Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky: On the Morality of Gun Control

What’s the Point of Fasting, Anyway?
February 26, 2018
February 26, 2018

Father Jerry J. Pokorsky, The Catholic Thing

Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky:

Rev. Jerry J. PokorskyAfter delivering a homily indicting Catholic Senators (Democrat and Republican) who voted against legislation that would render illegal the killing of unborn babies with a developed nervous system, I received a response in a letter:

I look forward to hearing your next political homily, similar to the one on abortion a few weeks ago. Please state the Catholic position on mass murder, and, in that context, list the Catholic Republicans in Congress who block any reasonable assault-weapons ban. You might need to extend church hours since the list will, undoubtedly, be extensive. Thank you.

It needs to be said right off, of course, that a homily on the evil of abortion is about as political as a homily condemning the Holocaust. Regardless, if my correspondent would identify any politician who was in favor of placing weapons – including daggers and box cutters – into the hands of criminals and psychotics for purposes of mass murder, I would happily identify them by name. And I would invite the same boos and hisses I invite for any politician who doesn’t lift a finger to protect the lives of unborn babies.

But on such matters, here is my answer in a nutshell:

  1. Abortion is intrinsically evil and thus opposing it is not political.
  2. Guns are not intrinsically evil. On the contrary, the Catechism teaches not just the right but the duty to use lethal force, if necessary, to defend oneself and those towards whom we have a responsibility.  The same right to life that condemns mass murder requires the use of a gun to wound or kill if necessary to save life. Keeping guns away from mass murderers is obviously a moral duty, but guns in themselves are not intrinsically evil, unlike abortion.
  3. Every firearm can be used in an assault, so the label “assault rifle” is a political, rather than a moral, one.

Priests and prelates have no pertinent expertise in crafting gun control legislation or, for that matter, in preventing the arming of rogue states.  Those killed by a butter knife, an AK-47, or a neutron bomb are equally and indifferently dead. In each case, the resort to arms will be judged just or unjust by the same moral criterion.

The Church must always uphold the integrity of justice, and justice not only permits but requires defense of the innocent against unjust aggressors, i.e., those who inflict harm without due cause.

But is a “reasonable assault-weapons ban” a moral imperative in our day in view of the increasingly frequent school shootings (not to mention violence in the cities)?

Here there arise some truly political questions that need thoughtful consideration and rigorous analysis – by the laity. The ones I am about to list certainly are not exhaustive.  (I do not presume to exercise priestly authority here, but I am, after all, a citizen, too.)

What is a “weapon”? Obviously, handguns and rifles are weapons. But so are box cutters on airplanes.  Nearly 3,000 people were murdered with assaults that began with box cutters in the hands of terrorists.

“This column first appeared on the website The Catholic Thing ( Copyright 2018. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.”

*Image: The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre, printed in 1770 by Paul Revere after a design by Henry Pelham [Library of Congress]

Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.