A recent event in Rome sponsored by the Saint Gabriel Possenti Society, Inc., sought to bridge this gap. The U.S.-based St. Gabriel Possenti Society, Inc., upholds the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. Its president/founder John Michael Snyder came to Rome for the first time to seek official Vatican recognition of Saint Gabriel Possenti (1838-1862) as the patron saint of handgun owners.
To better press the issue John Snyder, a former associate editor of the National Rifle Association of America’s monthly publication The American Rifleman, held a special awards conference in the shadow of the Basilica of St Peter on February 27, the saint’s feast day.
Awardees received a special medal honoring their commitment to the principle of legitimate self-defense. The medal features a profile of Saint Gabriel Possenti with the recipients’ name and date on the back.
The awardees were Most Rev. Custodio Alvim Pereira, Vice President of the Chapter of St. Peter’s Basilica; Jeff Cooper of Gunsite Ranch, Arizona; Francesco Possenti, a descendant of the brother of Saint Gabriel Possenti; Piero Raggi, the distinguished author of Crociata, a history of those who defended the Papal States in the nineteenth century; and Paolo Tagini, an Italian writer on the right to self-defense in the Italian magazine Armi. Mario Navarro da Costa, the head of the Tradition, Family Property Washington Bureau, was unable to attend the Rome event but received the medal later in the United States.
According to Mr. Snyder, the right to self-defense must be seen in a positive light as an extension of the right to life. In his opinion, the Catholic Church is the most genuine and consistent defender of life and should thus speak out in favor of legitimate self-defense just as it speaks for the right to life.
For further information about the St. Gabriel Possenti Society, read the following interview adapted for the TFP web site.
1. How would you describe your organization vis-à-vis similar groups in the U.S.?
The Saint Gabriel Possenti Society, Inc. is a non-profit international entity, incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1989, to promote public awareness of the life and activities of St. Gabriel Possenti, and to promote the study and exposition of the historical, philosophical and theological bases for the doctrine of legitimate self-defense.
The St. Gabriel Possenti Society, Inc. is not a lobby, as that term is contemplated under American law, does not officially support or oppose specific pieces of legislation or candidates for public office. There is no organic connection with the National Rifle Association of America, although some individual NRA officials and members have received Society recognition. A lot of media types like to talk about the power of the gun lobby, but they really do not understand the situation. Scores of millions of people, voters in the U.S. own guns for various legitimate purposes but fewer than 10 percent of these people belong to all of the gun organizations combined.
The so-called gun lobby really is a people’s lobby and every once in a while the politicians and the publicists have to be reminded of that, as they were last November on Election Day. Let me just state that the right to self-defense and the right to the means necessary for self-defense is under tremendous public political and rhetorical attack and it is helpful, or even necessary, to hold up St. Gabriel Possenti as a holy, historical example of the exercise of this very right for this very purpose.
2. Why did you decide to name your organization after a Catholic saint, and St Gabriel Possenti in particular?
There are many fine reasons for memorializing Saint Gabriel Possenti. In 1860. Saint Gabriel Possenti (also known as San Gabriele dell’Addolorata, namely of the Sorrowful Mother) rescued the villagers of Isola del Gran Sasso in the Abruzzo region from a gang of twenty armed renegades with a striking, one-shot, lizard-slaying demonstration of handgun marksmanship.
The incident occurred as militant renegades following a battle at Castelfidardo, near Pesaro, stormed into the village of Isola. Incidentally, they were attached to the Piedmontese army who had just defeated the Papal troops in their violent conquest of the Papal States, as part of an egalitarian and markedly anti-Christian movement called “Risorgimento.” Their objective, my good and well educated Italian friends inform me, was to unify Italy at all costs, including the overthrowing of its previous legitimate monarchs and rulers.
These armed renegades began to set fire to the town, steal the people’s possessions, and molest the women. Possenti was a Passionist seminarian at a nearby monastery at the time. Possenti, who had been a marksman with handgun, rifle and shotgun before entering religious life, asked his rector if he could try to do something for the Isolans. The rector agreed, and Possenti hurried into town. He witnessed a sergeant about to rape a young woman. Possenti ordered the sergeant to cease and quickly removed the soldier’s handgun from his holster. Possenti also removed another handgun from a second soldier’s holster. The other soldiers, hearing the commotion, approached Possenti expecting to overcome him. It was at that moment that a lizard ran across the road in front of Possenti, now armed with two handguns, one in each hand. Possenti took aim and fired. The lizard rolled over dead. Possenti then turned his guns on the soldiers who were now terrified because they were faced with a marksman of God!
