Since my wife and I began dating over five years ago (man, how time flies), and in particular during our engagement, I had to think long and hard about one of the grave responsibilities that would soon fall upon my shoulders as the head of the household: the physical protection of my family. That has been brought into even sharper focus now being a father, and was finally stirred to the point where I knew I needed to put something down in writing when I listened to an episode of one of my favorite independent living podcasts, Off the Grid News, entitled, Does God's law require us to own a gun?
In response to the title's immediate question, are we morally obligated to own a firearm?, I would argue that no, there is no direct moral imperative to own or train to use any type of weapon. It is a personal choice. But before we can discuss that specific choice, another, deeper question has to be considered: How far does my duty as a husband and father to protect my family extend? If it came to a point or situation where there was no other option to protect their lives (or my own) from the malicious intentions of a ne'er-do-well, would I be able to do what was necessary to stop them, even if stopping them requires lethal force? Where is the line between relying exclusively on God's providence for protection, and recognizing that He has put resources at my disposal to carry out this particular responsibility, as far as it is within my capacity to do so? I don't relish even having to think about the potential of malicious harm coming to my family, but the reality is that it happens every day, hundreds if not thousands of times per day, to people who never thought that it would happen to them. Although statistically unlikely, it is very real, and has very real and grave consequences.
So, we are led into the deeper philosophical discussion of legitimate defense. The Catechism addresses directly in Part Three, Article 5: The Fifth Commandment (2264-2265):
2264 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:
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 another's. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, 64,7)
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.
I quickly came to the conclusion that: (1) I am responsible for the lives of my family, both physical and spiritual, as far they are within the authority and ability that God has given me to serve them and protect them; and (2) I therefore have a grave duty to be working constantly toward ensuring the defense of both.
As the last sentence of 2265 alludes to, there are divisions of legitimate authority, beginning with the family and extending into the community and society at large, and so there are divisions (or layers) of responsibility for providing legitimate defense. More on that in the next post, Faith and Firearms Part 2: Legitimate Authority.