight whatever wild-things hide among the trees. When we first settled here, my father gave me a gun to use against the coyotes, the (rumored) bears, the hidden wildcat that cries on dark nights.. We've never used it, the animals stay away. Out here alone, and with a road that could easily delay any help that might come to me, I’ve considered adding another gun, something designed less for hunting, but the consideration never matured into an actual intention, uneasiness delayed it. Do I want such a thing? Do I need such a thing? Is such a tool and the attitude and intentions that would accompany it something that would further my faith? There is a tendency in many situations to see how much is permitted, rather than pursuing the ideal. Self-defense is permitted, and I could say, “I will buy a gun for self-defense” and be within the letter of the law. Just as a nation could stockpile nuclear arms with an aim toward ‘self-defense,’ yet the Church tells us that such a form of self defense is morally suspect and “risks aggravating [the causes of war]”. The Church is clear in teaching that “over-armament” in individuals as well as in nations “multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.” (CCC 2315) And so I wavered, muddled up in wondering - what is over-armament in an individual?

Early this year, a friend directed me to these statements by Cardinal Dolan and The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

 For me, regulating and controlling guns is part of building a Culture of Life,of doing what we can to protect and defend human life. The easy access to guns, including assault weapons, that exists in our nation has contributed towards a Culture of Death, where human life and dignity are cheapened by the threat of violence. (Cardinal Dolan)
Since such a significant number of violent offenses are committed with handguns and within families, we believe that handguns need to be effectively controlled and eventually eliminated from our society. We acknowledge that controlling the possession of handguns will not eliminate gun violence, but we believe it is an indispensable element of any serious or rational approach to the problem. (USCCB 1978, reiterated)

I respect these men as my superiors - both within the Church, as shepherds and in education, as men devoted to the study of faith and morals. Their words gave me a good deal to think about, to pray about, and to discuss. The first two were easy, but the last..I learned quickly that all discussion of gun-ownership must break down into ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’, and in offering the Church's perspective, I fell on the ‘liberal’ side - an ally of President Obama and well outside the acceptable boundaries of the Culture of Life. It’s this aspect of American Catholic culture that gives me serious concern. Our bishops call us to hold a “consistent life ethic”. They call us to reject a culture that allows abortion, that treats individuals as objects, that cheapens love and commitment..and we agree - passionately, until they tells us that our “consistent life ethic” doesn’t encourage an individualized arms race; then it seems we remind them that our first loyalty is to the second amendment, to an Americanized ideal of self-defense, and to our own love of that sense of self-reliance that the power to kill gives. What aspect of Catholic culture indicates that the bishops are our shepherds in moral life except where they conflict with the ideals of the political right? Shouldn’t we rather let our faith direct us? Shouldn’t we give some obedience to these good and holy men, who have offered their lives to guide us ever closer to the heart of Christ? Obedience given only when it aligns with our personal tendencies is not the sort that saints are born of.

I am not arguing that all guns are evil, they are tools, but they are tools that tend to build an attitude of violence, and we are not a culture that can stand more violence. I am just wondering, why can we not attempt to cling to God alone, whose love is unending, and with whom all things are possible.


  1. The reason I don't see any conflict of faith in disagreeing with the Bishops on this issue is that they're talking about a practical policy approach rather than an issue of faith or morals. Morally, they're saying that violence is a problem in our society and should be curtailed as much as possible; thus far, I agree completely. The solution they offer however - the restriction and "eventual elimination of handguns" - is simply wrong and would only make the problem worse. It's not a matter that they disagree with 'the Right,' it's a matter of their proferred solution to a moral problem being a bad solution. The Bishops aren't insulated by their office from making poor policy decisions.

    1. I don't think they're talking just of policy, so much as about an aspect of morality that relates to policy. They are saying that violence is a problem, and that in a culture so broken and violent as our own, perhaps it isn't best to have easy access to weapons..I just heard about a man with his CCW permit shooting his tenant and that tenant's family over a parking dispute. He was drunk and angry.

      I really don't see why the elimination (completely) or handguns from society could be a bad thing?

      BTW, I got your e-mail, and read your post, I'll hopefully be by to comment soon..hopefully..we'll see..;)

    2. Regarding eliminating handguns, two points:

      One, practically speaking that's an impossible proposition. The country is simply too big, the borders too long to prevent weapons going to those who are willing to break the law to get them. Even if, somehow, all handguns were outlawed and confiscated, that would only take them out of the hands of people who actually intend to obey the law.

