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Risks of Keeping a Gun

by Fr. John Rausch

Jennifer awoke startled in the middle of the night when she heard a noise. Someone was in the kitchen.  She woke her husband. His gun lay ready by the bed.

He got up to protect his wife and young stepson. Thinking he could wound the intruder, he aimed low and shot down the corridor at the murky figure. In an instant her 4-year-old lie dying from the gun shot wound. The youngster had gotten up to get a drink of water and woke his mother by pulling down the dishwasher door to step up to the faucet. The entire community of Manchester, Kentucky mourned the tragedy around the Thanksgiving holidays last year.

Gun statistics sketch a grim picture of possibilities. In 1995 181 children under age 15 were killed in unintentional shootings. Of the 10,744 killings in the U.S. by firearms in 1996, only 176 were justifiable homicides. The risk of homicide in the home triples with a gun in the house and the risk of suicide jump five fold. A 1997 Justice Department study found that 55% of gun owners keep loaded guns around their homes, and 34% keep them loaded and unlocked.

Reaction to gun violence has prompted 23 cities and counties to sue gun manufacturers. Some suits aim at the gun industry's lack of adequate control over distribution, noting the ease of access for criminals and teenagers. Other suits cite the industry’s responsibility for safety. Critics say manufacturers could easily make their weapons safer by including a load indicator to show when the gun is still loaded, or equip guns with built-in locks to prevent accidents and use by unauthorized users. Currently, guns remain the only consumer products in America not regulated for safety by any federal agency.

Hunters, collectors, target shooters and rural dwellers have a legitimate right to guns and an obvious practical use for them. But, Catholic theology always stresses that rights carry responsibilities. The first principle of gun safety demands that guns be locked up and separated from ammunition. Barring some unusual circumstance, the principle appears reasonable and responsible.

Catholic social teaching also allows an active role for government to insure justice and public safety where necessary. Technology will soon exist, according to industry experts, to produce a "child-proof" gun. If the market will not produce it, society should demand it.

Finally, Catholic moral theology accepts self-defense with reasonable force against an unjust aggressor. Many keep a gun for this purpose. But, there exist other ways for protecting oneself and family.

As I walked home from my office late one night two guys demanded my money. They threatened me with a gun. During the long moment it took me to empty my pockets, a car drove past the encounter and paused at the stop sign. Suddenly the car accelerated backwards towards us. It scared the muggers and they fled. The driver said he saw the incident in his rearview mirror and knew I was in trouble. Without brandishing a gun, he interjected himself into a violent situation and creatively resolved it non-violently.

A survivalist mentality clings to an arsenal of weapons for protection. Fear and isolation can only drive society to stockpile more guns. A faith perspective finds security in the pursuit of community and responsibility for others. Without community the alternative increases the likelihood of more suicides and murders in our homes--and the shootings of four year old little boys.

Read other articles of spiritual enlightenment in the October 1999 edition of The San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue. Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches at the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center, Berea, Ky. His column appears monthly in many Catholic journals and in ours beginning this month, courtesy of the Friends of the Good News. When you purchase books, videos, etc. from this site, we receive a referral fee from them that support the work of the Friends of the Good News.