Pro-Life Gun Owner Anathema Sit?

Should Catholics be excommunicated from the pro-life movement if they oppose banning most guns?

That seems to be the position of Sr. Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ conference.  She declared in the Washington Post this week that to be pro-life, Catholics must favor banning “assault weapons,” and support other new restrictions.

It’s very hard to determine what Sr. Walsh means, not because Catholic teaching is unclear, but because Sr. Walsh doesn’t tell us what an assault weapon is.

gunsAll weapons assault, and all firearms are lethal.  But how can someone say that Catholic teaching requires a ban of assault weapons, if Catholic teaching does not even speak of assault weapons, much less define them?

This problem does not exist for other, actual pro-life causes.  Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “The Gospel of Life” defines abortion and definitively insists that it be banned.  It also speaks strongly, if not dogmatically, against death penalty.  Even the sometimes-disputed term “torture” is defined and discussed in the Catechism.  Neither document discusses, much less bans, “assault” weapons.

Maybe we could read the tea leaves of Sr. Walsh’s article to see what she means.  She says that an assault weapons ban is necessary for being pro-life because the Church opposes “lethal weapons on the streets.”

I live in Maryland, home to one of America’s murder capitals, Baltimore.  According to recent FBI numbers, Maryland has about 275 gun homicides a year. Two of those use rifles–with no evidence that those two rifles were “assault rifles.” (75 additional murders happen with knives. 757 died in car crashes.)

Nearly all these gun homicides were with handguns.  So from this justification, Sr. Walsh might mean that to be pro-life and oppose “lethal weapons on the streets” we must support a ban on handguns.

I can see why Sr. Walsh didn’t call for that.  It’s a much less popular position than calling for an “assault weapons” ban.  Those sound much scarier, but a handgun ban would make Sr. Walsh sound extreme, even to Washington Post readers.

If Sr. Walsh explicitly proposed banning handguns it would mean families must not protect themselves with ordinary firearms.  Is a Catholic family committing mortal sin for owning a handgun, “lethal weapons on the streets”?  According to the Catechism, families have a strong justification for owning firearms (not limited to single-shot rifles): “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others…. 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.”

It’s also possible that Sr. Walsh’s term “assault weapons” refers to weapons used in mass killings.  But those killings, like Newton, used handguns along with rifles. Columbine occurred during a national ban on scary-looking rifles and on “high capacity” magazines: those killers used handguns only, and fired most of their shots with 10-round magazines.  There is no evidence showing an increase in gun murders after that federal ban expired.

The federal “assault weapons” ban and several state bans define these weapons by cosmetic, symbolic features, not by lethality.  None of them affect “automatic” weapons, which are already illegal.  They deal with “semi-automatic” rifles that have other non-lethal features, like grips and adjustible stocks. Where in Catholic teaching does it say that guns are OK unless they look too scary? Most rifles are semi-automatic, do does Sr. Walsh insist that pro-lifers ban all semi-automatic firearms?

Sr. Walsh should not excommunicate people from the pro-life movement because of their position on how weapons look.  Semi-automatic rifles with cosmetic features are not being used in 99% of crimes that Sr. Walsh uses to justify her new pro-life requirement.  Those rifles are being responsibly and safely owned.  Catholic teaching contains no ban on most guns.

The U.S. Bishops admit that Catholic teaching merely calls for “reasonable” measures.  That standard leaves pro-life Catholics significant room for disagreement.  We all want background checks: and guess what, federal law already requires background checks.  States like Maryland, even without new rules, already impose very strict rules.  Pro-life people can legitimately believe that enough is enough.  They don’t have to buy arguments that ultimately mean Catholic teaching bans semi-automatic guns.

People have been trying to add extraneous topics to “pro-life” for years, always from the political left’s agenda.  Unspecified assertions like Sr. Walsh’s shut down discussion, and unnecessarily divide the pro-life movement.


Categories:Gun Control

  • mike w

    Using guns to defend life IS the same as pro-life. Jesus allowed His closest deciples to carry swords; the most deadly killing weapons of that time in history next to the arrow, as evident by scripture. Jesus himself used a deadly weapon to drive peddlers out of the temple. God the Father throughout history has called on His people to take up arms and slaughter their enemies. It seems that person chooses to ignore much of Gods Word. Do we not trust that God’s commands are moral for all generations? The notion that anyone is being immoral for not allowing themselves to be slaughtered is simply not Biblical or Catholic.

  • Elena

    A number of cars entering my kids Catholic school parking lot proudly display “Choose Life” licence plates along with NRA stickers. American catholics including Mr. Bowman are true hypocrits. Never I heard Jesus say when they attack you, attack right back. Sr. Walsh, thank God for your words, even if the writer doesn’t like the word “assault”. Weapons are weapons, and they kill. They have no other purpose. Enough with the hypocrisy of pro-life catholics like Mr. Bowman

  • Jonah Lafeyette

    As usual, is out of step with the USCCB, just like it was with the Ryan Budget and now Gun Control. Try not to describe yourselves as non-partisan, because you aren’t.

    Just had to come here to gloat about how stupid you look.

    Counting the minutes until this post gets removed . . . . .

  • George

    The argument that supporting the right to own “assault weapons” should deny you the right to be Pro-Life is flawed on many levels. Firstly, what the liberal media calls “assault weapons” is a flase claim. The rifles that they oppose are similiar to almost all bolt-action hunting rifles. They are semi-automatic, meaning one shot is fired for every time the trigger is pulled. The only difference is that they have added cosmetics that make the rifle look like a military grade firearm. To had to this, the rifles that they are attemping to ban are weaker than traditional hunting rifles. This shows that their knowledge of the argument is flawed.

    Secondly, responsible owners of “assault weapons” do not use the rifles to cause unprovoked harm to other humans. The main purpose of owning the weapons is the either hunt, shoot for sport, and/or protect themselves, family, and property from threats both foriegn and domestic.

    This has nothing to do with the argument of protecting human life seeing as a rifle is meant be used as a tool. The same can be said for a knife which is the cause of more deaths than rifles. Should we ban kinves and cars too simply because it is possible to cause harm to another human when using them?

  • Peter Enrique

    Great point bill!

  • M Sully

    Guns have nothing to do with Catholicism. We live in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It says nothing about guns. However, this is because guns didn’t exist back in the day.
    SOMEONE COMMENT ON THIS PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! whether you agree or disagree

    • nora_fabre

      The unity of the church is wounded because of heresy.owning an automatic assault weapon good against Christian teaching because it is a influence for violence and crime.



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