Is it moral to be a sniper?

I know there is already a thread on the Kris Kyle murder in the “news” section, (nor do I want to condone Ron Paul’s brash statement) but what is the Catholic teaching on this issue?

I was under the impression that since it was immoral to assassinate even in a time of war, that it was also questionable to sniper. But, I’m really not sure.

Any help on this issue?

If you are a sniper who is defending your country from being invaded then it is fine. Any other time it is a mortal sin

Here is a good article that puts the issue in perspective:


Could you maybe expand on the idea of assassination?

As is, wouldn’t bombing unsuspecting foes simply be assassination on a large scale?

Surely there’s some distinction between an enemy combatant and non-combatant. Doubtless that demarcation carries over, even when the combatant is unawares, or otherwise not currently engaging in hostile action?

Not that it wouldn’t be grand and honorable to go back to swords. :rolleyes:

Here is a noted priest’s…moral and ethics theologian …answer. I believe he got it right and touched all the webs of morality.
Pax Christi

[INDENT]By Matt C. Abbott

In light of the recent news that retired Navy SEAL sniper, best-selling author and reality TV personality Chris Kyle was shot and killed by a troubled former Marine whom he was trying to help,** I’ve asked Father John Trigilio Jr., noted priest-author-theologian and president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy **– whom I’ve quoted at length in several previous columns – to comment on the morality of being a sniper.

Father Trigilio’s response is as follows (slightly edited):

Former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was tragically murdered. He, however, did not murder anyone even though he killed (confirmed) 160 people during his military service. Those targets were valid military objectives. Morally speaking, Kyle was like any other sailor, soldier, airman, or marine in that they officially defend and protect our nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Unjust aggressors, particularly those classified as combatants, can be either military or civilian. They are legitimate targets, whether it be a drone or sniper, one soldier or a platoon. Military snipers are not hit-men as in the case of the mob. Snipers are not seeking revenge; they are doing their duty as members of the armed forces defending their nation. What distinguishes them from other soldiers is that the sniper has one particular target, whereas the rest of the troops have a broader objective, usually the capture of a particular location or a disabling of a military installation.

**The natural moral law and the just war doctrine make it clear that all military personnel are obligated to distinguish combatants from non-combatants. Formerly, the distinction was between military and civilian. The former are valid targets; the latter are exempt. **Since modern times and guerrilla warfare tactics, civilians have armed themselves in many places; and when dealing with terrorists like al Qaeda, anyone of either gender and any age who bears a weapon (gun or explosive) is now a legitimate target.

**Deadly force is not always the proper solution and should be a last resort; however, when a known person who is guilty of unjust deaths, murders, tortures and other atrocities and most likely will continue, or worse, escalate the violence with others, then they become a target for a sniper.
Chris Kyle was an American hero. While we do not rejoice that 160 people were killed, we are grateful that 160 unjust aggressors and enemies of our country were neutralized. Military and police are required to use proportionate force in repelling or stopping the enemy. That means, if possible, enemy troops should be able to surrender, or if they refuse, better to non-lethally wound than to kill. Obviously, in heat of battle, that may not always be possible. Snipers have very precise targets while the average soldier is concerned with any and all combatant (armed) enemies, whether in uniform or not.


if you are in the military and are a sniper as long as you are killing combatants you are doing a fine thing. You as a person in the military have a duty to follow the orders handed down to you, only if your order is contrary to Catholic teaching that you can do it you should follow your orders. Being the in the military and killing people kinda go together so if your a sniper rifle man, pilot, gun operator on a ship or whatever you should follow orders.

One of the objections to the actions of a sniper is that the shooting is done “cold”.

However, a more accurate characterization of a sniper’s work is that it is very precise. One shot, one kill.

Please keep in mind that the alternative is heavy volumes of fire by dozens or hundreds of soldiers firing at the same time … what some refer to as the “spray and pray” method. While these conditions do involve taking aim at the target [which is a person], a sniper is permitted much more practice and puts much more accurate fire on the target.

Another alternative is the use of artillery fire, depending on the “value” or importance of the target.

And in those massed rifle fire or artillery situations it is tragically easy for innocent people to get caught in a crossfire or by a stray bullet and killed.

Snipers are also often called upon to kill people who are planting mines, booby traps and IED’s. And, again, much more precise than the use of artillery fire or some sort of guided shoulder rocket or a missile fired from a drone.

