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Understanding self-defense and the truth about using deadly force

St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catechism provide essential principles of self-defense, and Massad Ayoob’s Deadly Force is an excellent guide to applying those principles to real world situations in a fine-grained way.

(Image: Bo Harvey/

American self-defense law is generally quite sensible, and in fact coheres remarkably well with Catholic teaching on self-defense. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, wrote:

Wherefore if a man, in self-defense, uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repel force with moderation his defense will be lawful, because according to the jurists, ‘it is lawful to repel force by force, provided one does not exceed the limits of a blameless defense.’ (Summa Theologiae, II-II, 64, 7)

In other words, you can use force to protect yourself, if you really have to, and only to the extent that you really have to. St. Thomas, not known as a self-defense expert, doesn’t go into further detail about how to really apply his notion of ‘necessary violence.’ The Catechism, quoting from this same passage by St. Thomas, also says:

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.” 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… (par 2263-64)

But these principles must be applied to real world situations in a fine-grained way. Thankfully, as I just suggested, American law does a pretty fine job of that.

It’s especially important that we have good self-defense law here in the United States, since a lot of people carry concealed handguns. Last year’s Bruen decision—irrespective of New York’s scofflaw response—removed the last barriers to “shall issue” permitting, and Florida’s concealed carry law is set to change on July 1st, making it the 26th state to allow permitless carry. More than 30 years into the concealed carry revolution, we can see that “the streets will run with blood” objection to widespread legal carriage of handguns are simply false.

And, yet, gun rights enthusiasts like myself can’t ignore that easy access to guns can lead to negative outcomes.

Claude Werner identifies three failures that get gun owners into trouble: they don’t understand the situation, they have inadequate skills, and they don’t know the rules. State-mandated concealed carry training classes might, to some limited extent, help students avoid these failures. But many states have minimal training requirements, again, more than half of the states have no mandated training, because they have no permitting process whatever.

Since a responsible gun owner will want to avoid negative outcomes, it will be obvious that he needs to educate himself on the law. Massad Ayoob’s Deadly Force is an outstanding way for him to start to do so. Ayoob makes no attempt to connect his thought to that of St. Thomas Aquinas or other great thinkers from the past—he is focused solely on the current realities of the American criminal justice system. But since, as noted, American self-defense law coheres well with Catholic teaching, this is actually a fine book to read as a primer on use of lethal force by Christians.

The first thing to take into account is that the righteous defender must “maintain the mantle of innocence.” If you provoke a fight—if you’re the instigator, or if we’re dealing with an instance of mutual combat, such as a bar fight between two guys who won’t get out of each other’s way—then you are not innocent and your use of force is not necessary. If you started the fight, then even if everything else you do falls within the law, you could still be found guilty of manslaughter.

The focus in this review is deadly force. You will not be justified in using deadly force unless you are fending off deadly force from an attacker. But deadly force might not mean what you think it means. As Ayoob puts it, “Lethal force (or deadly force; the terms are interchangeable) is that degree of force that a reasonable and prudent person would consider capable of causing death or great bodily harm.” To my knowledge, there is no clear and universally applicable definition of great bodily harm, but if you reasonably believe that the imminent attack is likely to lead to rape or crippling injury, it surely meets the standard.

How do you know an attack is imminent? The “AOJ Triad” is the heart of Ayoob’s answer to this question. This triad applies to your attacker. It comprises Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy. So if the attacker has the Ability to cause your death (or great bodily harm), the Opportunity to do so, and appears to be putting you in Jeopardy of putting that ability and opportunity to use, then you are probably legally justified in using deadly force in defense of yourself.

Ability “means your assailant possesses the power to kill or to inflict crippling injury.” An opponent armed with a gun or a knife fits the bill. So does someone who is obviously aiming his car at you as you walk down the sidewalk, someone armed with a bludgeon, or someone straddling you and pounding your head into the pavement. In general, if a healthy middle-aged man is punched by a healthy middle-aged man, the victim would not be justified in using deadly force. But a frail, elderly person attacked by a healthy middle-aged man is in a different situation entirely, and deadly force may possibly be justified. Generally speaking, women would receive considerably more leeway on this matter than men.

Opportunity “means that the opponent can carry out that ability in the immediate here and now.” Silly example (not Ayoob’s): a person who you know cannot swim, and who you know to be armed with a knife stands across a raging river from you, uttering terrifying threats against you. This situation meets the Ability condition (and, as we’ll see in a moment, also meets the Jeopardy condition), but clearly does not meet the Opportunity condition. If you shoot him across that river, you have committed a grave crime (and a grave sin). Now, if he had a gun, that would alter the scene entirely, for the missile weapon could cross the river for him. The details of what would constitute Opportunity vary greatly depending on circumstances.

The last condition is Jeopardy, which “comes into play when your assailant utters words or performs actions that a reasonable and prudent person would construe as demonstrating an intent to kill or cripple.” This might involve verbal cues as in the above example, but it could also include nonverbal signs—someone apparently reaching for a gun on his waistband, for example, in the midst of an escalating altercation, is “saying” that he means to use it.

You will need to read Ayoob’s more detailed version if you hope to understand these matters well; his analyses of these conditions are detailed and clear. He has been teaching this material for decades, and knows how to make his point. He also has a wealth of examples to illustrate the ideas. In fact, there are studies of some famous shootings, which are helpful in giving life to the abstract notions. Ayoob writes at length about the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, for example, in an analysis of the trial where Zimmerman was (quite properly) found not guilty of a crime. This discussion is useful both because it brings to light a good many facts that were suppressed in many media accounts, and because of the way in which Ayoob shows how AOJ applied in Zimmerman’s case. There is also a detailed study of a shooting involving Larry Hickey (actually written by guest author Gila Hayes), and briefer discussions of the more recent Rittenhouse and Arbery shootings. These discussions are well-informed, careful, and enlightening.

