Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why I am an armed pastor

Recently I purchased, at a licensed dealer's store, a Ruger semiauto pistol, model LC9 with Lasermax, right. Ruger's page is here.

It is probably the smallest 9mm parabellum semiauto pistol you can buy, at least it is nearly so. It holds a maximum of seven rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber, "seven plus one" in handgun parlance. I chose this model over a larger, greater-capacity model, because of its size.

For me, a larger pistol would have just turned into a museum piece. I do have a couple of guns suitable for home defense, one being a semiauto shotgun that I bought for sport shooting, which makes a pistol somewhat needless. As someone said, if you have both a pistol and a shotgun, the  pistol's purpose is to enable you to fight your way to the shotgun.

However, I did not buy those guns, nor the LC9, with the aim (heh!) in mind of defending myself against home intruders or criminals when I am away from home. The small Tennessee town where I live is rural in character. There are extremely few crimes against persons here. Crimes against property are the norm (and not many of them)  but those rarely involve personal confrontations. Legally-armed men and women around here are practically normative and evildoers darn well know it. So if someone decides to burgle my house he will 99-percent certainly do it when I am not home. Same with other homes.

So why the small 9mm semiauto? Back in 2009, Peter at Bayou Renaissance Man posted, "Muggers aren't the only reason to be armed."
A former college professor and his wife were apparently attacked and killed by nearly a dozen dogs along a rural road where their bodies were found mutilated, authorities said Monday. 

Preliminary autopsy results from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation showed Sherry Schweder, 65, likely died of injuries suffered in a dog attack, Oglethorpe County Sheriff Mike Smith said. Autopsy results for her husband, Lothar Karl Schweder, 77, were not yet available, but Smith said it's likely he  was also attacked by dogs because the scene was so grisly. 

Smith said officials were going to round up at least 11 dogs seen in the area in northeastern Georgia, where the couple's mutilated bodies were found Saturday morning by five passersby.
Last year, my wife and I were out for a long walk in the local streets around our house, with Wesley, my daughter's 14-pound dog. You would not believe the number of really big dogs people keep around here. And they all want to eat Wesley for a snack.

Less than a half mile away lives a guy who keeps five (count 'em, five!) pit bulls in his back yard. It is fenced, but on that day one got loose and instantly streaked across the yard to attack Wesley when we unknowingly walked by. Cathy had the leash, and she quickly picked Wesley up. The pit bull leaped up to bite Wesley in two and was pawing and snapping all over Cathy. I was trying to kick the dog away but Cathy kept backing away (understandably enough) and the pit kept pursuing. I finally connected with a solid hit under the pit's chin and he dropped. Just then the owner appeared and took control of the pit. We were pretty shaken, frankly.

I thought at the time that if I had been armed that problem would have been solved pretty quick. I did order two hardwood walking sticks with a metal jabbing tips and we have always carried them since. I also began carrying a locking blade fighting knife honed to razor edge.

Then last summer my next-door neighbor, "Fred," was in his front yard when two pit bulls ran from across the street and charged straight at him. He ran for his front porch and had to kick one dog away before he got inside. He grabbed his 20-ga. shotgun and went back to the porch. The dogs charged him again and he shot one (just birdshot in the gun). They both ran away. Fred went inside and called the cops. Animal control located the dogs as belonging to residents across the street.

My town has a low crime rate. I am not really worried about a human attacker but I am legitimately concerned about the four-legged kind. The vast majority around here are penned and under control, but it only takes one or two that are not, as we and my neighbor came very close to finding out the hard way. With the walking sticks and the knife, I would have to do hand-to-hand combat with an attacking animal (or hand to paw, as it were). That is not a good plan.

Armed with the 9mm, we are a lot more secure on our walks with a buffer zone of maybe 25 feet around us, which is about the maximum effective range of the LC9 with its three-inch barrel. We still carry the sticks and certainly do not want to harm someone else's animal, but we will not be victims when we are able otherwise. (Actually, I'd feel most secure carrying a light machine gun, but one does what one can.)

(BTW, Peter, cited above, is a combat veteran turned Catholic priest, now retired, who goes armed, too. He spent some time as a full-time prison chaplain and told me, "If you begin prison ministry on Monday, by Friday you'll be getting a carry permit.")

Some other thoughts about going armed:

1. I carry a pistol to defend myself and my loved ones, not to defend you. A carry permit does not make me the Fist of Justice. It does not give me police powers. If I face criminal danger in public, my number one choice will be to flee, not fight. Having no other choice, I will draw or use my pistol to save my children, my wife, myself. Not you.

2. I will not put my life at risk to protect property. Nothing I own is worth risking death for. Nor is it worth killing for. So I will not shoot someone just to protect property. But if someone attempts to rob me or invade my home, my default setting is that they also mean to do me and/or my family harm. That by no means indicates that I will automatically engage the threat. It does mean that the threat should not count on my forebearance.