      But say you could. Say that all handguns were eliminated from society. Why would that be a bad thing? It would be a bad thing because now the vast majority of the population has simply no defense against someone trying to hurt them. Take the average law abiding citizen and pit him against the average criminal; which do you think will win in a physical confrontation? Take the average woman against the average rapist; which would win? Throw in some drugs if you like and the picture becomes even worse. You haven't taken away the violence from society, you've only made people more vulnerable to it.

    3. I'm just going to be the snarky Catholic and say "with God all things are possible" here. Because really, the bishops aren't arguing we prohibit all guns out of existence, they're saying "ideally, in this Christ-centered world we're striving for, no handguns will exist". Which is something else entirely, and I don't see why longing and striving for a world in which Christ reigns and spears are bent into plow-shares is a bad thing.

    4. I'm sorry, but, the Bishops are very clearly not simply saying that we should hope for a time where Christ reigns and weapons are unnecessary. They are advocating for stricter gun-control for the purpose of reducing violence here and now in 21st century America. As you say, that's a different issue. Their condemnation of violence isn't an issue. It's their proposed solution that is the problem.

    5. Stricter control doesn't mean prohibiting all gun ownership. Yes they want stricter requirements to reduce violence, so that fewer people can buy guns and fewer guns are at large. In this way they are working to reduce gun violence, by both criminals and those for whom owning a gun encourages an unhealthy attitude of power..but they are not advocating a government driven removal of All guns so much as an attempt, with government to alter the attitude toward guns. Stricter gun control doesn't mean all your guns will be taken away.

    6. I don't know; the 'eventual elimination of handguns' sounds pretty much like prohibiting all gun ownership to me, since handguns are the most common and useful civillian owned weapons.

      But that's just my point; stricter gun control laws won't reduce gun violence, because the vast majority of gun violence is perpetrated by people who don't acquire guns legally. More laws aren't going to discourage people who already break them. As a matter of fact, wherever gun laws are loosened and more people are able to legally acquire guns, violence decreases. Meanwhile, places with the strictest gun control (Chicago, Washington DC, etc.) have the highest gun violence. That's the crux of my disagreement with the Bishops; that their proposed solution will have the opposite effect they intend it to.

  2. I'm in flux over this, too, uncertain what I believe but trying to be obedient. I think that people are quite right when they point out that mass murders happen where there are theoretically no guns (e.g., schools) the only thing that stops a mass murderer is resistance, and that an armed civilian is the quickest way to put a stop to wanton gun violence in public. Conversely, people are also quite right to point out that guns bring death into the domestic violence equation very quickly, and I suspect--just suspect, no proof--suicide is made more common by access to a handgun.

    America has all kinds of unique difficulties that would, it seems to me, make a sudden serious crackdown on gun ownership a dangerous idea. But when it comes to working toward a country and world where handguns and assault weapons are not lying freely around homes--I'm in spirit with the bishops here, and up for being obedient where I don't quite understand.

    I would love to hear what they mean by "indispensable element of any serious or rational approach to the problem" because that's an argument I don't feel like I've ever heard explained well. All my NRA-member friends seem reasonably serious and rational to me....

    1. Erm. Editing failure.

      ...theoretically no guns (e.g., schools), that the only thing...

    2. Correction number two: Maybe not all my NRA-member friends. Some of the ones on Facebook... well, the less said about that, the better. ;)

    3. Jenna~
      Thanks for all the thoughts!
      I know & I totally understand the sort of feelings of vacillation and uncertainty. I think what they mean, at least, as far as I'm understanding, is that controlling gun sales doesn't take guns off the market completely, and so there will still be gun-violence, but that it's hard to have an approach to the problem of gun-violence when the angry, violent, and unstable are still able to access guns easily - creating a culture of fear and a perceived need to accumulate arms..but I'm just writing off the top of my head, so, I could be wrong. Like you, I'm trying to work toward obedience in those things I don't fully understand, and toward understanding at the same time :) bleh..

      Lol on the last correction! Here's to all our crazy Facebook friends! ;)

  3. Well said, all.

    Call me torn #3.

    As an American, I have a deep-set instinct to want to have access to protect myself and my family should the need ever arise. Does this mean I don't have faith in God to protect me from evil? I'm not sure it's that simple.

    It's like the story about the man in the flood who prayed for God to save him. A motorboat came and offered him a ride, then a helicopter, then a plane. He refused all three, saying that he trusted in God to rescue him. Well, he drowned, and when he asked God, "Why didn't you save me?" God replied, "I sent you a boat, a helicopter, and a plane, what more do you want?"

