Self-Defense Confusion

I know that the official teaching of the Church on self-defense is that you should only kill in self-defense if there is no other way to defend yourself. How are people supposed to always know when or when it’s not necessary and in the terror of the moment, how is the average person who is attacked even supposed to think clearly on such matters? The way the teaching is makes it seem safest morally not to own a gun or anything like it. I might incorrectly understand the teaching, but that’s what I remember from religious class and the Catechism puts it very vaguely.

To me, and I may be wrong, but if someone is coming at me in a manner that I believe my life is in danger, then I can defend myself in whatever way is necessary. This would also include forceful manners. Of course, in the heat of the moment one doesn’t think clearly. But, I think God knows our intentions and knows when we have reacted to a situation out of fear. If such a situation does occur, then talk with your priest or spiritual director. They can help you evaluate the whole lot.

Use your common sense. If you feel you are in danger of death or great bodily harm, do what your instincts dictate.

The main point is that if you kill in self-defense, you can not have *intended the death *of the person.

So, say a deadly enemy attacks me and is beating me up, and I happen to have a gun. I could decide to take advantage of this attack to get rid of my enemy for once and for all while not suffering any legal repercussions, or I could decide that in order to save my life I must unfortunately shoot this person, and this may well kill him, but I am the sole support of my elderly mother and 6 children…

If a person sincerely believes they are in danger of death or serious injury, then they can take whatever measures they can take to stop the attack. The attacker is assumed to have gotten himself into the mess rather than the victim being at fault.

It may sound easy here, but imagine that someone is hurting someone you love. Then one might become so angry as to say, “I want to kill this person,” as well as wanting to protect the loved one.

I am too old to think that self defence is an option, having said that, I have found myself in the middle of numerous fights and angry situations, striving for a peaceful resolution. As part of the Street Pastor team, we have this dilemma, do we use our phones that have a direct line to the police, then stand back and watch. Or do we trust in prayer and go, being of the older generation, I don’t like phones, so we go.

We have had a profound journey over the last seven years, we are out until 3 or 4 am when our town can be full of drunks, who have no sense of moral right. Generally after intervening in a fight, people shake our hands, they give us hugs and kisses, we have some old ladies out with us too.

On one occasion I was out with an older lady pastor, we came across a dozen people fighting, she grabbed hold of the shirt of one big lad and tried to pull him off the guy he was hitting. The police arrived, and six of them disappeared round the corner, so we followed them. We stopped with them for around fifteen minutes striving for peace, until this big lad said to us, ‘Go away, you are intimidating us.’

What he said was the truth, we had intimidated them, they had left one by one, until only two remained. We said we would go, but we are going to phone the police, we don’t want o hear about anyone getting hurt.

We phoned the CCTV to keep an eye on them, they reported back to us, that these lads had talked for ten minutes, shook hands then left, these were the two fighting earlier that we had tried to break up.

I don’t think the Catechism actually uses the words “if there is no other way”. I can understand how such words might imply the need for a rigorous assessment of options, which is likely to be unviable in circumstances of self-defence. Further - when one acts in self-defence (eg. with a weapon), it is not usually that one chooses “to kill”, rather one may choose “to maim” in a manner which may lead to death. Wanting the death of the attacker would be wrong, though choosing an act with that consequence may be moral.

A quote from Aquinas is included in the Catechism (in para 2264): * “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.”*

The understanding I take from this is that moderate or proportionate acts are proper, and that once the aggressor is disabled, and you are safe, the act of self-defence is complete. Further violence is wrong.

As to gun ownership, I would think the chance of mishap may be the greater concern.

Always useful to refer to the catechism:

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.”65 (1737)

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: (2196)

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.66

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. (2240

So, realize a single punch can be lethal, once you engage in combat all bets are off – indeed you never lose the fight you avoid. Most wounds from handguns aren’t fatal- although obviously a bullet is more likely to be lethal than a punch. Problem with allowing yourself to get punched/hit is you risk death, and have no idea how far the other person is willing to take it or their skills.

But what is moderate defense for someone much smaller than their attacker, outnumbered, or aged/disabled? Most self-defense uses of a gun result in no shots fired-- the attacker ceases as the weapon is pulled. (Legal problems here in that pulling a weapon of any kind with no clear imminent threat can be considered a crime varying from brandishing to assault, and obviously put the other person in legitimate fear for their life).

Prior poster had it correct- self-defense is moral (and in most jurisdictions lawful) only so long as there is an imminent threat of serious bodily injury. Role of attacker/victim can actually legally switch in a fight. If the victim gets the upper hand and the attacker clearly quits-- if the victim continues the fight they have now become the aggressor. Similarly, if the attacker turns and runs— they are no longer a threat. There is no longer a justification for self-defense.

Morality does not rest in the tool utilized for self-defense (hand/boot/knife/firearm or a swift pair of shoes…) but in the intent and actions of the person. If you have a moral right to self-defense, it is only logical that it would include the effective means to do so.

From my own training, I take the attitude that any weapon can be used against you. It is preferable and therefore safer not to have a weapon unless I am trained to use it.
For that reason I prefer not to own any type of firearms, although the Church does not specifically prohibit such ownership. Some people are hunters and do own rifles for the purpose of hunting.
I don’t think that I have answered the question. Just be aware of your surroundings. Be confident. I did watch a video a few weeks back of some nuns who took up martial arts for the sake of self-defense, their own and that of the children in their care.

The keywords : “if there is no other way to defend yourself”

individual/ case by case/ situational approach is different compared to self defense for a tribe or a religious groups in the midst of international politics. there are more factors and complexity to consider and it can cause repercussion that causes many more loss of lives hence more damaging effect thus not a defense.

in my opinion, it is iimmoral for the military to arm individuals or groups of civilians to fight their own causes (defend themselves) towards each other, especially if long term repercussions foreseen.

In normal life, when two people fight each other using guns, the authorithy has a duty to separate them/ stop them from using their guns toward each other.

each person is allowed to defend himself when in danger. I do not have any option to own a gun.
from my personal perspective: I prefer to run and trust the Lord than to defend myself killing other people. but I may change my mind when facing the real danger :frowning:

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