Awesome find. That was just what I was looking for to answer my doubts on the issue.

Snipers save countless lives on both sides. They take out specific targets, not bomb areas where innocents may be, therefore reducing the number of casualties. They also take out extremely dangerous individuals who have and will continue to kill, injure and torture our soldiers (and often their own people as well). A great number of snipers are practicing Catholics, and the vast majority are very peaceful, calm, level headed and the “Good Samaritan” type that will do anything to help someone in need. The medic in my husband’s unit is also their sniper–and that isn’t an unusual occurrence in the Army.

In this sense we have to ask is war good or evil. the bible actually says though shalt not murder, killing is alowed under certain circumstances. Were many of the people he killed innocent. We dont know. Killing whether in war is an unnatural act. which many men are called to do. War despite the propaganda has always been gory and horrible if you had a machine gun and shot 50 men coming against you with guns because you had a good hidden position is it any different from what this man did. Did his conscience bother him who knows did he pray for is victims we dont know. War itself is a punishment from god its is by its nature wicked and evil. So the question perhaps should be is it moral to go to war.? The war in Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 as Saddam was a secularist and hated religious Muslims(feared them). what reason did we go there? If it is wrong for Hitler to invade countries why is it ok for the USA and western Nations? We cant blame any of these things on the sniper who just as easily been killed in Iraq as the people he killed. king david was told by the Lord he was not to build the Temple it was left for Solomon because he david had to much blood on his hands. So although David was the apple of gods eye Killing is not something god rejoices in even of his enemies. Lets hope the sniper found jesus and repented of his sins before he died. thats something we all need to do as death can come at a moments notice.

In medieval times there were no standing armies nor automatically allocated defence budgets. So a ruler who wanted to go to war actually had to spend time raising and training troops and raising the money to pay for the supplies, weapons, transport etc for them. I think it led to less rash jumping into conflict as well as limiting the scale of fighting and damage that was possible.

I suppose that possible, though I reckon, in terms of life, less people have been killed in the Iraq war over a decade than might’ve died in a single day then.

Which still doesn’t answer much about the idea of assassination. To my (infernal) mind, it’d be more fair if war-fare was largely conducted through the assassinations of belligerent commanders, leaders, etc. Let the powerful fight their own battles, and leave masses to their business, I say. :shrug:

There is nothing morally wrong with it, as long as the targets are combatants.

Being a former Armor officer, I can see a lot of similarities. In tank combat, you look through a acquire a target, aim through a sight and fire off a round at great distances.

You generally seek to fire from cover and concealment in the hopes of gaining surprise on an advancing enemy.

I hear no one saying that tank combat is of questionable morality, so why so sniping.

What about a police officer scoping out armed criminals that are holding up a bank?

Doesn’t the Pope himself have snipers protecting him in the Vatican?

I think, in Gods eyes, this would probably be murder, as police would be shooting and killing someone, over money, nothing else. If the bank robbers had not harmed anyone at the bank and ONLY attempting to take the money, this is definitely not justifiable to have a police sniper kill them…In Gods eyes, this would be akin to taking a human life to prevent them from stealing something that is meaningless to God (money).

Plus, even lawmakers, police, etc say no amount of money equals a human life, so why kill someone over a sum money?

And these people who are just stealing money, they’re carrying around firearms as a fashion statement? There is a rather large difference between shooting and killing a criminal who it is reasonable to assume isn’t armed or planning on hurting/murdering anyone and shooting and killing a criminal who it is reasonable to assume is armed or planning on or will have no issue hurting/murdering someone.

Because there is some sort of “it’s not like the others” stigma attached to snipers and how they operate.

How would it be murder? I said they were ARMED. Meaning they can or probably will kill innocent people and you think it would be murder to stop them from doing that?!

This is my biggest problem when so-called ‘Catholic’ morality starts dictating the rules of combat. Too much of outdated medieval chivalry is being confused with the actual, bare-bones teachings of the Church.

What next? Catholics shouldn’t use sneak attacks? Will going mano-y-mano be the only Vatican-sanctioned style of tactics?

I guess everyone who also employes deceptive strategies are guilty of venial sin. Sure, they may not kill anybody by tricking someone in a game of chess/poker but hey, you’re being all sneaky like a sniper and that’s baaaaaaad. :shrug:

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