There is a solid chapter on “Stand Your Ground” laws and Castle Doctrine, as well as discussions of selecting an attorney, selecting gear for concealed carry, dealing with mob violence, and dealing with the psychological aftermath of a shooting (provided by guest author Anthony Semone). Last, there’s an important chapter on myths about armed defense. Unfortunately, if you hang around gun shops or online gun discussion fora, you are likely to hear some really bad ideas from “experienced” gun owners. Some of these ideas should be rejected by Catholics without any additional prompting from Ayoob: the “make sure your opponent is dead” myth (in other words, make sure if you shoot someone that you finish the job). This myth shouldn’t draw decent people in. But other myths are less obviously pernicious: for example, you might be led to think that it’s a good idea in some cases to fire warning shots. Ayoob explains in detail why this is—almost—always an extremely bad idea.

This book is excellent, and if you have guns in your house, you should have studied this book carefully, more than once. Even if you have taken a relatively solid concealed carry training class that went over the legalities of self-defense, you will benefit tremendously from seeing the material again, in detail. The reality is that a solid concealed carry class is likely to, at best, offer watered down versions of Ayoob’s material.

Two additional, final thoughts here. First, as good as Ayoob’s material is, some of it is too compressed. His discussions of reasonability and innocence are quite quick. For this reason, I would urge the gun owner to supplement Deadly Force with Andrew Branca’s The Law of Self-Defense. Branca breaks self-defense law down into five elements, and covers them well. The elements are Reasonability, Innocence, Imminence, Proportionality, and Avoidance. Due to Stand Your Ground laws, Avoidance is increasingly left out of self-defense laws, as Branca explains. I find Branca’s approach useful, and his book covers issues like the defense of others, defense of property (don’t do it) and how to think about the legal system. If you want to avoid negative outcomes based on not understanding the law—and you do—then you should be intimately familiar with these two books.

Second, if you already have a copy of the first edition of Deadly Force, I do not see an urgent need for you to buy the second edition. It’s true that the new version is nearly 100 pages longer, and the additions are useful. (They include, for example, the material on mob violence and attorney selection.) But the real core of Ayoob’s contribution in this book is found in the largely unaltered material about AOJ, self-defense myths, SYG, and so on.

I don’t agree with everything Ayoob writes. For example, I’m at least a little less keen on Stand Your Ground laws than he is. But this is a fine work that I can strongly recommend.

Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self-Defense, 2nd edition
By Massad Ayoob
Gun Digest Media, 2022
Paperback, 416 pages

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About Dr. Patrick Toner 8 Articles
Dr. Patrick Toner is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University. He writes about analytic metaphysics and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas...and Norman Rockwell. He earned his master's in philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville and his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Dr. Toner blogs at Lift Up Thine Eyes.


  1. This article is not only making guns fetishes but idols. It is too hypocritical to hold this idolatry and then just convey our routine “prayers and sympathies” to the families of children victims in the next school gun violence. Where’s our pro-life stand here? Is it limiting only to the unborn killed in abortion and disregard school children killed in gun violence? The hypocrisy in the name of guns idolatry.

    • Did you read the article carefully? There’s nothing about gun idolatry.
      Self-defense is perfectly legit & gun ownership is a constitutional right. If one is a pacificist, that’s legit also but we’re not required to do the same.

    • Classic diversion with a classifiable fallacy.

      My guns are tools, just like anything else. Recognition of utility is not idolatry, and it is risible to insist otherwise.

      My guns have never been fired at another human being and I don’t anticipate they will ever be-but life is filled with bad actors who endeavor to create unanticipated peril for others.

      However, if you enter my home, uninvited and unannounced in the middle of the night, and I awaken to it, I’m going to use my 45 to place a 230 grain slug in your center of mass. I will deploy my weapon only with lethal intent, because it is not a warning buoy or a wounding instrument and I’m not going to chance that you will respond to a warning or be suppressed by an injury. I am, as the head of my house required to protect my family.

      If you put me in the position of choosing between their life and yours, then you will be the cause of your death, not me.

      And by the way, pray my aim is true. Plan B is an aluminum baseball bat swung with all of the strength I can muster as 250 pound gymn rat and I will continue swinging until I am sure you are dead.

  2. A thorough, excellent account of the legitimate use of deadly force in the right to self defense, its limitations and justifications.
    A fundamental rule, Aquinas and the use of force limited to the measure required for protection [Aquinas’ commentary has been used as the principle of double effect]. This is the area that has variables often difficult to determine. Whether deadly or injurious force was excessive or necessary. From my perspective the benefit of the doubt should be in favor of the person attacked. Then there are instances when the person or persons allegedly protecting others seem to be the ones initiating an assault.
    The witness of the saints. We don’t find accounts of saints using deadly force when attacked, or even offering token resistance. Romano Guardini says Christ never physically resisted physical assault. Nor did he ever run. Before his hour arrived he simply slipped away through the mob. When his time to be glorified arrived, he stood his ground, ‘his face like flint’.

  3. RE: Frank A’s comment..
    So discussion of responsible firearm ownership is classified and dismissed as “gun fetish.”
    Some people just cannot be pleased.

