The Fourth of July weekend in Chicago had more to do with firearms than fireworks, with 49 shootings, 60 victims, and 14 fatalities. A 10-year-old girl was killed in her home by a stray bullet, shot through the head. A toddler was killed in his car seat by another stray bullet, shot through the chest. The Windy City, logging 324 murders for 2020 at the time of this writing, is reeling in a storm of reckless crime with tempers flaring, police retreating, and guns blazing. This spike of homicidal sickness can be seen in other major U.S. cities as well.
Just two days ago, a one-year-old boy was shot and killed at a cookout in a Brooklyn playground—one out of eleven shooting incidents on Sunday in New York City. In a news conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “It’s never just about police. It has to be about police and community together. We have to always remember the good people fighting back.”
Indeed. Good people must fight back, even (or especially) if the police don’t. And that should be part of the Catholic response to this violence: to take up arms like Catholics, and to take a stand like Catholics.
As Gilbert and Sullivan put it in their 1879 comic opera, The Pirates of Penzance, “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one,” and neither is it today. With police forces disbanding in the face of unmitigated hatred and violence, Catholic citizens must assume moral leadership and societal initiative when it comes to confronting the ever-growing threat to life, property, law, and order. If we believe that a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, then we should help shoulder the constabulary duty to serve and protect whenever and however we can. One way is to exercise the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms with chivalric purpose.
The left is right about one thing: there is no excuse for inaction in the face of the violence that is tearing at America. But they are wrongheaded in advocating stricter gun regulations that are ultimately futile and even cowardly. To be a Catholic means to be a peacemaker, but that does not exclude being a pragmatist. Our streets and neighborhoods are becoming more and more like battlegrounds. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of sanity is worth fighting for, though we be reckoned with the wicked.
While no amount of legislation will abolish villainy, it can abolish chivalry. Reliance on government protection and restriction is displacing that highest of human attitudes that clashes with criminals in the name of a God-given responsibility to protect life and uphold justice. The police are backing away from the fight. Let’s not wait for a new national police force to be instituted to fill the local voids and keep us all in line—like Hitler’s “Order Police,” the Ordnungspolizei, that replaced the regional police in Nazi Germany.
Until then—God forbid—does the presence of modern law enforcement eliminate the ancient prerogative of going about armed, prepared to engage the enemies of order should the need arise? The increasing police withdrawal begs the question further, and Catholics may have to confront it with a new seriousness. Men were not called knights simply because they carried weapons on their bodies, but because they carried a code in their hearts. Catholics are still called to heed a chivalric code and, by Church teaching, to defend the lives of the helpless—and, these days, it might sometimes take a firearm to accomplish that.
To a particular type of virtuous person nowadays, the Second Amendment bestows the potential to be a lifesaver. With the way our nation is suffering, exercising this right may even be considered a responsibility. And Catholics should take the lead. G. K. Chesterton always went about with a pistol in his pocket to honor a long-standing Christian principle and a long-lost Christian tradition of going about armed. And just as that mountain of a man would offer his omnibus seat to three ladies, there is no doubt that he would have offered to defend any one lady in a flash should the occasion call for it. Chesterton was aware of the symbolic quality of Christianity involved and invoked in the bearing of arms. Catholics believe in the sanctity of life simultaneously with the conviction that some things are worth dying for.
To those who recognize and reject the terrorism of the mobs burning and pillaging our cities like barbarians, causing the police to stand down and the innocent to die, the right to bear arms takes on a truly Christian and chivalric significance. This is a call to combat the communist ideology of “equality” and those who have fallen prey to it. The noble, old-fashioned zeal to defend the defenseless may ultimately awaken and enliven an ignoble, contemporary society that is dead. As Chesterton wrote in Manalive, “I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him—only to bring him to life.”
“For I say unto you,” Christ told His disciples, “that this that is written must yet be fulfilled in me: And with the wicked was he reckoned.” Considering the gun violence in the United States today, this text from Saint Luke is particularly poignant because of Our Lord’s advice that directly precedes it: “He that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat and buy a sword.”
The context for this passage from Saint Luke is Christ preparing to enter into His Passion and giving His disciples directions concerning how to carry on His ministry through the dark days without Him. It’s interesting that He seems to instruct His friends to acquire arms just outside of Gethsemane, but then rebukes Peter for lashing out with a sword once the guards arrive—“Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Though Christ’s instructions may have been geared towards justifying His arrest as though He was a leader of violent brigands (which Peter helped establish), there is also a tone here about a time and a place for the wary use of weaponry.
Christ’s reproach of Peter is not necessarily a contradiction of His command for carrying a sword; neither is His admonition of turning the other cheek. Christ’s message is indeed one of peace, but it is also one of the sword—“I came not to send peace, but the sword.” To carry arms for the defense of life is not living by the sword, as is striking at a servant when there are soldiers about. A slap on the face is not a life-threatening assault. Turn the other cheek to insult. But draw your sword to preserve innocent life when it is required. If the police won’t do it, then we must. Sell your coat and buy a sword.