Guns, Self Defense, and Enemy-Love
Throughout the whole gun-control debate one of the arguments against increased gun control was the need for self defense. Often the tenor of these arguments leaves me feeling a bit uneasy because I get the sense that those making the arguments put their hope for salvation (from violent intruders) in their guns. I often end up feeling that for some people guns have become idols.
I sometimes attempt to respond by affirming the obligation to defend one’s family but questioning the necessity of planning a lethal response to a would-be intruder. Often my attempts result in utter confusion on the part of my interlocutor or accusations of sacrificing my family with passivity in the name of cowardice disguised as self-righteousness.
All the same, planning ahead to kill a violent intruder seems to me be contrary to the Spirit of the Gospel. Here’s why:
Generally speaking, it is the mission of the Church, which is to say it is our mission, to bear witness to the salvation offered by Christ to the world. More than merely talking about Jesus, this involves enacting a performance of truth and love, of justice and mercy. This performance ought to stand in contrast to the performance of the city of man which is motivated by self-love, power-grabbing, violence, etc.
In no way do I think this performance implies that we ought not protect our loved ones, which is Magisterially taught as an obligation and a principle of the common good, but not a right. However, I do believe Christ would have us hold this obligation in tension with the obligation to love our enemies.
If God is Creator and Father of all who wills the salvation of all, then every human being is already my brother or sister or a potential fellow adopted sibling of Christ. Suppose my biological brother was an unstable addict of some sort. (He is not.) If he stormed into my house seeking to harm and/or kill members of my family, I would absolutely have the obligation to defend my family. But would not my father mourn greatly if I killed my brother in this hour? Should I not try to love him and defend my family?
Consider also the spiritual state of an intruder and potential assailant. Is it not likely that his eternal fate is at stake? Is not likely that my killing him in defense of my family may indeed result, albeit indirectly, in his damnation? In what way can this ever be an act of love?
Should I not try to imagine a way to protect my family while also loving my enemy? This is not passivism any more than is turning the other cheek. Rather it can be an active and counter-cultural, indeed culture-evangelizing act.
Nor is this weakness or cowardice, but fortitude. As Joseph Pieper once wrote
“Power is so manifestly of the very structure of the world that endurance, not wrathful attack, is ultimately decisive test of actual fortitude, which, essentially, is nothing else than to love and to realize that which is good, in the face of injury or death, and undeterred by any spirit of compromise.”
Such fortitude, such a response does not come naturally. It requires that we begin now, in the hypothetical, to imagine ways of upholding both the obligation to defend our families and also the obligation to love our enemies. Forming our imaginations in light of the Gospel is an absolute pre-requisite to virtuous responses in such situations.
Of course there is risk involved (as there is also risk involved in planning defense with a weapon). There is no guarantee love will deter my assailant, but there are real and effective strategies for emotionally disarming a would be assailant which can be learned, just as one ought to learn to properly use a firearm. Granted the former require more time, imagination, and virtue, but are they not worth it?
One thing we can do here and now is begin disarming the hatred and violence by building community by being in relationship with those statistics show are most likely to engage in violent acts, the destitute, the addicted, the imprisoned.
Also, I can get a dog. Certainly a dog can be silenced, but it may arguably be more effective at preventing disaster for myself and my enemy than my planning to kill upon entry.
Of course there may be times, because this a fallen and broken world, where lethal self-defense may be necessary. But should we not try to make this a literal last resort? Should we not imagine how we can actually love our enemies?