Catholic Bishops Should Support Constitutional Carry
“Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 2265
Many American Catholics choose to own and carry firearms not only to protect themselves, but also their loved ones and their communities. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty.” Those with “legitimate authority” have the “right to repel [aggressors] by armed force.” Law-abiding Americans who choose to bear arms are outstanding citizens, as seen in the fact that concealed carry permit holders commit misdemeanors and felonies at one-seventh the rate of law enforcement officers.
What legally constitutes “legitimate authority” for a “legitimate defense” using “armed force” is often defined by state governments using Castle Doctrines and Stand-Your-Ground laws. Self-defense statutes and jurisprudence fall well within the Catechism’s teaching that “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.” He “who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.”
In the United States, the Supreme Court Heller decision ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. Thus, the Constitution’s individual protection of “the right to keep and bear arms [as] necessary to the security of a free state” comports with the Catechism’s declaration that “preserving the common good requires [that] those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel [aggressors] by armed force.”
On May 3, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops announced its opposition to HB 1927, Texas’s Constitutional Carry legislation, in a non-magisterial letter.
Rather than insisting on protections for “legitimate defense” using “armed force,” which the Catechism states is required in order to “preserv[e] the common good,” the bishops’ conference letter reads more like a laundry list of poorly researched anti-gun activist platitudes—promoting several disturbing gun control myths in the process:
Instead of resolving issues by peaceful, civil actions, a permitless carry law will further advance the mentality that every individual is a law unto himself or herself. Respect for the dignity of human life and moral responsibility will be further eroded.
The Constitution, Texas law, and Church doctrine protect, support, and even encourage self-defense and armed citizen engagement. Catholics who carry and use firearms for self-defense operate well within the bounds of Catholic social teaching.
The Catechism discusses “legitimate defense” in the section on Respect for Human Life. There, Holy Mother Church states that “it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life” because “love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality.” In fact, “one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s” and so it is “no[t] necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man.”
Moreover, to defend the innocent from an unjust aggressor even with deadly force is to display the utmost respect for the dignity of human life.
As pastors we are alarmed at the aggressive calls for the unfettered presence of weapons carried into public places…. HB 1927 risks increasing the number of deaths, as more untrained individuals would be carrying guns in more public spaces.
These claims have been proven false by studies of other states that have enacted Constitutional Carry-type legislation. To the contrary, these states have seen decreased rates of violent crime as well as increased permitting and voluntary training.
Further, HB 1927 does not increase the number of Texans legally eligible to carry firearms. Instead, it eliminates procedural delays on the right to carry for those who are 21 years of age and not “otherwise prohibited by state or federal law from possessing [a] firearm.”
Current Texas gun controls regulate the right to bear arms with ID requirements, application paperwork, appointments, licensing, and fees. Procedures delaying those who can legally possess a firearm at home from exercising their “right to repel [aggressors] with armed force” in public endangers those who have recently been threatened or who fear imminent bodily harm.
That’s why Gun Owners of America and many others have supported Constitutional Carry legislation to align Texas law with the Constitution’s clear mandate that the right to bear arms “shall not be infringed”—including with licensing and delay periods.
We are also concerned this bill would allow those with mental health issues to carry handguns. This would place our communities at greater risk of harm.
Those who have been adjudicated “mentally defective” or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution are prohibited from possessing firearms at the federal level under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(4), and HB 1927 does nothing to change that.
However, the bishops’ statement perpetuates a gun control stigma about the nearly one in five U.S. adults who live with a mental illness. Studies show that persons living with mental illness are more likely to be victims of firearm-related crimes than to commit them. Even the ACLU opposes blanket bans on gun ownership “because of a mental disability,” calling it “a disturbing trend—one that could be applied to voting, parenting or other rights dearer than gun ownership.”
Most importantly, requiring honest gun owners to secure a carry permit will not stop non-permitted individuals from illegally carrying. Concealed-carry licensing has never stopped criminals from circumventing the law to commit crimes with firearms illegally.
Law enforcement officials do not support HB 1927, as it makes their oath to protect the public much more difficult.
There is no doubt that law enforcement officials supported and enforced Texas’s first gun control laws, which were aimed at prohibiting slaves from possessing and carrying firearms. During the Reconstruction Era, former Confederates imposed excessive taxation on the right to carry weapons in public, all but barring impoverished and recently emancipated black Americans from bearing arms. Gun control culminated both in Texas and nationwide during the Jim Crow Era with concealed carry licensing schemes allowing racist sheriffs to categorically deny black Americans the free exercise of their Second Amendment-protected rights. Martin Luther King, Jr., was even denied his concealed carry permit application by his local law enforcement even though his home had recently been bombed.
In more recent years, with the passage of constitutional carry or similar legislation in 20 states, modern police departments have continued to carry out their duty to protect and serve the public with no decreased efficacy. There is no evidence that Texas will be any different.
While some anti-gun law enforcement groups have opposed the bill, the Sheriffs Association of Texas promised to support the bill given certain changes. These amendments were recently passed in the Senate. Also, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association has always supported constitutional carry legislation alongside Gun Owners of America.
While the Catechism plainly supports individual Americans’ constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms for “legitimate defense,” the same cannot be said of our bishops.
According to Apostolorum successores, the function of a Bishops Conference is to facilitate, “the transmission of the doctrine of the Church in a more incisive way and in harmony with the particular character of a nation and circumstances of life of its Christian faithful.”
Unfortunately, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops’ letter lacks both doctrinal support and “incisive” commentary for any of the Christian faithful who choose to exercise their legally and magisterially protected “right to repel [aggressors] by armed force.” The letter also utterly fails to harmonize with the “particular character” of the United States, given the Second Amendment to our nation’s Constitution.
By slandering legitimate defenders who are intent on “preserving the common good” through the exercise of the “right to repel [aggressors] by armed force” with no reference to magisterial teaching, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops has committed a great disservice to the public policy voice of Holy Mother Church.
Worse yet, in regurgitating boilerplate anti-gun sentiments, the bishops have grossly stigmatized mental illness by referring to Americans living with mental illness as a “risk of harm” to their communities. Cardinal DiNardo and every other letter cosignatory ought to apologize to those who live with mental illness—acknowledging their wounds and signaling respect for their rights and grave duties.
The Conference should also immediately either amend—or, preferably, withdraw—its opposition to the restoration of Texan’s rights through constitutional carry legislation. Instead, Texas bishops would do well to minister “in a more incisive way and in harmony with” the Second Amendment-protected rights of the many gun-owning Catholics entrusted to their care.
Aidan Johnston is a practicing Catholic, former seminarian, and the director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, a nonprofit grassroots lobbying organization dedicated to protecting the right to keep and bear arms without compromise, representing more than two million members.