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Our readers asked:

Can a priest carry a handgun?

Richard G. Malloy, SJ Answers:

Question:  I am a firm believer in the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution which is the right to keep and bear arms.  I currently carry a small revolver almost everywhere i go.  I pray to God everyday that I never have to use it.  I am also very seriously discerning a call to the priesthood.  My question is are there any rules about priests being armed is it allowed at all?  if it is allowed must it be concealed?  etc.  Thank You very much and I hope you can clarify this for me. I have also read many scripture verses that would seem to support the idea of good upstanding Christians being armed for the safety of themselves and others.  If I am misinterpreting these passages I defer to Holy Mother Church.  In Christ, Brian

Holy Mother church and Jesus himself tell us to love one another, even our enemies.  No way does Jesus teach, “shoot them before they shoot you.”  My advice to you as a future priest?  Put away the pistol.  Pray more.  One way to answer your prayer that you’ll “never have to use your gun” is to get rid of it.  Priests depend on God, not bullets.  No gun means no one gets shot.  You don’t have to be the Pope or Gandhi to figure that one out.

I lived in Camden, NJ, for 15 years.  For many of those years it was rated the most dangerous city in the United States.  I never got shot.  I got shot at a few times because drug dealers didn’t like what I was preaching on the street corners.  If I’d had a gun and shot back, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t be here today.

Geez, I really wish all those firm believers in the 2nd amendment were as firm in their belief in Jesus Christ who renounced violent self defense in the Garden of Gethsemane when he certainly could have called his followers to rally against the Roman soldiers who were coming to kill him.  Jesus knew that “…all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52 NAB).  Handguns in the USA are too much Dirty Harry, “Go ahead.  Make my day,” and too little Jesus, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt5:44).

Back in 1990, there were 10,567 handgun murders in the USA while there were only 22 in Britain and 10 in Australia (According to Time Magazine).  In 2006, handguns murdered 18 people in Austria, 27 in Australia, 59 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 190 in Canada, 194 in Germany and 10,177 in the USA.  In almost a generation we have not made much progress. In some areas of the USA, young males are in more deadly danger than they are in the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You don’t need to defer to Holy Mother Church.  God wants us to take responsibility for our thinking and choosing.  Get informed.  Handguns do not make people safer.  75% of Americans do not own guns.  Actually, American households with guns decreased from 54% in 1977 to 33% in 2009.  Studies have shown that a gun in the home is much more likely to kill a loved one than an unwelcome intruder, and the rate of teen suicide would be greatly reduced if young men did not have easy access to handguns.  States with highest gun ownership rates show gun death rates seven times higher than States with lower gun ownership rates (Harvard studies and other studies cited at  http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/gunviolence/gunsinamerica)

The Author : Richard G. Malloy, SJ
Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D., is Vice President for University Ministries, the University of Scranton, Scranton, PA, and author of A Faith That Frees (Orbis Books).
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  • RDPaul

    Priests have the same rights and duties to self defense as lay people. And what they should or should not do as a matter of prudence and justice is best left to their individual conscience. I think it was Tolkien who said those without swords can still die on them… if that is a free choice, to lay down your life for an enemy, then it can be very meritorious, but to die because you lack the means to defend yourself is more likely to engender contempt than conversion in an enemy and can not be meritorious insofar as it is not free! Jesus makes this point when he says, no one takes my life from me, I lay it down! In the garden when Jesus tells Peter to put away your sword Jesus acknowledges that in the long run only love can heal violence. Still, Peter has a sword, the means of defense, three years after meeting Jesus, and is willing to use it, thus demonstrating Jesus’ freedom to do the will of the Father.

    Aside from personal defense there is the possibility of defending others…which the Catechism calls a duty. In addition, not all of us live in the city either. Some of us need to deal with the reality of wild animals.

    Pacificism is not truly Christian, the Christian is not afraid of death and is willing to lay down his life for Christ if necessary, if doing so gives witness to love, but Christianity does not ask that its adherants stand back and accept unjust aggression, particularly when occurring to others, especially when you have a duty of care for them, and have the means to stop the aggression.

  • Jerry Kirkpatrick

    “No gun means no one gets shot.” I’m neither the Pope nor Ghandi, so please explain to me how that works. If someone wants to shoot me for whatever reason, I don’t think the fact that I don’t have a gun is going to dissuade him. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic, but I believe Priests have a right to defend themselves and to carry a weapon if that is their inclination.

  • Dan

    Fr. Malloy,

    I know this is an old article, but I wanted to add my opinion for what it is worth.

    I understand your argument and I agree with you that although priests have the right to carry a weapon, they should not. Priests should not fear death. Priest should faithfully carry out their mission and if that mission takes them into a dangerous situation, they should trust that the outcome is God’s will.

    However, I want to caution you about using statistics from the Brady campaign. The “facts” as they present them are very inaccurate and are slanted to fit their anti-gun agenda. If you look at the source of their data this slant becomes very obvious. I believe you can make your point philosophically without using questionable statistics that may alienate readers that know they are not trustworthy.