  4. Our best defence is the righteous blood of Jesus Christ. Calmness and peace within our hearts is good witness.

    Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

    Matthew 26:52-54 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

    Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

    We want to have an orderly society were people are safe and their physical wellbeing is respected. We thank God for the police and laws that protect and enshrine godly values.

    • “Our best defence is the righteous blood of Jesus Christ. Calmness and peace within our hearts is good witness.”

      More fundamentalistic silliness. The blood of Christ might not be much practical help keeping your family safe during a home invasion.

      • You address the topic as a man of the world which is so obvious for all of us to first consider! The battle we face is in essence a spiritual one which may be even more problematic!

        12:11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

        2 Corinthians 10:3-5 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

        John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

        1 John 5:5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

        God bless you.

      • Christ’s blood was shed for the redemption of man kind.

        When it comes to preparing for physical defense: Luke 22:36

        God gave you a brain and a Savior.

        You could refuse to mount an effective PHYSICAL defense against a physical attack, but then you have to wonder if your last act on earth was suicide.

        • Dear Pitchfork Rebel, ….any quote of scripture eg; Luke 22:36 in isolation and used to justify a position seemingly at odds with the general direction of the teaching of Jesus must be regarded with suspicion and skepticism. Before one mounts an effective PHYSICAL defence against physical attack i believe it is incumbent upon a follower of Jesus to be very well practiced in all the effective strategies of de escalation of a potentially violent confrontation. In my years as a youth outreach worker on the city streets of Melbourne Australia, deescalation worked in every case of potential confrontation. I saw one street preacher provoke in the name of Jesus a young person known to me as a vulnerable schizophrenic into a violent act…… what witness!? Where in this discussion has de escalation featured? One path will lead to a better world over time. One path will lead to a fractured violent world over time. The vital question remains What path are you on…. every person reading this article and responding…. what path are yo on and will that path be part of the solution or part of the problem that has and is unfolding on the streets and in the doorways of your cities and as the little girl was shot in the face trying to retrieve her basketball, her father too as he came to her rescue.

          or shot driving into the wrong driveway:

          or shot knocking on the wrong door to pick up a friend:

          He says Yarl is still having trouble with his speech, movement and cognition from the traumatic brain injury — but he’s getting better and is expected to pull through……..

          shoot first, ask questions later? This is a climate of fear and violence that is and will continue to spread whith articles of this nature being written by those who are meant to be a representation and an articulation of the Light Of The WORLD. The Truth Incarnate! The Bride of Christ, well practiced in the use of a gun, while remaining ignorant of the message of salvation!

          GOD HELP US!

          • Mr. Hallam: You need classes in reading comprehension and some basic logic classes as well. You have wildly misrepresented the article and many of the comments here. Good bye.

          • “The Bride of Christ, well practiced in the use of a gun, while remaining ignorant of the message of salvation!”
            That’s really not the case though, at least in being “well practiced”. Much less being well trained in the use of a gun or knowledgeable in what constitutes grounds for justifiable self defense. The examples you have presented are people not practiced, not reasonable, nor knowledgeable about the responsibilities of firearm ownership. When self defense is carried out legally & responsibly, we hear less about that because it doesn’t further a prevailing “gun violence” narrative.
            I do hear you though about provocation. I think we often take things too far & can escalate a situation which could have better & more easily been solved peaceably.

          • Your point about “de escalation” is well taken. Calmness and respect towards the other person is important.
            If the other person feels we bear no malice towards him, it helps to calm the situation, as you have stated.
            God can do exceedingly more that we can imagine.

            God bless you.

        • We find ourselves put upon and perplexed here in this world. What you say is understandable and yet, we serve a God who brings down to death and raises to life.

          God is more powerful than our resistance and it is more noble to stand in the confidence He gives the believer. To dissuade someone through calmness and great faith is more honouring to God. It can be done! God gives us guardian angels according to Scripture. A number of times He has protected me and caused the would be assailant to back away without harm to either one of us. The protection of my family is important as is the reliance upon God for His grace.

          John 10:17-18 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.
          No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

          John 10:15 Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

          John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

          God bless you and appreciation for your godly comments over time.

  5. Luke 22:35
    “And the man without a sword must sell his coat and buy one.”

    “The witness of the saints. We don’t find accounts of saints using deadly force when attacked, or even offering token resistance.”

    Hello Fr. Peter,
    From Behind the Protection of Swiss Guard snipers, St. Pope John Paul II stated “Violence is Never the Answer!”. St. Pope John Paul II had at least two confirmed kills. This is unless you do not count hiring armed security to do your killing for you, when you are attacked. We know that Popes are temporal rulers over the sovereign nation, Vatican City State, and they can ban the use of violence to protect the innocent at any time. St. Pope John Paul II felt it was the Blessed Mother who protected him in the assault on his life. This could have been a sign by the Blessed Mother for St. Pope John Paul II to abandon using armed force at the Vatican City State and simply rely on pacifism and the Blessed Mother to protect the innocent at the Vatican. Two of St. Pope John Paul II’s confirmed kills were collateral damage.

    So, Fr. Peter, when Popes hire armed security, and instructs them to kill to protect himself, the Pope, doesn’t this count as St. Pope John Paul II killing to protect himself? Had St. John Paul II rid the Vatican of armed security and relied on the Blessed Mother to protect him, his two confirmand kills would have never happened.

    • If a formidable person, or persons attacked your wife, children attempting to rape, likely murder, would you stand there and pray [this actually occurred, and was portrayed in the film based on Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood], or would you take what physical measures including a weapon necessary to prevent him, or them?

