Saturday, January 22, 2011

Faith and Firearms, Part 2: Legitimate Authority

Part 1 of this series ended with section 2265 of the Catechism:

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.

So, anyone who holds legitimate authority has "not only a right, but a grave duty" to protect the lives of those they are responsible for.  So, what does "those who legitimately hold authority" mean?  Does that mean ourselves?  Local law enforcement (police)?  The government?  Well, according to the natural law, yes, yes, and yes.

Authority and responsibility go hand-in-hand.  The most basic unit of the "civil community" is the family and, until recently, it has been broadly accepted across demographics, cultures, and faith traditions that the husband and father, as the head of the household (in case anyone has any questions about what this means from the Christian perspective, see Ephesians 5:25), holds the responsibility to serve, provide for and protect the family.  This is certainly not to say that the wife/mother and children are not capable of defending the family, but the primary responsibility--the responsibility to lay down his life--falls squarely on the shoulders of the father.  If we accept that the father holds the ultimate responsibility within the family--that God has entrusted them to his care--then he (and certainly the wife and mother, if he is not present) has a right and a "grave duty" to repel aggressors against it, using arms if necessary.

A common retort is, "Those rules don't apply anymore.  We have enough police now that are only a 911 call away."

Well, true, the police will usually come if you call 911, but (depending on the city) the average time for responding to a priority 1 call (a life-threatening situation) is 7-10 minutes.  According to the Justice Department's 2005 Report of Criminal Victimization in the United States, in 71.1% of violent crimes, it took law enforcement more than 5 minutes to respond. Smaller, local departments may be able to respond more quickly, but even as we saw in the case of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, where Sgt Kimberly Munley arrived on scene within a matter of minutes to heroically stop Nadal Hassan, his damage--13 dead and 38 others wounded--had already been done.  As the saying goes, "the police are only minutes away when seconds count."  This is certainly not meant to be a ding on police officers who put their lives on the line day in and day out, only an acknowledgement of the reality that they cannot be everywhere and at all times.  As a note, according to 2007 U.S. Justice Department Statistics, there are 463,000 sworn officers in the various jurisdictions within the U.S. Assuming three 8-hour shifts per day, that leaves 154,000 officers on duty for a national population of 300 million.  In other words, there is approximately one officer on duty for every 2,000 citizens.  It may feel like they're going to be there right away, until you're the one that needs them there right away.

There is more to it than just the time aspect.  The Supreme Court has ruled consistently (over ten separate times, in fact, including 1981's Warren vs. District of Columbia, 1989's DeShaney v. Winnebago County, and most recently in 2005 Castle Rock v. Gonzalezthat, despite the common motto, "to protect and serve," police do not have a sworn obligation to protect individuals.  If they did, citizens would have legal--and possibly criminal--recourse against police for not saving the lives that depended on their action.  Their primary and only constitutional responsibility is to enforce the law and, by doing so, to maintain the order of society at large.  More often than not, that means prioritizing their limited resources and apprehending those suspected of violent crime after the fact so that the can be brought to trial.  Individual incidents of violent crime--particularly crime against law-abiding citizens--generally cannot be dealt with beforehand by police because before the crime has taken crime has taken place.

So, the police cannot respond instantaneously to protect us, and cannot respond to a crime until its commission has begun to unfold.  In that gap until they can, and in as much as we can anticipate potential crimes through awareness of our surroundings and circumstances, the legitimate authority for defense defaults to the individuals who are present.  In a situation where the threat is against the family, that responsibility falls primarily on the father.

Again, as I stressed in Part 1, the decision to keep and bear arms in the form of firearms--as is our Constitutionally-protected right--is a very personal one.  But should the worst happen, I for one want to be prepared to respond to any predator who threatens the life of physical well-being of my family with whatever amount of force is necessary to stop them.  If I can help it, and cannot convince them that harming my family is not in their best interest, I would prefer to keep that fight beyond arms' reach, and firearms are the logical tools that allow me to do that.

Look for next week's return from the practical to the philosophical, as I'll explore in more depth the doctrine of double effect.


1 comment:

  1. Your family is very blessed to have you as their protector! :)