    May grace and peace be yours in abundance.

  • Suzanne

    Please let’s work toward a world in which guns are not necessary rather than debate who can carry one and under what circumstances it’s OK to use it. I’m a woman and a firm believer in nonviolence. I’ve resisted an attempted kidnapping at gunpoint and survived several muggings simply by using my wits, mouth, arms and legs and a little self-defense knowledge. (In the case of the attempted kidnapping, I went nose-to-nose with the guy and yelled some very rough words, for which I’ve sure I’m forgiven.) ;-) Philosophically, I’d much rather die than be responsible for the death or serious injury of another. Practically, if you carry a weapon, someone can take it and use it against you. If you carry only love, courage, alertness and knowledge, you’re thief-proof.

  • mike

    Actually Lewis, the bible places serious limits on how you might defend yourself. The most common quote is of course “an eye for an eye”. This was stated because people would have disproportionate responses to violence in society, Like, taking the life of someone when they merely injured them. So the law states that we can take no more than an eye for an eye.

  • Lewis

    From reading the Bible one can see that even God himself can at times be very violent (The story of Noah and the Passover for instance). From this one can gather, that although violence is frowned upon and should be a last resort, it can be morally justified. Does that mean a Priest can carry a firearm? I don’t know. But I don’t believe that religion restrains anyone from defending themselves WHEN IT IS NECESSARY.

    And the type of weapon you use does not matter, and is simply a feature of time. 500 years ago, one would carry a dagger. Today, a firearm. Tomorrow, who knows? My point is, wether you carry a firearm, a knife, or just use your fists, you do have a moral right to defend your life and the life of others. And the Bible preaches this point very strongly.

  • Rick Malloy, S.J.

    Well Brian, IMHO, It is interesting today how many people dismiss reasoned argument as mere opinion.

    Here’s something more than my “opinion.” It’s a bit dated, but it is from the Bishops webiste.

    “Some have suggested that homeowners and citizens should arm themselves to protect their families from murder, assault or robbery. The sad fact is that a handgun purchased for protection is often used in a moment of rage or fear against a relative or acquaintance. A recent study in the Cleveland area indicates guns purchased for protection resulted in the deaths of six times as many family members, friends and neighbors as intruders or assailants.4 The 1973 FBI Uniform Crime Report indicates that of all murders almost 25% involved one family member killing another and an additional 40% occur among people who are acquainted. Most homicides are not the result of criminal design but rather they are the outcome of quarrels and arguments among spouses, friends and acquaintances. In these situations, it is the ready availability of handguns that often leads to tragic and deadly results.

    Handguns play a disproportionate role in gun violence. They account for 53% of all murders, yet make up only 20% of all firearms. The problem is growing. The annual sales of handguns have quadrupled in the last ten years.” (http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/criminal/handguns.shtml)

  • Brian

    Thank you Father Malloy. I have heard these statistics before, and I have also heard many differing statistics. I want to make very clear that this is something that I have and continue to pray about. It is not something I take lightly at all. Thank you Matt and Wes I will continue to look into the Scriptures as well as the Catechism. Fr Malloy, I’m afraid I still don’t have an answer to my question. Thank you for your opinion Father I will take it into account.

  • Matt Warner

    Unfortunately, Brian, I don’t think any of your question was really answered. We still don’t know if it is ok for a priest to carry a handgun and we certainly don’t know the Church’s position. We did get Fr. Malloy’s legitimate opinion and some fine anti-gun propaganda stats, though.

    First, I would be sure and read some differing reports of those stats that put them into proper context. For instance, one of the things Fr. Malloy didn’t mention is that even though “handgun” crime went down in those other countries, other kinds of violent crime skyrocketed at the same time. So they are very misleading to say the least.

    As for your questions, maybe these points will help:

    – Jesus asks his disciples to go out and buy swords. Luke 22:36

    – The Vatican posted this in support of owning/using guns: “In a world marked by evil … the right of legitimate defence by means of arms exists. This right can become a serious duty for those who are responsible for the lives of others, for the common good of the family or of the civil community. This right alone can justify the possession or transfer of arms” [source]

    And please check out the CCC here: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2264.htm

  • Wes

    Is this the teaching of the Church, or Fr. Malloy’s opinion? The Catechism doesn’t seem to be quite as strict.

    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.

    • mike


      I think the line that we gloss over here is “more than neccessary violence.” In the general state of daily affairs, does the priest need to carry a handgun to defend himself? Probably not. Could carrying one actually do more harm? Perhaps. It very well also might depend on the type of handgun that one chooses to carry that gives us the moral dilemma here.

      Lastly, there’s no hard and fast rule in any religious documents that the church has that doesn’t allow priests to carry guns. Just as there’s not one that says they can’t carry a bow and arrow either. Prudential judgement is what is called for here and it seems to me that this is what Fr. Rick is asking us to think about.

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