      • Greetings Fr. Peter,
        As a child I played war and Lone Ranger. I naturally knew the answer to Jesus’ Will on when to kill to protect the innocent. My cousin died in the UN Vietnam war when I was seven. My Priests all preached that killing in war was evil. The draft was on. All my elders were great American Veterans. I was thrust into extreme spiritual distress.

        After years of suffering, I explained my spiritual distress to my Priest. My Priest told me that it was my duty to serve my country, and that when I get back, come to the Church and she will help me with all the evil I had done. I ran out of the confessional with tears streaming down my face and fell before our Lord Crucified. I prayed, “Heavenly Father, if it is Your Will, I will stand by idle with my weapon at my side while my own mother is raped, beaten and her body torn to pieces. Or, Heavenly Father, if it is Your Will, I will travel ten thousand miles and fight to my death to protect a stranger’s mother from persecution. All I beg of You, Heavenly Father, is What do You Will me to do?, for I can bear the weight of this decision no longer.

        I went on from that day in the confessional to spend hundreds of thousands of hours in deep prayer, contemplation and scriptural study, seeking out Jesus’ Will on when to kill to protect the innocent, along with many other things. This became my life’s loving relationship with God.

        In my search, I came across Archangel Michael’s ‘Thrust into Hell’ weapon; it is Catholic Anathema. The ‘small scroll’ in Revelation 10 is a world wide, binding on all people, list of Catholic auto-anathemas, read by Catholic Apostolic Successors. After the ‘small scroll’ is read, Jesus is immediately enthroned in heaven as King and Ruler of the world and we go into Jesus’ Kingdom Come, the Revelation 21 ‘New Jerusalem’, which is the Restored Israel, Restored Garden of Eden, to live in Messianic Reign on freewill earth. The Catholic Church will live in Messianic Reign, living in Jesus’ Presence on earth, elevated above all the earth, for tens of thousands of years on freewill earth.

        I can explain to you why Jesus Wills human Apostolic Successors to read the ‘small scroll’ which wields the weapon of a Combat Angel of the Apocalypse.

        Jesus is Getting Married!

        • Steven, I’m quite affected by your honesty, your inner struggle with the issue of killing. For a first premise, I quote the German Catholic bishops 2 years into WWII, “Never, under any circumstances, except in war and justified self defense, is it permissible to kill an innocent human being”.
          Self defense is a natural law right, although only in measure as is required.
          Vietnam was an unjust war. Politics were involved, ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge allegedly a co conspirator with Diem’s enemies. Pres Diem was not guilty of the false charges of Buddhist persecution. As was the last Iraq war unjust. Nevertheless, we have a moral obligation to defend the weak and helpless. Germany’s 1939 attack of Poland was unjust, Britain and France were justified in declaring war on Germany.
          Your account of the “small scroll” in Revelation is not traditional Catholic interpretation, indeed, very little is said by Catholic scholars with certainty. What you say about a free will Earth for tens of thousands of years is drawn from some source other than Catholicism. On that I advise you to instead turn to the Fathers of the Church, the Catholic Catechism, Benedict XVI regarding eschatology.
          While we live in this world we do and live as necessary to maintain a rational balance of caring for the needs of others, and for our own. Protection of one’s family is expected as an act of justice and love for them. Our Catholic faith doesn’t take extreme views regarding our subsistence. Moral truths that are absolute cannot be abrogated, whereas practical matters such as livelihood, protection of properties and the like have their own limits and terms of justice. My prayers and care.

          • Greetings Fr. Peter,
            I was in my early twenties when a devout Catholic told me that the Church had a ‘Just War Theory”. I breathed a life long sigh of relief. I excitedly asked my friend which wars Jesus’ Willed me to kill in, in order to protect the innocent”. My friend responded, “Jesus is a Pacifist! Jesus does not will us to kill in any Wars! The Catholic Just War Theory is a Catholic Church teaching, not the Will of Jesus Christ!” After a moment of complete confusion and disappointment, I responded, “How on Earth can the Catholic Church have a teaching, which they themselves believe is in direct opposition to the Will of my Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ?” My Catholic theologian friend had no answer for me. Since that time I have asked two or three other priests about Catholic Just war theory, and they too have all responded that Jesus is a pacifist and does not Will us to kill in any wars.

            So Fr. Peter, a, hired by St. Pope John Paul II Swiss Guard sniper, has a papal attacker in his cross hairs. Jesus suddenly apparitions in front of the sniper. Does Jesus tell the sniper that it is His will that he take the kill shot on the attacker, for the protection of St. Pope John Paul II, or does Jesus order the Swiss Guard sniper to stand down and allow St. Pope John Paull II to become the greatest Catholic martyr since the time of the Apostles?


        • Dear Steven:

          Allow me to also extend appreciation for your testimony. God is with you and as you honour Him in prayer and supplication you become a man to aid others. That you seek wisdom through scripture and the council of godly men is a measure of your faith and love for God.

          He uses our sufferings to bless others, just as Christ blesses us.


