Monday, October 24, 2005

Victory for Human Rights in Brazil

I meant to post a comment earlier on this morning's good news: the people of Brazil decisively rejected a referendum that would -- according to NPR -- have banned guns.

Let there be no misunderstanding: owning a gun is essentially a fundamental human right.

Doubt this? Let us reason together.

1. A gun is a product of human ingenuity; it is an extension of the body, and of the will. Insofar as it realizes potentiality inherent in creation, it participates in goodness; otherwise, it is morally neutral. People who say things like, "guns are bad," show themselves -- at least on this subject -- lapsing from reason.

2. There is no question that every human being possesses the right of self-protection; and, moreover, the positive duty to act in defense of others who are threatened.

3. Obviously, such things are governed by reason, and prudence. I am entitled to use means necessary to repel an attack, not to annihilate my attacker. Regrettably, sometimes in the course of stopping aggression, the aggressor dies. I'm not permitted (per Catholic teaching) to intend to kill an attacker; but if he dies as a result of legitimate self-defense, that's his fault, not mine. Just as it would be unreasonable for me to respond to an assault with a stick by blowing up a city block, so it is also unreasonable for me to be obliged to be so delicate about the well being of the aggressor that the innocent (including oneself) are endangered.

4. So, one is obliged to be proportionate in acting to repel aggression, whether in matters of national defense, or personal defense. The principles are the same.

5. Even were I willing to sacrifice myself -- to be a martyr for utter non-resistance -- in no way am I obliged to do that.

6. Even were I willing to sacrifice my own life, rather than injure an aggressor, I am not entitled to make that decision for others. In short, if someone is attacking, not me, but someone else -- and I can act to assist that other person, my obligation to defend the victim seems very clear.

7. A pause to summarize: there is indisputably a right to defend oneself, and a duty to defend others, from aggression, based on reason and prudence, in relation to the threat.

8. So it's not that complicated: if I come after you with apparent deadly force, you are entitled to use force, sufficient -- as you can ascertain, given the uncertain situation -- to repel me. You are entitled to be sure, since you probably won't get a re-do.

9. Who can take this right away from you? Society can, if you are convicted of a crime, via due process. Update: I ought to have said merely that Society can constrict this right; see next point.

10. But, even were you cast into the darkest, meanest prison, even there you have the natural right of self-defense. If your keepers fail in their duty to protect you, you are morally entitled to do so in your behalf -- even if you break the rules: because no human law can trump fundamental human dignity.

11. So on what grounds does a government -- even a majority of ones fellow citizens -- decide a whole class of people (or everyone) can't have guns? On the prudential judgment that one doesn't need them; that one can safeguard oneself without them.

12. Ah, but since it is your life on the line, you get to exercise the final prudential judgment. And, however noble you may feel, refer to statement 6, above.

13. St. Thomas Aquinas said, an unjust law is really no law at all.


Anonymous said...

Very nice. St. Gabriel Possenti pray for us!

Nate said...

You seem to be saying that NOT carrying a gun would be amoral, since I wouldn't be able to defend supposed victims out there.

I don't know. I think your argument seems like it has some kind of logic, but that it's also riddled with a kind of pride. I can't see Jesus preaching this in the streets of Galilee to Jews under Roman law.

Is carrying a gun the 2nd great commandment: love your neighbor (defend him with a gun)?

What's the absurdity of believing that Jesus would have us lay aside guns (if I grant you that a society doesn't have the right to do that democratically, which I'm still questioning)?

Fr Martin Fox said...


I am guessing that when you said "amoral," in the first paragraph, you meant "immoral."

The answer is, no, it is not necessarily immoral to refuse to carry a gun. I asserted a moral obligation to come to the defense of the innocent, as a general principle; clearly the application of that will differ from person to person, situation to situation.

But it could be, depending on the situation. And your intention.

So: supposing you foresaw an actual threat; you knew how to use a gun, you could have taken it and used it for someone else's well-being; and yet you did not. Depending on why you did not, yes--that could well be sinful.

Or; supposing your nation is under attack. Setting aside those who have a sincere objection to taking up arms altogether, if you refused to do your part? Yes, that is immoral.

I don't know what you mean when you say my argument is "riddled with a kind of pride," so I don't know what to say about that.

Our Lord himself never took up weapons, but that doesn't mean he forbade his followers doing so. When our Lord spoke about "turning the other cheek," he wasn't saying one had no right to self defense; but that he was emphasizing the virtue of voluntarily giving up ones right to self defense. If its a commandmant imposed on all, its no longer a heroic, voluntary act.

If you think Our Lord commanded us not to defend ourselves, or others, then you really have a problem reconciling that interpretation of his teaching, in the Gospel, with the teaching of St. Paul, St. John the Baptist, and much other Scripture.

And, really, I would wonder why your personal interpretation of the Scriptures should override that of the Church? The Church has never, in 2,000 years, held that fidelity to Christ forbids taking up arms in self-defense, or in defense of others. Never.

Does our Lord wish us to solve problems without violence? Certainly. Are there times when we can -- and, answering the Lord's call, we ought -- to forgo our rights in order to advance reconciliation? Yes. But these involve prudential judgments, not a blanket prohibition.

Let's be very concrete: if you are standing between a killer and some people he intends to kill -- and you can stop him -- do you really think our Lord commands you to lay down and let him by? Really?

Anonymous said...

Religion - the biggest killer this planet has ever seen.

And this post just confirms why religion should be outlawed together with guns.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks for being candid.

How do you propose to enforce your law to "outlaw" religion? Where will you build your concentration camps? Or do you have another way to deal with all those who resist?

Naturally, of course, you don't want the victims of your purges to be able to fight back...