His Excellency, Hizzoner, and Our Civil Rights

Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich (from: chicagotribune.com)

Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich (from: chicagotribune.com)

It was certainly good intentions that prompted a recent letter to the Chicago Tribune from Blase J. Cupich, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago [letter available behind a paywall].  He believes Pope Francis meant more than disarming foreign tyrants when the pope last month admonished America “to stop the arms trade”. Cupich wants the Pope’s prescription applied within American borders as well.  He seems to share the civil rights-infringing instincts of Mayor Emanuel, the earthly ruler of his archdiocese. Certainly His Excellency’s pronouncement ignores the fact that Chicago is still under the jurisdiction of American law, including its constitution.

As an experienced emergency physician, medical school professor, soldier, law enforcement officer for 18 years, and church-going Christian, I too would love to see the level of violence in the world decrease.

The bishops’ view seems strangely uninformed by history, criminology, and the common sense of the American people.

The Second Amendment continues to be vitally important to our peaceful society.  History has taught us that preserving our precious free society requires the willingness to use force to defend it.  And in order for a true democracy to function, the citizens must have the same types of guns as our government and military. America’s military rifles and handguns—from the World War I Colt 1911 pistol to the World War II Army M1 Garand and carbine rifles to Vietnam’s M-14 and M-16 rifles—have always been adopted and modified for civilian use. Today’s modular, black M4 battle rifle was modified to become what is now America’s favorite rifle, available in quite a few brands, calibers, and colors.

Why would a father or mother want to use anything but the same quality weapons as their military for the defense of their children and loved ones?  Historians have told us of more than one hundred million human beings slaughtered within the past century by tyrannical governments. Have we learned nothing from Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot?

Archbishop Cupich argues “the Second Amendment was passed in an era when organized police forces were few and citizen militias were useful in maintaining the peace. Its original authors could not have anticipated a time when the weapons we have a right to bear now include military-grade assault weapons that have turned our streets into battlefields. The Second Amendment’s original intent has been perverted by those who have profited mightily.”

But from its founding, America has proudly been a gun culture, and for good reason.  Our founders recognized that government by the people must build into its charter a mechanism for stopping a bad government, including by armed force if necessary. A gun is currently the most effective tool for combat.  The citizen’s weapon of choice has evolved over time from the sword to the longbow to the cross-bow, then to the gunpowder-powered projectile. Now we have the M-4 or AK style rifle.  Our citizens must have access to military quality weapons in order to preserve a true democracy.  Those democratic countries that have disarmed their people have not enjoyed the universal drop in violent crime promised by their gun-grabbing overlords. England is a prime example from very recent history.

Screening gun purchasers ideally can filter out those adjudicated dangerously insane or convicted of terrible violent crimes, but national or state-wide firearm registration is quite a different proposition.  Universal firearm registration has never benefitted society.  Far more often it has been used as a method to disarm good people who never committed any crime.

Mass shootings are obviously shocking and tragic, but they account for only a tiny fraction of firearm homicides.  So-called gun-free zones are a child’s fantasy mindlessly mandated by unaccountable administrators and bureaucrats.  When innocent people die because no good person was allowed to defend them, the blame lies squarely on those bureaucrats who chose in advance to disarm the defenders.

But perhaps most perplexing is what Archbishop Cupich neglected to mention in his condemnation of American gun owners—the Catholic Church’s own crystal-clear doctrine.  The Catholic Catechism clearly supports the right to self-defense. It unequivocally allows for the use of deadly force when defending the lives of one’s self and family (from Part Three, Section Two (The Ten Commandments), Chapter Two, Article 5-I, Respect for Human Life):

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.

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.

In a violent world America remains among the safest of nations. Historically, those nations whose citizens are armed with modern weapons are among the most cultured, most advanced, and safest.  Gun registration and most other gun control laws are not effective. Worse, they do more harm in our society than good, because it is only the good people that they restrain.

So-called “gun-free zones” established by bureaucrats with nothing more than paper signs and good intentions are a dangerous fantasy that gets innocent people killed. It is gun-free zones and not guns that should be banned.


johnwipfler—E. John Wipfler, MD is an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, a sworn auxiliary deputy sheriff, and a father of six.

All DRGO articles by E. John Wipfler, MD