        • Steven, in response to your April 24 post you’re placing yourself in the mind of Christ as you perceive how he would judge self defense, this based on the opinion of others. We can’t live our faith in an imaginary world. We have a moral obligation to protect the innocent, the helpless.
          Jesus speaks to us historically through the prophets. He certainly was warlike in commanding Moses to have the waters of the Red Sea destroy the entire Egyptian Army. As when he ordered Gideon through the Judge, prophetess Deborah to gather an army and annihilate the enemy, or when he ordered Joshua to kill all the inhabitants of Jericho. Neither did Judith disobey God’s inspiration to behead Israel’s enemy.
          Christ was far from a pacifist both in the Old testament as well as in the New. He suggested to Pilate that he had an army of angels who would come to rescue him if he wished. That army, led by the warrior Prince Michael fought and vanquished Lucifer. And it was Christ who spoke to Saint Joan of Arc to lead the French knights against the English. To fight relentlessly.
          Abandon imaginative opinion based on hearsay and follow scripture and the Catholic Church on the validity of defensive warfare, our moral obligation to defend the helpless.

          • Hello Fr. Peter,
            Glad to hear you say Jesus is Not a pacifist! Thank You! I think a great many Catholics would view St. Pope John Paul II taking the kill shot to protect himself, as not loving his neighbor as himself, as Christ Commanded us too.

            “Love your neighbor as yourself” is known as the Golden Rule.

            A murderer is murdering children on a playground. The murderer yells over to the police “Don’t shoot me because you are a Christian!”, while he continues murdering children. The police officer responds, Bang! I go with Jesus’ Golden Rule. If I were murdering children on a playground, I would want a faithful, obedient to Jesus, police officer to love me, by ‘not standing by idle while my neighbor’s life is at stake’, and kill me out of love and protection for these innocent children.

            Do you agree that the great Gift of love to the world, of our Great American WWII allied veterans, was the greatest world scale gift of love and sacrifice for fellow man and God of the 20th Century?

            Leviticus 19 Various Rules of Conduct
            nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the LORD. “You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”​

            Matthew 22:36
            “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”


          • Furthermore Steven, your initial response to the issue in your April 24 comment was the correct one. Unfortunately, you asked priests who were themselves pacifist. Correctly said, was “How on Earth can the Catholic Church have a teaching, which they themselves believe is in direct opposition to the Will of my Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ?”.
            Those priests you asked mistakenly separate Church teaching from its founder Christ. As you know we can’t depend on the orthodox response of many priests. I meant to say in my comment that Christ, a warrior, fought spiritually as he should. We on the other hand in our human conditions are expected to physically defend [by whatever means practicable] the helpless, whether the infants that are aborted, or the elderly or child being assaulted. Peace. My continued prayers.

  6. Speaking as a woman who is not trained in armed combat (i.e. who was never in the military or the police), how much time to you have in any situation to assess what I am allowed to do?

    • Anne Marie,
      I really recommend taking a gun safety course and you’ll be much more informed about that.
      I took mine through an NRA instructor years ago and it covered all the legal ramifications that can ensue even when self defense is justified. Self defense is a right but it comes with rules and responsibilities. Just like gun ownership.
      God bless!

      • Mrscracker, Thank you for your good advice. However, it does not address what concerns me. I asked how much time do I have in any situation to assess what I am allowed to do. I read recently about at least tow situations where someone, obviously acting in what he or she believed was valid self defense, shot someone who was at the wrong door. One incident took lace at a house and another in a parking lot.
        From what I have read, most situations of self defense give you very little time to asses your position. The advice give in the article is excellent – on paper. I wish actual situations were as clear.

        • You actually do get training in decision making in gun safety classes. We were taught that you first give a warning that you are armed. You can’t lawfully shoot anyone over property theft or trespassing to begin with. Neither of the instances you describe constitute legitimate self defense.

          • Thank you, mrscracker. That would be reassuring if I could believe that even a large number of gun owners were as level headed as you are. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the case. I am definitely not a pacifist and I have no problem with people owning guns, but the inhabitants of this country are becoming more and more fearful – with good reason, but still, fear is not a good advisor for someone with a weapon. In Switzerland, every able bodied man is a member of the army and they all keep their military gear at home, including their rifles, so that they can be called up at a moment[‘s notice. in spite of the fact that virtually every household has an army rifle, they do not have the shootouts and gun deaths that we have. They know how to handle guns without fear and anger ruling their actions. I don’t believe that we Americans have that kind of self-control.
            I will continue to look for some other way to deal with the violence that prevails in our country. As someone wrote, “The very bearing of a weapon changes the mind of the one who bears it.?

        • It is irrelevant whether someone believes he is acting in valid self-defense. What is relevant is not belief as such, but whether the belief is objectively reasonable. You have a much better chance of developing reasonable beliefs in the face of rapidly unfolding defensive situations if you have trained for such situations, preferably in force-on-force scenarios. But reading books like this is a good step in the meantime. The more you can internalize how the law works, the less likely you are to break it.

        • Anne Marie, it is irrelevant whether a person believes he is using lethal force legitimately. It matters only whether his beliefs are objectively reasonable. The best way for a person to develop an ability to rapidly think through such matters is through force-on-force scenario training. In the meantime, reading books like Ayoob’s helps to prime the pump. Of course, merely “book learning” isn’t ideal, but it beats nothing.

  7. America has more guns than people. I have not read Ayoob’s book, but my interest in saving our school children from the murderers who slaughter them with impunity with every type of gun including the powerful gun of war AR15. And did Wayne Lapierre or anyone from the NRA ever attend the funeral of a slaughtered school baby?

    Excerpt: “Florida’s concealed carry law is set to change on July 1st, making it the 26th state to allow permitless carry More than 30 years into the concealed carry revolution, we can see that “the streets will run with blood” objection to widespread legal carriage of handguns are simply false. And, yet, gun rights enthusiasts like myself can’t ignore that easy access to guns can lead to negative outcomes.” How about catastrophic outcome, given the current world we live in! There is “blood running” in the schools!

