Last week the US Supreme Court came to the rather unsurprising conclusion that if the second ammendment says that the right of "the people" to bear arms shall not be infringed, by "the people" it means... individual people. Regardless of whether one thinks this is a good idea (in other words, regardless of whether one thinks the 2nd ammendment should be repealed) this would seem like a no brainer. However, Vox Nova writer Mornings Minion took the occasion to write a blistering post in which he informed anyone who would listen that "the Church teaches" that handguns should be banned. (A number of well reasoned responses to MM's post were made on other blogs, and I'm not going to bother fisking it here.)
It seems that back in the 70s, the NCCB and USCCB stated in several documents that due to the large number of crimes that involved handguns, it would be in the interest of society to work for the elimination of handguns. In other statements on social issues and crime since that time, the USCCB has on a few occasions advocated "sensible restrictions" on handguns and stated that one ought to hope for their eventual disappearance. (For the most complete, and earliest, USCCB statement on handgun violence, see the brief 1975 statement "Handgun Violence: A Threat to Life" issued by the USCCB Committee on Social Developmentand World Peace.)
Now clearly, such a policy analysis, even by a committee under the aegis of the USCCB, carries no doctrinal force. However, I think it's appropriate for faithful Catholics to think on these sorts of issues when their shepherds bring them up, and so that's what I proceded to do.
My first reaction is to be pretty dismissive of the wish for handguns to vanish entirely (or, nearly so: exeptions are mentioned for police and military use) since I personally enjoy using handguns very much. I've never shot at or threated another living creature with one, but I go down to a range fairly regularly to assault paper targets either with my own Browning .22 target pistol or with a larger caliber gun belonging to the range or to a friend. Though the .22 is great for target shooting (and is cheep to shoot) there's nothing quite as satisfying as the roar and lift of a large caliber pistol or revolver. The classic Colt .45 has been, since 1911, a sheer pleasure to handle and shoot. And for all it's modern blocky feel, the Glock .45 is a similarly beautiful weapon to handle. 9mm pistols have an angrier bark and jump, but are also fun. And a good .357 or .44 magnum revolver, with a truly smooth action, is a beautiful piece of worksmanship, and provides enough weight in the hand to be a very good long distance shooter.
Sure, I'm conscious of the fact that guns are also powerful tools for self defense -- and should I ever need to use one so I'd have no hesitation to grab one of my rifles and use it thus. But even if I knew that I would never find myself needing to defend myself with a gun, I'd still very much enjoy using them. What, then, should I make of this hope to see handguns eventually vanish entirely?
The difference, it would seem, is that the bishops are concerned entirely with the issue of handgun violence. My interest in handguns, on the other hand, is only minimally related to my desire to have them around for defense. I just like them generally. And indeed, I'd be more happy if one never had to worry about needing one and could simply enjoy using them recreationally. Is that reasonable?
Here's another piece of military machinery which is, to my mind, incredibly beautifully made:
A good claymore is a beatifully balanced thing, which moves like an extension of your arm. In origin, however, it was designed to sever a head from the neck with ease, or slice an arm off at the shoulder with one smooth stroke. So the original reason for all the craftsmanship that surround swordsmithing is steeped in bloodshed. In the Bible itself we find the desire to see swords beaten into plowshares. And yet there is, to my mind, a beauty to a well-made sword that a well made plowshare simply does not possess. (Sadly, swords are not as easy to use for strictly recreational purposes as guns -- though I heartily recommend the modern sport of fencing.)
Perhaps the most direct similarity to the USCCB's comments on handguns can be found in regards to the crossbow, which several Church councils advocated banning in the late Middle Ages.
Crossbows, longbows and their modern cousins the compound bows continue to be used for hunting and recreation in the modern world, but I don't think that any prominant churchmen have called for them to be banned any time recently. The bow has become permanently separated from it's deadly connotations, so far as I can tell.
Yet none of these weapons, in their deadly or recreational forms, would have been developed to the level that they have without the historical human need to slay animals for food and other humans in war. In a sense, these things are products of the fallen nature of our world. And even the sword or bow remails fully capable of killing other human beings with brutal efficiency.
I suppose that if one truly wants not only the violence of our fallen world, but all the products and traces of that violence removed from it, one must wish to see every sword beaten into a plowshare. I'm sure that some would see my affection for weapons of all kind as being a "glorification of violence", and would wish out of existence not only guns but swords and bows and all other products of humanity's history of violence. Yet since the world is and will remain fallen, I can't help seeing the products of our weapon-making history as worthwhile in their own right. And so while wishing that no one felt that he needed a gun in order to protect himself, I can't bring myself to wish them out of existence. They're the product of too much history and human ingenuity. And they're just plain fun.