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Deacon Keith Fournier: Gun Rights? Guns Have No Rights, People Do! Self Defense is a Human Right

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The real issue here is self-defense and the defense of others and not guns

In an age of sound bites and agenda driven news reports, the architects of a new cultural order have slipped one more phrase into the lexicon of the cultural struggle. I maintain that we adopt at our own peril. The phrase is Gun Rights.  Guns have no rights. People do. The real Right at issue is the Right to Self Defense. That includes the right to keep and bear arms. Rights are goods of human persons. Human Rights come not from a civil government but from God.

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Gun on an American flag with the U.S. Constitution in the background

Gun on an American flag with the U.S. Constitution in the background

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen committed an evil act of domestic terror, slaughtering 49 innocent people and injuring fifty more in a bar in Orlando Florida which caters to homosexual, lesbian and transgender people. He made a 911 call twenty minutes into the attack pledging allegiance to ISIS.

A surviving witness heard him shout "stop killing ISIS". ISIS claimed him as one of their own, boasting over the radio, "God allowed Omar Mateen, one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America, to carry out an attack entering a crusader gathering in a night club...in Orlando in Florida, killing and wounding more than 100 of them."

That evil act was decried by all decent people. The outpouring of sympathy and solidarity for the victims was moving and brought people together for a short time of national reflection. However, as is often the case in the aftermath of such horrid acts of violence, it also raised a growing cry for what is popularly referred to as "gun control".

The Catechism and Conscience

Part III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is entitled Life in Christ. There we find the paragraphs which expound upon the Fifth Commandment, You Shall Not Kill. The entire section can be read here. Catholics who seek to enter into the debate of the real issues surrounding "gun control" should begin here.

In a Western culture which has lost its moral compass, we should approach all of the issues which we are facing as Catholic Christians first, last and all in between. However, as in other areas of serious cultural concern, some Catholics tend to simply consider the various political arguments, choose the position they most agree with, and then jump in to the debate.

Others claim to ground their position based upon a notion of conscience which does not comport with Catholic Christian teaching. Article 6 of Chapter One of the Catholic Catechism presents a through summary of what is properly meant by conscience in Christian teaching. 

We are called to form our conscience in accordance with the truth. The truth is revealed in the Natural Law, expounded upon and completed in the Sacred Scripture and the Christian Tradition and taught by the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Catholic Church.

Consciences can be uninformed, poorly formed, deformed, or it can become darkened and lead us to a confused state where we wander in our own land of Nod, East of Eden, following in the footsteps of Cain. (See, Gen. 4:16)

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We live in a precarious time in the United States of America. Many citizens are concerned about efforts to infringe upon the rights delineated in the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. As a constitutional lawyer who spent much of my career defending the fundamental Rights to Life and Religious Freedom, I share their concern.

However, one of those Rights is found in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which reads "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  How is this Amendment to be properly understood in this discussion of "gun control" and "gun rights"?

My purpose in writing this article is NOT to enter into the charged debate referred to in shorthand as "gun control". Good people can and do have differing opinions on the legitimate concerns which this debate can bring up. That is reflected in the differing exercises of prudential judgement which the Orlando massacre has elicited among good and faithful Catholics and other Christians.

My purpose is to attempt to clarify the language of the broader debate and then to set the issue in a context for my readers, most of whom are Catholic Christians or Christians of another community. That requires a precision of language which is too often not present in our dialogue and discussion concerning guns and the right to self-defense.

Only Human Persons Have Human Rights

In an age of sound bites and agenda driven news reports, the architects of a new cultural order have slipped one more phrase into the lexicon of the cultural struggle. I maintain that we adopt at our own peril. The phrase is "Gun Rights".  Guns have no rights. People do. The real Right at issue is the Right to Self Defense. That includes the right to keep and bear arms.

Rights are goods of human persons. Human Rights come not from a civil government but from God. Civil Rights are those rights recognized by the Civil Government and properly protected. Again, Human Rights do not come from the government. They come from God. Let me give two recent examples.

Abortion Rights?

Over the course of our human and civil rights struggle to protect our youngest neighbors in the womb from being intentionally killed through procured abortion, we have experienced the lethal power of misusing words. The Right to Life is confirmed by the Natural Law and medical science. The child in the womb is our first neighbor. It is always and everywhere wrong to kill our innocent neighbors.The child in the womb has a Right to Life, even if the current civil and criminal law of the United States fails to recognize that Right.



The phrase "Abortion Rights" was manufactured by cultural revolutionaries who oppose the true Right, the fundamental Human Right to Life. They inserted it into the lexicon of the cultural struggle intentionally. A complicit propaganda Media quickly adopted the shorthand language of these architects of the culture of death and use. Procured Abortions are always deadly acts. Abortions have no rights. Only human persons do. The first of which, the Right to Life, is always violated in every procured abortion because a child is always killed. 

Sadly, even some Catholic and other Christian media sources adopted the language of the cultural revolutionaries who fail to recognize the Right to Life of the children in the womb. They have begun using the horrible phrase "Abortion Rights". In so doing, I am afraid they are propounding the evil by adding to the intentional confusion that phrase unleashes.

Marriage Rights?

The same sort of verbal sleight of hand is now being used by those who oppose authentic marriage and want to destroy it by redefining the word. Members of a fringe element of people who self-identify as homosexual or lesbian or transgender or intersexed or .. (the acronym only grows), are now promoting what I have referred to in the past as a homosexual equivalency movement. Some of the proponents of this movement now walk under a propaganda banner, using the phrase "marriage equality" to hide their real intention, to redefine the very word marriage in order to actually destroy marriage and undermine the family and society founded upon it.

