Thinking about Aurora

“Aurora” will soon rival “Columbine” and “Virginia Tech” in its association with guns and madness and death, solidifying as a one-name argument against the private ownership of firearms and undermining Second Amendment rights.

Although the Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed the right of individuals to bear arms – in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and in McDonald v. Chicago (2010) – a second Obama term, during which one of the Court’s justices retires and a new one is appointed, may well lead to new cases with different outcomes. Stipulating this eventuality, why should this matter to Catholics?

Simply stated: the loss of one essential liberty threatens the loss of others. As goes the Second Amendment, so goes the First.

Besides, our faith does not require (in most cases) either pacifism or martyrdom.

Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Breyer are all over 70. If Ginsburg or Breyer (or both) were to step down, the effect on the Court’s philosophical balance would probably be negligible. But if it were to happen that President Obama is called upon to fill the seats of Scalia and Kennedy, the Court would be “liberal” for decades to come (after all, both those men were appointed by President Reagan). The difference between a weak 5-4 “conservative” Court and strong 6-3 “liberal” one would be great indeed.

I hail from Ohio and, although I’m not from the Youngstown area, I shared the embarrassment of many Buckeyes over the antics of Rep. James Traficant, a Democrat; he of the pompadour hair and narrow neckties, who was expelled from Congress and served nearly seven years in the clink. But here’s the thing: his bizarre and criminal behavior had little effect upon anyone outside Ohio’s 17th C.D. But the appointment of two radical jurists to the Supreme Court will affect everybody everywhere.

I believe a 6-3 liberal majority would wreak havoc on American liberty: in upholding such incursions against religious liberty as the HHS mandates and by finding same-sex “marriage” somewhere in the Constitution; in allowing universities and other institutions to limit free speech in the service of “diversity;” in restricting gun ownership to what amounts to government employees – and these are just a few examples of issues pressing in on us right now. Imagine what might come if ultraliberal Judicial and Executive Departments are restrained only by a fractious, divided, and ineffective Congress, which Mr. Obama has already shown his willingness to bypass, as he did on immigration.

After “Aurora,” Mr. Obama has been coy about gun rights; he’ll cease to be if re-elected.

But what is the official guidance for Catholics in the matter of gun ownership? Let’s begin with the USCCB. Although published a dozen years ago, the bishops’ Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice offers food for thought:

All of us must do more to end violence in the home and to find ways to help victims break out of the pattern of abuse. As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns.

Sensible regulations are good – and uncontroversial.

But there is an ominous footnote in the document. The bishops cite a 1990 USCCB document on substance abuse with this prefatory comment: “However, we believe that in the long run and with few exceptions (i.e., police officers, military use), handguns should be eliminated from our society.”

Perhaps only America’s bishops could conceptualize such a future, living as they do in a nation in which cops and soldiers respect the rule of law. We don’t have coups. Still, it seems an odd position given how many bishops have recently written encomia to For Greater Glory, a film extolling the Cristero War, which wasn’t prosecuted by pacifists.

And in the Catechism (2264) we read:

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 . . .
The Catechism then quotes Thomas Aquinas:
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. [Emphases added.]

We are called to make prudential judgments, but it’s foolish to suppose that victims of an ongoing crime may know the end result of either action or inaction, although history indicates the latter (surrender to tyranny, whether of the state or a criminal) often ends badly. Even the decision to call for help (to 9-1-1 or to neighbors) may result in precious seconds lost in the war declared by criminals who set upon the innocent with evil intent.

Of all the slogans offered up as bumper-sticker wisdom in the gun-ownership debate, one resonates with truth: When guns are criminalized, only criminals will have guns.

Have the bishops prophetically visualized a time when government will have managed somehow to confiscate every single weapon not in the hands of the police or the military and, perhaps, will have nationalized weapons making? And what sort of government would be capable of that? In the world today, I can think of only one: North Korea.


Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.