Gun Control Control

Friday(This post helps launch a new organization to educate about Catholic teaching and gun control: the Firearms and Catholic Teaching Society of Maryland [the FACTS].)

Our country has a gun problem. Criminals, and people who are mentally disturbed, are using guns to hurt and kill people.

Almost none of the proposed gun control measures around the country substantially address this problem. Instead they propose to restrict the availability of firearms to everyone, including families seeking to protect themselves.

Worse yet, the only places passing new gun control laws are deep blue states where extensive gun control already exists.

I live in one of those states, Maryland. Maryland law already imposes the following:

  • State police must approve handgun models that are sold, ensuring safety
  • State police must approve each specific sale
  • State police receive full information to register each regulated sale and purchaser
  • State police run background checks before any sale of regulated guns
  • State police require a 7-day waiting period, which often extends to weeks
  • State police require 30 days before purchasing another regulated firearm
  • “Assault weapons” are regulated by these rules, preventing easy access
  • Sale of high capacity magazines holding more than 20 rounds are banned

However, the Maryland Catholic Conference has come out in support of Governor O’Malley’s new, additional gun control measures. His proposals barely touch the problem of mental disturbance or crime. Instead they multiply burdens and bans on ordinary citizens obtaining firearms for protection.

What does Catholic teaching say in favor of gun control? It’s hard to find anything specific.

The Maryland Catholic Conference cites only two sources of Catholic teaching* for its support of O’Malley’s proposals. One is a bishop calling Catholics to “take steps” to prevent violence. The other is a statement from the U.S. Bishops’ Conference in 2000. It sets forth five principles:

1. Support measures that control the sale and use of firearms;
2. Support measures that make guns safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children and anyone other than the owner);
3. Support sensible regulations of handguns;
4. Support legislative efforts that seek to protect society from the violence associated with easy access to deadly weapons including assault weapons; and
5. Make a serious commitment to confront the pervasive role of addiction and mental illness in crime.

These principles tell us nothing about whether to add more gun control measures in a state that already has extensive gun control. A Catholic can read these principles and conclude that Maryland already imposes “sensible” regulations of firearms, except for needing to address mental illness (which Governor O’Malley’s bill almost completely fails to address).

For example, O’Malley proposes to ban gun magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds. This is well below the standard number of bullets that will fit inside an ordinary handgun without even extending the magazine below the frame. There is no Catholic teaching that says Maryland’s existing 20-round limit is not already a sensible “high capacity magazine” restriction.

New York recently decided to “do something” and lowered its capacity limit from 10 to 7, and some Catholics there supported it because it was “gun control.” There is no limit on this vague idea of Catholic teaching.  It is simply an argument to ban 2-round magazines, or 1-round magazines, or guns altogether. But there is no Catholic teaching saying that more and more and more gun control serves the common good.

This is notably different than issues like abortion and marriage. For both those issues, the Church has clear and authoritative teaching that requires absolute legal protection of the preborn and of the definition of marriage. This precludes faithful Catholics from opposing restrictive laws on abortion, or from supporting laws calling same-sex relationships marriage. But there is no corollary Catholic teaching on the issue of gun control.

The U.S. Bishops’ Conference merely sets forth principles in this area, and they are right to do so. The Catechism says that the common good requires the defense of others, including family, in paragraph 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.

If Catholics want to support more gun control, they are free to do so. They are also not required to do so by Catholic teaching. Like many issues, this is an area where the Church gives Catholics wide latitude to decide what is “sensible.” Catholics are entirely reasonable in believing that in Maryland, more firearms restrictions on families is contrary to the common good, and it does a disservice to society by refusing to address the real problem of mental illness and crime.

The common good requires control of gun control.  Read more at The Firearms and Catholic Teaching Society website.


*It is worth noting that neither of these sources, by virtue of being from a national bishops’ conference or a committee thereof, actually constitute “Catholic teaching.” As Bishop Vasa and then-Cardinal Ratzinger have noted, episcopal conferences have no theological or canonical teaching basis in and of themselves.


Categories:Gun Control Uncategorized

  • John

    The article is not entirely accurate today, since with the recent visit of pope francis, and the recent tragic and senseless violent event that again hit the US in Oregon, gun control debate needs to be put back on the spot, for the sake of victim’s families and friends.

    I see slowly but increasingly more and more people are coming together (mostly family member victims of gun violence) to take a stand on gun control, and raise awareness of the danger that lax gun control pose for the country. Some politicians and other business people are also supporting the movement (Bloomberg for example), even though they know they go against the most powerful lobby group in the US , which is very well funded. However that does not prevent them from going forward, since we are talking about human lives here.

    Pope Francis also made an interesting remark on congress related to guns recently : “Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

    Clearly although this is a bit more toward regulation of global arms trade, what about private gun ownership ?

    The most direct statement, from the church in the US comes in the bishops’ “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” published in November 2000.

    “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,” it says.

    But that is not all, on the wake of Sandy Hooks tragedy the Vatican through Federico Lombardi (the official vatican spokesman) said: “But it would be worse to be satisfied with words of condemnation alone. And while massacres are carried out by unbalanced or hate-driven persons, there is no doubt that they are carried out with firearms,” he said.

    Lombardi renewed Vatican appeals for disarmament and encouragement for measures to fight “the production, commerce and contraband of all types of arms,” an industry fueled by `’enormous economic and power interests.”

    Clearly the church has taken a stance on the issue, as well as an ever increasing number of people who are rightly concerned with the senseless violence which has become all too often tragically in the US.

  • John

    The issue here is to fully understand what the church says and correctly interpret it.

    First it is clear that given the endless amount of shooting that constantly occur in the US, more gun control is needed, but not only at a state level, but rather at a national level. It does not make sense for one state to have strict gun controls while criminals, the mentally ill, and just any about anyone who holds a grunt against someone else, or simply want to make a statement can easily go to another state (or another town) where there are fewer restrictions and thus easily obtain a gun, or steal it from a family member or friend who has cleared the background checks.

    I think the church tells us to use our common sense, gun are deadly weapons which therefore must require strict restrictions if civilians are acquired them. The reality is that too often guns find their way into those who should have never have them, background checks and existing measures are not enough, too many deaths and too many families being destroyed enough is enough.

    Worldwide in the vast majority of countries guns are not allowed to be carried except by police or the military, and only after each have gone through years of training to safely use and handle them and for good reasons.

    To reduce gun violence clearly more needs to be done in terms of gun control, the right to bear arms has gone too far, and in the name of “the second amendment” too many innocent blood has been spilled, just like Planned Parenthood in the name of “women’s health” they justify the killing of the most vulnerable and defenseless in our society, similarly in the name of the “second amendment” innocent blood continues to be spilled, which almost every day we see in the news.

    Sure the church says self defense (even deadly) is morally acceptable if your life or someone’s else is in danger and no other option is available, however that is precisely why police officers and military exist, to protect and save the lives of civilians. I agree police officers and military are needed and each country has a right to have them to help reduce crime, violence and work to promote a peaceful society and protect naturally protect the civilians. The church has never opposed that.

    The worst part is that all this could be easily solved by passing gun restrictions, which will help to reduce the senseless violence and trauma that so many families unjustly must bear.

    The church is deeply concerned with the rise of gun violence associated with the US, and rightly so has always called for prudence and common sense while handling deadly weapons.



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