They want to build a new society where homosexual and lesbian sexual practices are considered somehow morally equivalent to the sexual expression of faithful monogamous marital love between a man and a woman. This revolutionary agenda is now rampant in every form of the media. It invades nearly every television series, popular film and is being forced upon us all by a propaganda press which has bought into the new cultural revolution behind it.

The supporters of this new cultural revolution further demand that homosexual and lesbian relationships, which are incapable of achieving the ends of marriage, be given the same legal status as a marriage. And, they want the police power of the State to be used to enforce this new order.

In June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued an egregious opinion in a case called Obergefell v Hodges.  Five lawyers manufactured out of whole cloth a new faux "right" for two men or two women to do what they are always incapable of doing, marry. They claimed to have found such a "right" in the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution, apparently next to the "right" to take the life of children in the womb through procured abortion.

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In the wake of that horrid act of judicial alchemy by those five, unelected, black robed lawyers, activists at the fringes of the homosexual equivalency community have hard been at work, enforcing this edict across the Nation and using it to suppress free speech, free association and the free exercise of religion. Now, they want to use the police power of the State to accomplish their cultural revolution by insisting that homosexual persons have a "right to marry" and anyone who questions their position concerning the nature of marriage is an "extremist".

There is a tsunami of activism which is literally hell-bent on compelling faithful Christians to deny their deeply held religious, moral and natural law based conviction that marriage is solely possible between one and one woman - because only a man and a woman can achieve the unitive and procreative ends of marriage. In fact, punitive measures are not being taken against faithful Christians, across the confessional spectrum.

Marriage is not simply a religious construct. The Natural Law reveals - and the cross cultural history of civilization affirms - that marriage is between a man and a woman, open to children and intended for life. In fact, such marriages form the foundation of the first cell of civil society and the first church, the family. Undermining marriage will never serve the real common good.

A segment of a now increasingly complicit media, including some within the Catholic and other Christian media, have advanced the goals of these activists by intentionally using phrases such as "gay marriage" and "marriage equality" in their coverage.  Those who defend marriage as what it is ontologically, are routinely accused of being against a "right to marry" or denying what is now called "marriage equality". Anyone who insists that marriage is solely possible between one man and one woman who freely consent, are open to new life and intend to stay together for life, are painted as bigots and ostracized.

So, what does all of this have to do with a discussion of "gun control" and "gun rights"?

Guns have No Rights, People Do

A similar verbal pattern is now emerging in the debate surrounding the Second Amendment and efforts to further regulate the purchase and use of guns for self-defense. In many instances, it is leading to efforts to curtail the current interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. In some circles there is even a call for doing away with the Second Amendment.

I do not own a gun. However, I fully support gun ownership. I also believe it is properly protected by the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. I may choose to own a gun in the future if the trends which have been unleashed in the nation continue. Trends which I fear increasingly also threaten ordered liberty and limited government. I studied for and passed the exam necessary to obtain a conceal/carry permit. I hold such a permit. I know how to safely and efficiently use a firearm.

I know, some of my readers may disagree with my sharing such personal information. But, I think it supports the overall point which I am trying to make. The real issue here is self-defense and the defense of others and not guns. I also studied Martial Arts for many years. Not because I want to use my Martial Arts Skills on another person, but because I may need to so if I, or the people whom I love, are ever placed in harms way.

Rather, I write to suggest to my readers that many who are attempting to weigh in on this  issue are falling prey to another verbal engineering tactic when they use the phrase "Gun Rights" in their discussions or writing. Guns have no rights, only people do. I repeat, Guns have no rights, only people do. And yes, one of them is the Right to defend yourself, your family, your property and your neighbor. That may require gun ownership.

You may be asking, "Is this all simply a matter of semantics?"  I insist it is not! The pattern I am seeing is the same one which was used to undermine the defense of the Right to Life and the Defense of True Marriage. It begins with incorrectly framing the debate by changing the language, in order to undermine the true right through verbal engineering. This is a tactic of cultural and social engineers and their propaganda enablers.

Change the language, Change the Culture

Catholics, other Christians, and other people of good will, should watch our words. What we should protect and discuss is the Right to Self Defense and the Defense of others. One of the means we may choose to use in doing this involves the ownership of a gun. The Right to Self Defense is vested in us - not in those objects or instruments we use. That right can be exercised, and those objects and instruments may be used, only if and when it may be proper and necessary.

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There is no question that the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution protects the Right to keep and bear arms. The text, and the interpretation of it in the judicial precedent, is clear. However, I sincerely hope that the larger issue remains the focus of our contribution to the debate currently underway as Catholics and other Christians.

I know there is a wide variance of opinion in the Catholic and broader Christian community concerning what is popularly being referred to as "gun control". I have tried to place this discussion in a broader context by clarifying the real right, the right to legitimate self-defense. I have also tried to encourage my readers to reject the use of a new term which I believe muddies the discussion and is being used to undermine the Right to Self Defense. That term is "Gun Rights." 

The following sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church should be read and studied by Catholics and other Christians who want to inform their decisions and enter into a mature discussion of this vital issue. It should also be read by anyone else concerned with the real threat we face in this area. The text contains footnotes to Scriptural texts and the insights offered by the great St Thomas Aquinas which should be read carefully for further assistance in informing our understanding of the real right at stake, the right to self defense.

Guns have no rights, people do. And legitimate self-defense is one of them.

***** 
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.

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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.

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Keith A. Fournier is the Founder and Chairman of the Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance.He is also the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online. An ordained Catholic minister for twenty two years, a Deacon of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and seven grandchildren. He has been a human rights and constitutional lawyer and public policy advocate for thirty eight years and served as the first and founding Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice in the 1990'S. He has long been active at the intersection of faith and culture and currently serves as Chief Counsel to the Common Good Legal Defense Fund.

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