    As a Catholic, I side with my Faith over my country. But, like BTanaka said, the bishops are speaking about policy, not morality. So I can see how one could diverge in opinion there without being disobedient to the Church.

    I honestly just don't know. And then--call me dramatic--I have a fear of our country spiraling down into a dystopia, with a grim-faced police force controlling all weaponry, and the people being helpless to rebel effectively. By writing the second amendment, the founding fathers were trying to implement a fail-safe against something like a freedom-sucking, fascist government taking over.

    An example, or so it appears, where this was implemented, was at the Battle of Athens (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Athens_(1946)).

    So yeah, I struggle with these uber-American prejudices, and am trying to examine my own thinking to see if they are prejudices or are founded on good conscience and reasoning.

    So . . . does responding to a culture of death by preparing for it perpetuate the culture of death? Is the possible cost worth it?

    1. Christie~

      Yeah, this blog is a big part of the re-examination for me...I think your last question is fantastic! I don't think preparing to meet the Culture of Death needs to perpetuate it, but that preparing to meet the Culture on it's own terms does..and that's where I'm leaning toward the bishops on this, because while I'm ready and willing to defend my life and the lives entrusted to me with any weapon I happen across, I don't think I'm willing to buy or keep a weapon whose so purpose is to kill a potential attacker..the difference being intent..

      I have a huge fear as well, (or at least, expectation) of our country falling apart..And for a while, that argument held me to the pro-handgun side of the debate, but, the more I think and pray, the more I wonder if, in standing against that government, the Catholics role would be closer to martyrdom, not revolution..

      As for the bishops. I read it as a statement on morality affecting policy, but at it's heart, a moral statement..hmm, am I wrong?

      It's kind of a rough road, isn't it, all this pursuing truth business..thanks for the direction! :)

    2. I lean toward BTanaka's inference, but I honestly can't say that this isn't bias on my part.

      Other question: is it right or a good idea to eliminate guns if that elimination involves handing a huge chunk of control to the government? It makes me nervous and worried on an instinctual level. I mean, people with guns are not trustworthy, but the government, while it has its rules and regulations, and set-in checks and balances, is made up of a bunch of people. While the Church is similar in the failings of its people, it can claim divine authority while acting as a whole (for example, in declaring doctrines and effecting the decisions of a Counsel). The government cannot.

      Also, are we justified in imposing--even for their own good--our good intentions to protect against the Culture of Violence on others who don't agree with us? We may, as Catholics, be called to martyrdom in the face of violence, but can we force others to do the same?

      It's sort of what separates us from some Muslim societies, that impose the death penalty for religious transgressions. If we followed suit, I mean really according to what we believed, we'd execute abortionists. But the Church doesn't sanction that, it downright condemns it.

      Over all of these musings, I feel an over-reaching pressure of the concept of free will. That profound and sacred thing that is so important even God will not impinge upon it. My instinct is to side with free will. Making personal weapons illegal--especially against the protests of so many Americans--feels like a step on the continuum away from it.

      Being silly humans, the Hebrews demanded a king. But I understand God's first choice was for them to continue as a tribe with the law and covenant, and their own moral compasses informed by them, as direction.

      Of course, if the Church made a definitive statement on the issue, I'd joyfully submit my personal autonomy to Her wisdom.

    3. -Masha

      You say that you are "ready and willing to protect your life and the lives entrusted to you," but are not willing to own a weapon designed "solely for killing a potential attacker," and that the difference is one of intent.

      I'm wondering what you mean by "intent." Are you implying that owning a gun means that you intend to kill a potential attacker? Not at all. In the vast majority of defensive handgun uses, no shots are fired and no one gets hurt.

      When you say that you are "ready and willing" to protect yourself and your daughter, I take that to mean that you are prepared to use deadly force if necessary (otherwise I'm not sure what "protecting" would mean). So, you already have the "intent" to kill if necessary. But you say that you are unwilling to give yourself the means to carry out that intention (Realistically, you probably aren't going to kill a prison-hardened, drug-addled attacker with your bare hands, or even with a knife, at least not in time to do you any good). So, why are you willing to protect yourself and your daughter, and (I assume) to use lethal force if necessary, but not willing to give yourself the means to do so? And why is having the intent but not the means morally superior?

      I'm not saying that you need to buy a handgun, or that you're a bad parent if you don't, but I wonder if you're being honest in your thinking here.