    Florida is off the rails. DeSantis is an autocrat!

    • Lots of projection in your post. Brings to mind the old adage, “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” You could care less about “saving our school children.” You’re just an ideologue.

      • Once convicted of the Truth in Jesus and committed to following him, it can be said that Conversion is a gradual process. At the point of commitment to Jesus many aspects of our life’s attitudes and choices will change to conform to his teachings. However some of the inner transformation of aspects of our behaviour and world view may take years to be converted, transformed, redeemed into the likeness of the character and purpose of he who is the Good News in all its fullness.
        There will be variety in how individuals respond as there must be in an authentic conversion of us as individuals living the reality of the human condition. With authentic conversion and transformation there also has to be grace for without grace, our interpersonal relationships and social cohesion are doomed to be fractured and broken.

    • Interesting, but disordered rant as it’s now been revealed that Connor Sturgeon, the Louisville bank killer’s manifesto included among his aims-advancing gun control.

      It manifestly insane to call DeSantis an autocrat because he signed a bill into law that enjoyed widespread support and was passed in both houses of the florida legislature and may actually have been veto proof. The Florida House passed it 76-32 and the Florida Senate passed the bill 27-40.

      The autocrat is @ 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

      • Your admirable use of facts, arguments, reason, and such will not work with morganD. He hasn’t just drank the Kool-Aid; he seems intent on being the Kool-Aid.

        • IMHO, I suggest that the issue should be defined as “defense of innocents” for which self-defense is a subset. Secondly, drug related criminal behaviors assure that we are not dealing with rational individuals. Given the range of mayhem in modern society, perhaps an article on situational awareness would be useful to assist the average person understand their role in the “defense of innocents”. For all that is shared, situational awareness is essential in every decision to engage or not.

  8. In this article the authors advise centres around the following assumption as stated in the article:
    ” But since, as noted, American self-defense law coheres well with Catholic teaching, this is actually a fine book to read as a primer on use of lethal force by Christians.

    To my way of thinking this rather broad brush stroke should be further examined as all that follows is built on the legitimacy of this assumption. Faith in Jesus and obedience to his teaching is central to the Christians authentic journey in following Jesus. The many words and teachings of Jesus are surely more worthy of examination in forming ones attitude to the use of deadly force. To deny America has a problem with respect to the use of firearms would be an example of the proverbial osterich with its head buried in the sand.
    Additionally any example the use of the correct attitude to self defence using the Rittenhouse experience that in any way condones his actions is a betrayal of the teaching of Jesus. I would hope that was not the direction the writer of this article is heading in referencing this deplorable incident of Rittenhouse where the author writes;
    “and briefer discussions of the more recent Rittenhouse and Arbery shootings. These discussions are well-informed, careful, and enlightening.”

    I searched and found a video of Massad Ayoob outlining his thoughts on the Rittenhouse shootings.
    If you choose to seek your guidance from Massad Ayoob’s words instead of the teaching of Jesus on this subject you are verging on heretic status!
    Whatever happened to the concept of imprimatur ? This is poison to my heart and soul and to my thinking is the antithesis of the spirit of Jesus teaching, his healing, redemptive, sanctifying word.

    • “This is poison to my heart and soul and to my thinking is the antithesis of the spirit of Jesus teaching, his healing, redemptive, sanctifying word.”

      Kind of like all your false accusations and slanders about Cardinal Pell?

      • Cardinal Pell’s attitude to those sinned against by a cabal of sexual abusive Priests in the Parishes of Ballarat Diocese where he had oversight responsibility as Episcopal Vicar for Catholic Schools was and is is poison to my heart and soul and to my thinking is the antithesis of the spirit of Jesus teaching, his healing, redemptive, sanctifying word. However Athanasius, in your now clearly chosen ignorance and distain for the Truth I have spoken, you continue your accusations directed directly towards me. Your of me are clearly stated as “false accusations and slanders about Cardinal Pell.” The truth of the matters are every situation I referenced of Cardinal Pells response to victims of Clerical Abusers is 100% authentic witness from those directly involved from first and second hand testimony. You sir are on the other side of the world but the truth in this regard does not matter to you.
        Likewise the title of this sloppy article:
        “Understanding self-defense and the truth about using deadly force”

        When using the word TRUTH in an article directed at followers of Jesus one would assume that the foundation of the consept would involve an surrendering to the cornerstone of our faith. Jesus said of himself: John 14.6
        I am The Way The Truth and The Life.

        Yet Dr Toner, Associate Professor of Philosophy, seems to be unaware of how his argument pertaining to one assumes, an authoritative Christian take on the subject matter:
        “Understanding self-defense and the TRUTH about using deadly force.”
        The fundamental flaw in this article is the implied assumption that obedience and behaviour conforming to the US law pertaining to self defence and the use of deadly force is akin to conforming to the pattern of Jesus. As simple as this seems overwhelmingly evident, I am astounded at the seemingly total lack of awareness and clarity of thought presented in the article and subsequent comments.
        Michael Sapienza seems to suggest my comment leads to an extreme position. It most certainly does not. It points to a position that is a direct consequense of getting to know Jesus as accurately and authentically as is possible and allowing, no, choosing to navigate all of ones life direction, choices and attitudes in alignment with his will, world view, relationship dynamics, in the light of who he says we are, who he says The Father Son and Holy Spirit is and the nature of our relationship with each other and with the I Am Who I Am.
        From this platform of faith we then work out our response to “Understanding self-defense and the truth about using deadly force.

