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The Firearm and the 'Culture of Death': Foundational Presuppositions and Fundamental Questions

19 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2012  

Kevin P. Lee

Campbell University Law School

Date Written: December 26, 2012


Catholics face a dilemma when it comes to confronting the realities of the American firearm debate. Many conservative Catholics have trumpeted the importance of firearm ownership rights. They have viewed gun ownership as an expression of their concern for life and community, arguing that self-defense is a basic right that promotes life, that small communities are formed at gun clubs, and that family values are taught through parents teaching children about responsible gun ownership. And yet, particularly in light of the growing number of brutal slayings and the glorification of gun violence in the popular culture, there is at best an uneasy fit between firearms and Catholic social thought. The Catholic Bishops have renewed their concern over the role of firearms in forming a “culture of death” in contemporary America. This essay considers what is demanded by a consistent understanding of the Culture of Life/Culture of Death distinction that John Paul II developed in Evangelium Vitae. It suggests that the right to keep and bear arms comes with substantial responsibilities. It concludes that the regulation of firearm possession and use must be a part of any decent legal system, since firearms are potentially destructive not only for the victims of firearm violence, but also for persons who use them and for the culture in which they are present. The good of the victim of gun violence, the gun owner, and the society as a whole must be considered in determining morally appropriate firearm policies.

Keywords: firearm, gun, second amendment, Catholic, Catholic Social Thought, John Paul II, Pro-life, culture of death, culture of life, constitution, regulation, violence, ontology of violence, peace

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Lee, Kevin P., The Firearm and the 'Culture of Death': Foundational Presuppositions and Fundamental Questions (December 26, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Kevin Paul Lee (Contact Author)

Campbell University Law School ( email )

United States

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