“Ask a Priest: Could We Keep at Gun at Home for Protection?”

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Q: With all the insanity going on due to the George Floyd incident, my wife has decided she wants to keep a gun in our apartment in case there is a break-in or riot in our city which has a constantly changing population due to tourism. I am not comfortable with a weapon in the house because you rarely have it near you when you need it. I said we should pray on it. I was pointed to Psalm 91 which seemed to address me directly, almost like Jesus spoke directly to me. Unfortunately, my wife still wants a gun. Are we permitted to use deadly force to protect ourselves? Am I taking the psalm too literally? – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I don’t think you are taking the psalm too literally. There are various levels to your question that might be worth addressing.

First is the issue of self-defense. Self-defense is allowed, even to the point using lethal force if necessary.

A few numbers are worth quoting from the Catechism:

Legitimate defense

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. … The one is intended, the other is not.”

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 of another’s.

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.

2267 […] If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. […] [end quoted material]

A second issue involves prudence. This is where a household would need to decide how it should take concrete steps to protect itself. Some guns have been used well to protect innocent people. Some guns have brought their own problems and tragedies.

Here, you and your wife might want to consider how much to rely on existing police protection, and whether having a gun would really add to security. As you mention, effective use of a gun in a threatening situation is not always a given.

A third issue is more general and has to do with faith.

You seem to be willing to rely on God’s protection, based on Scripture. It might be good to keep encouraging your wife to pray about the issue. Has her faith been shaken in these past days? You might dialogue with her about all this.

One of the axioms in the spiritual life is that we shouldn’t make big decisions when we are troubled or anxious. Perhaps you could wait till things calm down before making a final decision.

Still another matter is whether there are alternatives to consider. Are there other ways to improve security, such as consulting with your landlord and fellow tenants? Could security (cameras, lighting, etc.) be improved? Would having pepper spray on hand be just as effective?

Obviously, the ultimate decision is up to you and your wife. But by discussing things and praying calmly, you and your wife could both be open to the working of the Holy Spirit.

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