Catholic Ethics: Use of Deadly Force in Robbery

Some commentators will say that you are not justified in using deadly force to protect your money or goods from robbery, as human life is worth more than your possessions are worth. However, that is not the correct moral evaluation. Robbery is not the same as theft. Robbery is essentially theft with the use of force or the threat of force, and the force is typically that of serious bodily injury or death. So while the theft element might not justify the use of deadly force, the threat by the robber to cause you serious bodily injury or death does justify the use of deadly force. You are protecting your life, not only your money and goods.

There was a news story of a 71-year-old Marine, a former helicopter pilot for Marine Helicopter 1 (for POTUS), who used deadly force against two robbers. They were robbing a sandwich shop. He let them rob the place, and did not intervene. But then they forced him into a bathroom, attempted to rob him, using the thread of serious bodily injury or death. So he took out his concealed firearm and shot them. One died, the other barely survived. He did not use deadly force to protect the shop from robbery. He was going to let them rob the place and leave. But they went on to threaten him, and so he defended himself. He was not charged with any crime.

Now some commentators will say that you should just give the robbers your money. That way, there is no loss of human life. The problem here is two-fold. First, there are many examples of robberies in which the robber kills the victims, rather than simply leaving with the money.

In Saint Louis Missouri, decades ago, there was a grocery store robbery. The armed men entered the store right at closing. They forced the five employees closing up the store to lie on the floor, face down, with their hands behind their heads. Then they stole from the cash registers, packed up all the money, and then shot each employee execution-style in the back of the head. Then they got away with the money.

There were witnesses to the murders, employees who hid in the back of the store when the trouble began. The local paper published their names and exact addresses the next day, even though the murderers were still at large. Later, the paper apologized, saying they only meant to publish their names and approximate addresses (as in so-and-so lives in the 1500 block of Grand Avenue). Should news organizations be subject to laws limiting what they can publish? I think so. They have no discretion of their own.

Another issue, in addition to the possibility that the robbers will kill you so that there is no witness to their crime, is the effect on the larger community. If you fail to use deadly force, then the robbers get away with their crime, and then they go on to rob other persons, and eventually harm or kill someone. Robbery is done with the use of force, and this means that the robber is willing to harm or kill others.

Defending yourself against the loss of your goods does not merely defend items of a particular value. You are defending the loss of goods by your neighbors and your community. You are defending their lives, as robbers are very likely to harm or kill someone eventually. And you are defending the peace and security of your life and your neighbors lives.

The proposal that you merely let yourself be robbed, because human life is worth more than goods, fails to take into account:
* the danger to your life
* the danger to your neighbor’s life
* the harm to peace and security of your life
* the harm to peace and security of the community

The situation is not that you are giving the death penalty to someone who only committed theft. Rather, you are defending your life and the lives of others against grave harm to peace, security, health, and life.

Example from Sacred Scripture

[Acts of the Apostles 5]
{5:1} But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a field,
{5:2} and he was deceitful about the price of the field, with his wife’s consent. And bringing only part of it, he placed it at the feet of the Apostles.
{5:3} But Peter said: “Ananias, why has Satan tempted your heart, so that you would lie to the Holy Spirit and be deceitful about the price of the land?
{5:4} Did it not belong to you while you retained it? And having sold it, was it not in your power? Why have you set this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God!”
{5:5} Then Ananias, upon hearing these words, fell down and expired. And a great fear overwhelmed all who heard of it.
{5:6} And the young men rose up and removed him; and carrying him out, they buried him.
{5:7} Then about the space of three hours passed, and his wife entered, not knowing what had happened.
{5:8} And Peter said to her, “Tell me, woman, if you sold the field for this amount?” And she said, “Yes, for that amount.”
{5:9} And Peter said to her: “Why have you agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out!”
{5:10} Immediately, she fell down before his feet and expired. Then the young men entered and found her dead. And they carried her out and buried her next to her husband.
{5:11} And a great fear came over the entire Church and over all who heard these things.

Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead by God for theft from the Church. This is a condemnation by Sacred Scripture of embezzling money from the Church. The money was promised to the Church, and yet a large portion was misdirected. And the penalty given by the Church was death. For Peter says: “Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out!”

And it shows that the death penalty is not merely of the Old Testament, but also of the New Testament. Furthermore, it proves that the use of deadly force is still moral in New Testament times.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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2 Responses to Catholic Ethics: Use of Deadly Force in Robbery

  1. King Robert the Bruce says:

    Every man should have the right to defend himself his family and his home.

  2. Thomas Mazanec says:

    I agree, but personally I cannot see myself taking someone’s life, even to save myself or others. I just don’t believe I could do it.

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