        Dr. Patrick Toner is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University. He writes about analytic metaphysics and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas…and Norman Rockwell. He earned his master’s in philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville and his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.
        And a Catholic follower of Jesus.
        Please sir, do your best to not mislead the faithful in such a serious topic of discussion. This is to my mind a matter of life and death on an individual basis and also pertaining to the authenticity of the Church’s witness to the Truth.
        What do we followers of Jesus all have at our disposal?
        Truth, Reason and for those who choose, Faith in Jesus and all that faith entails.
        May I refer you to another recent article on this website:
        The power of witness: How the early Church evangelized.

        • Mr. Hallam: Your many (many!) comments about Cardinal Pell over the years are bad enough. Now you decide to smear, misrepresent, and even slander Dr. Toner, whose points and arguments are perfectly legitimate and reasonable for a Catholic.

          Last call. Make it good.

        • Thanks again for exactly proving my point. I hope the site’s moderators’ patience with your bloviated trolling comes to an end soon.

  9. It sounds like some of you are saying that when your life or the life of another innocent person (like a child) is being threatened by an attacker we Christians should do nothing to protect ourselves or other innocent people? If an old lady is being gun butted to death in front of you, at a party store, would you grab a broom stick on the ground to beat back the attacker? Or better yet, what if you had a concealed pistol would you use it? It’ll be too late for the police if you run away and call 911 assuming you make it out the door). That’s the reality in some of these situations

  10. Speaking non-conclusively –

    Rittenhouse went there armed to defend what was not his and from the accounts the only killings that happened were to do with him. There were “16 other gun-shot sounds” that came through only after incidents involving him.

    The claim of being a medic-at-hand to assist others in emergency, “albeit without official ID” for that, could be adjudged as part of a narrative.

    Masaad Ayoob admits it’s questionable that Rittenhouse should have gone to Kenosha at all. In my understanding of law this is a critical point. This the juncture where the assertion of a legal claim of self-defense gets either excluded or conditioned. It does not run well IN LAW – as I understand it – to say “O, hey, the situation was such and I felt he cold make a positive contribution with an AR-15” – same in morality. Here, the matter of Jacob Blake would be irrelevant.

    The idea being claimed is that you can use self-defense when “it was admittedly stupid to go”, where, “having ‘ found ‘ himself in such situations, therefore could rely on defense of self-defense.”

    He did not rush into a burning building to save anyone.

    It would also seem that this conditionality was further not processed correctly, at the trial; so that the jury went on the generalizations presented, its own instincts and “exigent circumstances”. Not necessarily how it should have been done.

    Someone could be walking around with no qualm of conscience about culpable homicide because he was let off by a permissive court. And in such circumstances he would be feeling the assurance of the favour of some group among the legal fraternity and the security services.

    Speaking conclusively –

    The handgun image on the book cover is a Ruger P89, a dated type of weapon. This is a heavier type pistol that fits to a large hand, where the first pull on the distant trigger is very hard but subsequent pulls are a little easier.

    I found out about the Kenosha circumstances and the Ruger, by doing background reading. I recommend that when you read these books, or listen to Ayoob on YOUTUBE, etc., you similarly should do the types of research. It will help to fill in missing knowledge as well as protect sensitivity of conscience in coming to grips with things.

    Massad Ayoob’s opinion about the Kyle Rittenhouse trial – Critical Mas episode 22
    April 27 2022

  11. The author writes: “ we can see that “the streets will run with blood” objection to widespread legal carriage of handguns are simply false.” I don’t think he has been listening to a reading the news lately.

  12. “Masaad Ayoob admits it’s questionable that Rittenhouse should have gone to Kenosha at all. In my understanding of law this is a critical point. This the juncture where the assertion of a legal claim of self-defense gets either excluded or conditioned.”

    Rittenhouse had the legal right to be in Kenosha and the legal right to be armed there. Whether it was prudent for him to be there is a worthwhile question for him to contemplate at his leisure. Whether his armed presence justified the multiple murderous assaults launched against him is a different question, and according to the law the answer is clearly no.

    • You’re right, my analysis does call into question the legal/legalistic reasoning and methods that organized to uphold Rittenhouse; and the background inclinations (that are trying) to say it is moral or justifiable or prudent or useful or acceptable.

      The critical point is established in law in other jurisdictions of the common law (possibly in continental law as well); and is inextricable to the morality.

      It is a stumbling block. It’s where Ayoob starts waffling.

      So, to note this is about law and morality not book knowledge or gun training.

      Having “a right to be present” somewhere actually speaks to the mens rea and actus reus in the criminal charge. It doesn’t underpin a defense of self-defense and it can’t prove self-defense.

      Without the invoking of the defense of self-defense, the circumstances are showing how Rittenhouse could have won a conviction -someone who set out in cold blood, or in hot blood, looking for circumstances where he could engage a preconceived intent to kill.

      Ayoob instead repaints them as “the exigent circumstances”, i.e., “beyond control”, or “indeterminable” or “up for philosophical debate and what have you”.

      As with Ayoob you mix up irrelevance, like prudence and leisure and book knowledge, that have no bearing on the legal content and can mislay the moral aspects.

      Yet is it difficult from a distance to make out things conclusively, that is why I wrote conditionally to be able to demonstrate the other side.

      My last point was about how the overall society ends up going as a de facto war zone with cultivated murder mentality that demands submission. It speaks to a void in your essay.

      • Voids can likely be expected in 1800 word book reviews. But you misunderstand the point about Rittenhouse’s right to be where he was when he was murderously assaulted. His armed presence there does not undermine his claim to innocence, in the relevant sense. He did not provoke the murderous assaults upon him, and hence his use of lethal force in self defense was–as it was seen by a jury–legitimate. There’s nothing to waffle about here.