    4. not saying..just giving "significant looks and laughing incessantly" right ;p

      It's a good question. The Church, as I understand her, strikes this sort of balance in a lot of areas: Martyrdom is a good, but seeking it out intentionally is often problematic (not always, i.e. St. Francis - who failed adorably), fasting and denying the flesh is good, starvation and abusing the body is not..St. Francis is a good example of the difference that intent makes. He destroyed his body completely, his fasting and penances were so severe they really did lead to his death. BUT his attitude toward his body wasn't on of hate (the famous 'brother ass' attitude).. Another example of the importance of intent is capital punishment. The popes have said clearly that in almost all, if not all cases, first world countries do not have the right or the need to execute criminals, because the intent of capital punishment should always be the defense of the innocent - not the death of the criminal. Ideally, the punishment of criminals should balance the attempt to rehabilitate the criminal and the defense of the innocent. Intent is essential. The intent in buying a handgun is to have a weapon to kill an attacker. When you buy one, and especially when you carry it around with you, you are saying I am ready and willing to shoot and kill. That attitude as I see it right now (and Consistency, as Oscar Wilde reminds us, is the refuge of the unimaginative :) ) is not a part of the Culture of life, which sees not only my body and the body of those I love as temples of the Holy Spirit, but also the body of my attacker, and so seeks with a whole heart to preserve ALL lives.

      While it may be true that " In the vast majority of defensive handgun uses, no shots are fired and no one gets hurt." it's also true that handguns escalate violence. If you've ever seen a CCW driver get pulled over for a minor traffic violation you'll see the effect of carrying a weapon. You have become - in the mind of others as well as in at least some part of your own mind - an aggressor, and that causes things to escalate.

      When I say I'm ready and willing to defend myself and my family (don't forget Seth!..who could probably kick your butt, gun or no gun ;) ) I don't mean that I would ever chose to use deadly force. I might, but I think my tendency would be to defend as best I can but without ever Intentionally applying deadly force. So while I wouldn't chose to use deadly force, in desperation (and nature shows just how desperate mothers can be..) death might be an unintentional result. But I'm disturbed, BTanaka, at your inability to define protecting without deadly force..I think that's a huge flaw common in the gun-onwer's mentality, which is part of the reason the bishops are morally uncomfortable with the gun-culture. When protection and self-defense come to equal deadly force, there is an aspect of the mind that isn't really trying to find a less violent way..

      btw, Mom says you got a raise! Congratulations! :)

    5. (I didn't mention Seth because I didn't think you'd need to be protecting him).

      Neither I nor the gun-culture is saying that defense must equal lethal force. What I am saying is that any serious decision to protect someone, whether yourself or someone else, MUST include the willingness to use deadly force IF it is necessary. Tragically, it sometimes is. Also, remember that deadly force merely means force that could potentially kill someone, not a conscious attempt to kill someone. If you aren't willing to potentially kill someone out of protection, then you are only willing to protect up to a certain point. Then (and I don't think you're saying this) you would be saying that having the person you're protecting abducted, molested, or killed is preferable, in your mind, to possibly ending their attacker's life.

      The thing is, the criteria for the use of deadly force doesn't change whether you have a gun or not. The same rules apply: deadly force can only legally and ethically be used if someone is capable of killing/sexually abusing you or a third party, is in a position where they could do so, and is acting so that you honestly believe they are going to. The only difference having a gun makes is whether or not you're able to respond effectively. And again, I don't mean by shooting. Shooting is for when you've pulled your gun, shouted a warning, and they still keep coming. In other words, it's for when you would have used violence anyway because you have no reasonable alternative.

      To me, carrying a gun means nothing more nor less than that I am willing to use whatever force is necessary to stop someone who is trying to kill or sexually assault me or someone I happen to be with. That'd be the case whether I carry a gun or not, and I believe it would be immoral and cowardly to act otherwise. It's no witness to stand back and allow someone to be victimized when you could have stopped it.

      And no, I have absolutely NOT become an aggressor because I decide to carry a gun, anymore than I become so by studying martial arts. I hope you realize that that's an insulting thing to say; assuming that CCW holders are necessarily becoming or plan to become the aggressor. I am the defender. The aggressor is the person who initiates violence, not the person who fights back or pulls a gun to make him stop.


    6. Yes, we must consider that the attacker is a temple of the Holy Spirit as well, but we didn't make him attack us. We tried to stop him non-violently by warning him. We will hope and pray for his recovery, and that if he survives (which, again, if he is shot with a handgun he most likely will) and that he will come to repentence. But we can't control that, and we don't do him any favors by allowing him to succeed in comitting a violent crime.

