May the Doctrine Live in All of Us


As the country focuses on the Catholicism of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, many may miss just how relevant Catholic teaching is for today. Specifically, in the use of deadly force by police departments.

The understanding of the proper use of deadly force comes out of the Just War Doctrine. To write one line summing it up superficially — use only that force needed to stop an aggressor from committing evil acts that will undermine the common good.

Nowhere is this doctrine more relevant than in our current fallout over the use of deadly force by local police departments From New York and Los Angeles to Anytown, USA.

Breona Taylor I am not a lawyer so I cannot speak to the issues surrounding the grand jury’s findings in that case.

I am a veteran familiar with the use of firearms. I refuse to carry one. I also do not possess an F.I.D. card, never did and do not plan to apply for one.

We know the basics of the case. The police were executing a no knock warrant which allows the officers to just barge into a domicile. This lowers the chance of the suspect escaping or destroying evidence. Granting the warrant requires an evaluation of whether the potential for something going wrong outweighs the benefit of the tactics. In the Breona Taylor case clearly the negative outcome did far outweigh any advantageous use of the tactics.

Reports stated the police did identify themselves prior to entering the apartment. This is where things begin to go south.


Did he fire six shots or only five Breona and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker awoke at the sounds of police at the door. They got out of bed and walked down the hallway. Walker carried his firearm. According to FreedomWire, they were in the hallway walking towards the door when the police barged in with a battering ram. Walker, thinking the intrusion a threat, fired at police. The Louisville, KY Courier Journal reports later Walker told police he would not have fired if he knew it was them.

The officers responded by firing back into the apartment. NBC, citing Breona’s mother’s lawsuit, described the police as blindly shooting at the couple.

After a grand jury investigation, one officer was indicted as some of the bullets ended up in the next apartment endangering those residents.

The focus now is on the results of the bullets fired which is the death of Breona Taylor unarmed and in her home. Few focus on the number of bullets. How many times did these officers fire allegedly “blindly”into the apartment? Walker fired once.

The Right vs What the Situation Warrants In the United States, if you use deadly force against a police officer, he or she has the right to use deadly force against you. This is self-defense, so the minute Walker fired, the officers had the right to return fire. Just because someone has a right to do something does not mean they have the duty to do it as well. There is no rule that says they had to fire and they had to fatally wound anyone, only they had the right to fire their weapons in self-defense.

Now I am not a police officer and I was not there. So, admittedly this is arm-chair quarterbacking.

The firing back by the police officers, again allegedly blindly, sounds like a Hollywood script. If you are looking for another reason NOT to watch cop shows there it is. Breona Taylor suffered six shots and that did not include those which missed everything and ended up in the neighbor’s apartment.

The grand jury did not consider that to be criminal and this is where it is important to know that the law does not necessarily meet reality in many cases. If the grand jury found that no law was broken in the use of force, that does not mean what happened was not wrong, only it was not illegal.

There are other cases where deceased or severely injured people shot by the police suffered multiple bullet wounds. The real culprit here may be police policy. It seems officers may empty their magazines or come close to it against suspects. This has to be more force than needed to stop a suspect. In fact, no one disputes that Walker fired one shot. We know the police fired many more because Taylor suffered six shots and other bullets entered the apartment next door.

These are the questions that the family of Breona Taylor, the families of others killed or injured by the police and the American citizen need to know. What are the rules of engagement with deadly force and to which level is deadly force permitted? The Catholic just war doctrine says the minimum needed to ensure safety and the common good, no more. If the police unloaded their magazines into an apartment blindly or not then that is well over the top.

Trained by the Navy in the use of firearms, I certainly could not justify shooting blindly at what at best was figures of residents of an apartment. The results speak for themselves. This is true even if it is not illegal.

Deadly force in Catholic doctrine can only be used to kill the opponent if it is the only way to stop a threat to life and the common good. This is exactly the reason why Pope St. John Paul II declared the death penalty virtually obsolete, later confirmed by Pope Francis.

Even in the Navy, on ship security, the rule was not to kill the suspect.

As the question of Catholic doctrine comes up during the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearings, I hope the doctrine is alive in her and in all Catholic justices.

Photo by Harry Cunningham on Unsplash

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