Today there was a serious tragedy which occurred at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, USA. There were at least 10 people killed and 20 additional people injured. This is according to Oregon State Police spokesman Bill Fugate. In this overwhelming tragedy, what is the Catholic response.
Many instinctively believe the best response is to enact a gun ban. However, we can see that criminals like this lunatic who killed these people do not follow these rules. The school where the massacre occurred is strictly anti-gun. This didn't stop the carnage.
What are we to do in such circumstances as Catholics? Many suggest we "turn the other cheek". But this will prove futile in such a hostile situation. You will simply end up dead. We have a moral obligation to protect not only ourselves, but others as well. To find out how to deal with such a situation, we turn to the Angelic Doctor from whom we derive so much Catholic thought: St. Thomas Aquinas.
In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas addresses the question of self-defense. He brings up objections from sources such as Augustine and others which seem to say that defending your life by killing another is sinful because we should instead let the other person kill us. But then the Doctor replies.
He first quotes the Bible:
On the contrary, It is written (Exodus 22:2): "If a thief be found breaking into a house or undermining it, and be wounded so as to die; he that slew him shall not be guilty of blood." Now it is much more lawful to defend one's life than one's house. Therefore neither is a man guilty of murder if he kill another in defense of his own life.Aquinas continues to lay the groundwork for self defense by thoroughly dismantling the anti-self-defensers. He explains his reasoning by explaining the law of double-effect. Basically this law says that what is important is the intention of what a person is seeking to accomplish. This is to be distinguished from the side-effects. Under certain rules, an act is permissible, even if the unintended side effect would normally be immoral. It's much more complicated than I just stated, but that's the essence of it.
Accordingly the act of self-defense may have two effects, one is the saving of one's life, the other is the slaying of the aggressor. Therefore this act, since one's intention is to save one's own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in "being," as far as possible. And yet, though proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful, if it be out of proportion to the end.Bottom line here is that we have a duty to protect our own bodies, especially against an aggressor, however we must not go overboard. If killing the aggressor is unnecessary then we shouldn't do it.
The same principle applies to protecting our loved ones.
I think when it comes to guns (something not yet invented in the time of Aquinas), he would say it would be permissible to carry a gun for the purpose of self defense or the protection of innocents. In more modern day terms: the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Let us pray for the souls of those killed in this tragedy, and for the recovery of those not killed, and for everyone involved in general.