      Incidentally, it is not true that guns escalate violence. They can, of course, but they are used far more often to defuse violence. Have you ever seen a CCW holder pulled over for a minor traffic violation? (and I'm not being sarcastic: I'm honestly asking. If so, when was it? where were you? What happened?). My understanding is that, as a general rule, cops are relieved to find that they've pulled over a CCW holder, because they know that to get that permit he had to pass a fairly stringent background check and so must be a generally law-abiding citizen.

      Before you make the broad claim that guns escalate violence, consider: there are roughly 80 million CCW holders in the United States, most of whom presumably are pulled over for traffic violations, or lose their tempers, or get into arguments, but don't pull their guns. There are roughly 10,000 gun-related homicides every year. The vast majority of those are comitted with unregistered or stolen guns, but just for the sake of argument we'll say that they all were irresponsible CCW holders. Even so, that would mean that a mere 0.013% of them use their guns to comitt crimes. Even if we expand to include non-homicides or simply wreckless usage (which, again, typically do not involve CCW holders), it's still a miniscule fraction of the number of responsible, law-abiding gun-users. Meanwhile, there are roughly 2.1 million defensive gun uses each year, of which about 90% involve no shots fired. That means that about 1.8 million potentially violent situations get resolved with nobody getting hurt, nobody getting raped, and nobody getting killed. That doesn't sound like escalation to me.

      Are guns sometimes used to comitt crime? Undboutedly. Do some CCW holders use their guns irresponsibly or criminally? Certainly. Does this mean that guns in and of themselves are part of a culture of violence, or lead to crime? No. Abusus non tollit usam: The abuse does not invalidate the correct use, and guns are used far more often to prevent violence than to cause it.

      The raise is a couple months old at this point; news travels slowly, I guess.

    7. Well, congratulations anyway..late ;)

      "in the mind of others and in at least part of your own" doesn't mean that you have the goal of becoming an agressor or that you are choosing to act aggressively, but that studies have shown that others perceive you as and you in some part of your mind think less defensively and more offensively, which does escalate violence.. It's not an insult, it's an effect of going armed.

      Guns are part of a culture of violence because they are a violent weapon.

      And as for the conceal carry interaction with police. You have to declare it, you have to declare all ammo in your vehicle, put your hands where they can be seen at all times, the officer has to call for back-up, and which they may appreciate the background check, you are at all times in the interaction, a threat to the life of the offices and you have to be treated as such - how do I know, Masons are a rough crowd, one of Seth's co-workers was complaining about every time he gets pulled over for an burned out headlight he has to go through the whole deal, just because of his gun.

      I don't really feel like we're getting anywhere though, maybe we should take a break and talk again later? Habemus Papam!

    8. Sure, we can drop it if you want. I would like to get in just a couple more points before we close for now:

      When you said 'escalating violence,' I took that to mean that violence ensued which would not have ensued had the gun not been present. I've given my thoughts on that point. The must-disclose law doesn't seem to me to be an escalation, besides which, as you note, it includes provisos for the officer's safety (and, speaking from experience, this was emphasized a lot in my CCW class). I wouldn't put it that "you are at all times a threat to the officer's life." I'd say you are a potential threat, which, from the officer's perspective, you are in any case (traffic stops are the second most dangerous parts of a police officer's job). A CCW permit and disclosing that you are carrying typically makes you less of a threat in the officer's mind (depending on the officer and the driver, of course) because it tells him both that you are willing to cooperate (because you obeyed the law to disclose) and that you probably aren't going to be a threat to him (because you passed the necessary background check to acquire a CCW in the first place).

      As you say, we can take a break and pick this up later if you like.

  4. Re the second paragraph above: Isn't regulating guns just transferring them from one group of untrustworthy people to another?

  5. Christie~

    Oh I know. Governments are sort of terrifying aren't they! I do not like the idea of all abandoned handguns going to the government, to be hoarded, and I hope the bishops aren't encouraging the government to do it all in the removal of handguns ~ that I think would fail on so many levels..but maybe a push in the direction of limited access ~ so crazy dudes with anger-management issues can't buy so easily, or so that frighteningly powerful guns are less available, in order to help build a culture less infatuated with them?? What do you think???

  6. "Being silly humans, the Hebrews demanded a king. But I understand God's first choice was for them to continue as a tribe with the law and covenant, and their own moral compasses informed by them, as direction."

    This is fantastic! I wish, I wonder, where would we be if they had followed the will of God in this?!