        • Toner if I have to answer you it would repeat everything I already positioned. And you haven’t said anything new except to allow the void I identify; but then you seem to sidestep addressing it.

          No misunderstanding here.

          I note that the Prosecution didn’t challenge the judge’s directing of the jury. Ayoob recognizes that the Prosecution did at least one hare-brain act during trial. The Police on the fateful night let things go and actually didn’t deputize anyone.

          It’s very remote now if not impossible for anyone to legally convict Rittenhouse of anything criminal. True. It doesn’t mean we can’t discuss what society should look like and how protests should be handled. Or that we can’t recognize how the thing might not have been self-defense; and that the result of the ruling could entrap the legal doctrine in schematics.

          Some gun users I know have it that they will always be in the right because they are licensed and they intend to survive no matter what erupts. They didn’t go through all that training with a gun to lose. That is how some instructors teach it. “There is no second chance.” At which the waffling ensues, “I have the gun training and it isn’t for a candy-land jaunt.”

          Some of them are not happy with 9mm, they want explosive 45s. Etc. This isn’t book knowledge! This is equipping to kill dressed in advance.

          So you admit there is a void. I think it bears directly on the issue.

  13. I remember when a Pacifist Christian elementary school had a school shooter. The police came and killed the shooter. I asked, “Well, who called the police?” The Pacifist Christians came back with “What kind of evil monsters do you think we Christian Pacifists” are!”.

    • According to WIKIPEDIA, Rittenhouse himself testified/averred he believed Rosenbaum to be unarmed.

      What I notice about that night is that Rittenhouse was the only one doing killing.

      The guys with handguns who had clear shots at Rittenhouse at any time, including from inside Rittenhouse’s blindspots / unguarded moments, never took shots at him.

      It’s an unexplored possibility that the reason he eventually ran to the Police is, that he was out of ammunition. Hence he couldn’t kill Grosskreutz after shooting him in the biceps.

      When the Police saw him approach they then began moving into the crowd. At that point Rittenhouse departed.

  14. I had an intruder in my backyard once. He had climbed up the orange tree and was helping himself to oranges, packing a plastic bag. The dog called it out and I went into the yard not visibly armed looking for the cause of the barking. My mega-torchlight beam landed square on him and he Froze In Place Like Wile E. Coyote. So I said listen fellow, this isn’t going well for you and you really must leave. Because you can provoke tempers around here and it’s not good. Take your bag of oranges. If you need help of some sort come back in the daytime and let me know, I’ll see what I can do for it. He left. I watched him leave. I never had that problem again.

    Another time, different house, I fell asleep in the living room on the couch and in the middle of the night, someone put his arm full up to his shoulder, through the open window burglar-proof wrought iron to try to steal the VCR back through the spacings. There was a 6-inch standing Divine Mercy plaque that tumbled to the floor and woke me to see an arm remaining quite still, in the dark, allowing the moment to pass. You couldn’t see me on the couch from the window. So I sneaked along the wall to the window and as the thief gripped the VCR, I, alongside the window unseen, yelled to the top of my voice, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING HERE IN THIS PLACE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! Extracting your full length thick arm back through there at a speed is no small task; and it probably bruised him up good. And he made a dash for it over the lawns and down the street, empty-handed. Never came back.

    I have lost things to burglars too, it isn’t all good luck. But then I do some detective work and I usually develop a fair idea who it is. People talk too. I removed a tenant and his buddy came to let me know I had to satisfy the buddy’s criteria or there would be consequences. I didn’t negotiate and as a result the building was plagued with cat-burglaries. My passport and birth certificate got stolen along with an 65-year old pair of binoculars and a beautiful sword letter opener my sister gave me. In another instance same location, possibly not related, my cheque books and bank statements were removed. I believe one of the cat-burglars is a Muslim with a Rasta aide-de-camp chumming with him; and another of the cat-burglars is a fellow who once told me he got some training in Hackensack NJ.

    Sometimes the wider network involved becomes evident.

    An even earlier time, a couple of drugged up adolescents were trying to kick in the back door where I lived. This was a solid door with 2 brutal dead-bolt locks set in heavy framing. I turned on all the lights and started banging back from the inside, telling them I had a phone in my hand and if they couldn’t kick in the door fast I would have no choice but to call in the fuzz, don’t test my pressure.

    • Thank you CWR for publishing these notes. I assure you it’s all true. Some facts are still coming in, as you see.

      This is not to be self-referential. It is to show that using guns isn’t necessarily the best or only option. It is also to challenge the instruction given by some gun trainers, that once you draw your gun you have to “finish the job” – on the idea that even if a “target” doesn’t get you this time he can always retaliate later.

      In my first example the time was about 9:50pm. We were watching TV inside.

      In my second example the time was around 2am. The plaque is wooden.

      In my last example with the doped adolescents, the time was 11:30pm. I had already gone to bed 9:30pm and was asleep when I heard the racket.

      The situations with the cat burglars suggest ways to set up ambushes; however, while this could be right in capturing the thieves it would not be commensurate to manipulate the ambush to kill the burglars and frame out a self-defense result; nor would it be self-defense. Nor would it be “innocence”. Nor just.

      And these are the reasons for sharing my stories with you.

      To guard our consciences from becoming coarse and sterile.

      For love of God.

      And for my experience of God in them Whom I find so thrilling and evocative of praise.

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