I have thought pretty hard and long about going armed in light of my pastoral vocation. Back in 2003, I posted a long piece exploring the issues related to a controversy in the Battle of Baghdad when a US Army chaplain took over firing a .50-caliber machine gun during an intense firefight. The bearing of arms by chaplains is strictly forbidden in the US military, admitting of no exceptions. I explored not only the military considerations but mainly the theology of why this is so, dating back to Thomas Aquinas.
According to Prof. Darrell Cole in "Good Wars," Aquinas reasoned that
. . . bishops and clerics cannot be soldiers because these occupations cannot "be fittingly exercised at the same time." Aquinas offers two reasons why. First, warlike pursuits keep clergy from their proper duties. In other words, their participation is unlawful, not because war is evil, but because warlike pursuits prevent them from doing their jobs.
(Note the Navy's requirement, above, that chaplains "must at all times, both in time of war and in time of peace, be engaged exclusively in religious duties.") Cole continues:
Second [according to Aquinas], it is "unbecoming" for those who give the Eucharist to shed blood, even if they do so without sin (i.e., in a just war). Unlike Calvin, then, Aquinas finds the duties of clergy to be more meritorious than the duties of soldiers. However, this does not mean that, in Aquinas' view, the soldier's duties have no merit. Rather, he employs an analogy to make quite the opposite point: it is meritorious to marry but better still to remain a virgin and thus dedicate yourself wholly to spiritual concerns. Likewise, it is meritorious to fight just wars and restrain evil as a soldier, but more meritorious still to serve as a bishop who provides the Eucharist to the faithful.
Here is one root of the custom against, later the prohibition, of chaplains bearing and using arms: to wield the sword in a just cause, justly employed, was no sin, but for clergy both to wield the sword and to offer the Eucharist (Lord's Supper) meant that the chaplain had abandoned his particular calling as a disciple of Christ. Both Reformer John Calvin and Aquinas (and for that matter, Martin Luther), held that soldiering justly could be considered a form of the Christian ministry of charity. But at least in Catholic theology, the battlefield forces a choice: the same person may not offer the Eucharist in ministry and also fight as a soldier. The two ministries were not contradictory, but they were incompatible in the same person.
Obviously, the circumstances of a civilian minister are different than of a military chaplain. In orthodox Christian theology, deadly force is justifiable (though deplorable) only in self defense or defense of helpless, innocent victims of aggression and even then may be used only when there is no realistic alternative.

This is the basis of Just War theory, which also dates in modern form to Aquinas. This line of thought also informs my personal rules of engagement, especially why I won't shoot to protect property and why using gunfire to defend my family or myself is an in extremis measure only. Aquinas' theology also could be used to justify me using gunfire to defend others away from my home but frankly, I do not use it that way.

If you are an adult, no one is more responsible for defending you than you. If you find yourself unarmed and needing defending, it is because you decided to be. Bluntly put, I am not going to put my life at risk to subsidize your stupid decision. I might be morally justified in defending you with lethal force, but I am not morally obligated to do so.

I also have wrestled quite a bit with Aquinas' insight that "it is 'unbecoming' for those who give the Eucharist to shed blood, even if they do so without sin" (i.e., in direct self defense). If I did have to defend myself, having no safe escape from someone meaning me lethal harm, and took that person's life, could I continue in sacramental ministry? Should hands that have shed blood, even guilty blood, continue to offer the body and blood of Christ? I simply do not have an answer. But I also came to realize that I'd have to be alive to confront the dilemma. I pray the day never comes. But you can bet that I see no moral or religious dilemma in shooting an attacking pit bull dog.

Update: Jim S. points out that in his state of Illinois, carrying a pistol even to defend against wildlife is verboten.
My only counter-argument is that perhaps he might consider also defending poor tourists from the only state stupid enough to still forbid carrying a pistol either openly or concealed. Oh, and he also might want to defend widows and orphans. God seems pretty cool with that throughout the Bible.
Which prompted me to leave this comment:
I did ponder the question of what to do if children are in danger because of criminal acts, such as the Oregon mall shooter this week. While the question's answer is highly situational, I think that I would engage in order to give the kids time to escape.  
I would not want to face myself in the mirror each day afterward knowing that I had done nothing to save the truly innocent and defenseless. Sometimes all courses of action are undesirable, but, within the law, it is sometimes true that "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." You have to do what you know you can live with, and what you know you can face Christ with unafraid. 
Somewhere in here is a nexus between "Who is my neighbor?" and "no greater love." And there is no way to know where that nexus is until the time.
Update: I could just faithfully adopt this little old lady's tactic.

Endnotes: Ruger makes a somewhat smaller pistol called the LCP in .380 ACP caliber. This caliber is also known as a "9mm short," having the dimensions of 9 X 17 mm. But "9mm" by itself means a round 9 X 19mm, referred to as the 9mm parabellum or 9mm Luger.

To make things even more confusing, the .380 is not actually a .38-caliber round. It and the 9mm parabellum are exactly .355 inch in diameter. So is the .357 magnum round. And both the .38 ACP and the .38 Super rounds are .356 inch in diameter. The round that actually is .357 inch in diameter is called the .38 Long Colt. Does any of this make sense? Actually, no.

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