Possenti ordered them to put out the fires that they had started and to return the possessions they had stolen. He then marched them out of town at gunpoint and warned them never to return. The grateful townspeople escorted Possenti back to his monastery in triumphant procession. Rev. Godfrey Poage, C.P., notes in his biography of Possenti, Son of the Passion, that this action earned Possenti the accolade, Savior of Isola.
When young Possenti pulled that trigger, he not only defended a village against a band of brigands. He also aimed a bullet at the heart of tyranny, at the heart of a brute ideology that justifies the use of organized force against the rights of the innocent. He fired a shot at the heart of a burgeoning radical statism.
Although Saint Gabriel Possenti died nearly a century and a half ago, in 1862, and although he was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in the last century, in 1920, he is very much a saint for our times. The terrorists are still very much with us, as a reading of the daily newspapers, or as a viewing of television will readily tell us. Radical statism is still with us, too. It presents itself today as a false globalism that would deny the right to life itself; that would prevent people from protecting their own lives and the lives of their loved ones; that would prevent people from keeping and bearing arms for their own protection and the protection of their loved ones; and that would do all of this under the rubric of empowerment of the people!
Yes, Saint Gabriel Possenti truly is a saint for our times. With great courage and outstanding concern for the safety and welfare of others, Saint Gabriel Possenti demonstrated his handgun marksmanship. In this day and age, the Roman Catholic Church is in the forefront of the struggle to preserve the right to life. Saint Gabriel Possenti shows us that concomitant with this struggle is the struggle to preserve the right to defend life and property, of the right to the use of the means necessary for the protection of life and property, of the right to the individual use of firearms for the protection of life and property. The Catholic Church, as a genuine and consistent defender of the right to life and property, also could speak out for the right of the individual to self-defense, of the right to the means necessary of self-defense, of the right to keep and bear arms.
Guns in the hands of good people may be used to prevent crime. They also may be used in the fight against tyranny. People understand the validity of the principles manifested by Saint Gabriel Possenti that day in 1860 when he shot that lizard!
3.What has been thus far the reaction, if any, by the Vatican?
Thus far, the Vatican has not complied with the Society’s request. An Associated Press dispatch dated February 28, 2001, quoted the “Sala Stampa” (The Vatican press office) as having said the previous Monday that naming a patron for gun lobbyists isn’t “opportune.” The Vatican told me a few years ago that I needed to enlist bishops around the world for my cause, but I would not be discouraged.
While it may be true that some church officials get weak in the knees at the sound of, or even mention of the word of gunfire, the fact remains that the whole idea faced opposition since its very inception. As far back as the early 90s, the heads of the two Passionist US provinces (Saint Gabriel was a member of the Passionist order) strongly protested the idea, “on the sheer lack of historical evidence for the incident”.
More recently, in late 1997, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, waged a personal, public attack on the private possession of handguns or firearms of small caliber, claiming in some Council papers that limiting the purchase of “handguns and small arms would certainly not infringe upon the rights of anyone” and all firearms “must remain under the strict control of the state”.
Over the years I have been puzzled by the frightened attitude of some churchmen on the Possenti-self-defense issue. Initially, some of them tried to say that the lizard incident never happened. When evidence was quoted, such as the account of the incident in Son of the Passion by Rev. Godfrey Poage, C.P. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Bruce Publishing Company, 1962), they said maybe it did not happen. The latest is that they are saying that if it did happen, it did not have much significance.
When the Religious News Service in the United States brought this to the attention of Father Poage, he said that he did the research for the book and he knows what happened and that his critics on this issue do not. The book carries the imprimatur of the Church and other official designations of approval.
As to Cardinal Etchegaray, in a subsequent letter I objected to his theses, saying that in the U.S. alone, scores of millions of law-abiding citizens own firearms of various types and for a number of legitimate reasons. There are more gun owners here than there are people who vote for the two majority party presidential candidates every four years. Approximately 80 million law-abiding people own about 200 million handguns, rifles and shotguns and the available record indicates quite clearly that the ability of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms is a crime deterrent and a life saver.
I was and am particularly critical of the idea of state-controlled firearms, since civilian disarmament has been one of the major factors leading to the horrible metastasis of government-sponsored genocide in this unfortunately bloody and murderous twentieth century. As shown by Jay Simkin, Aaron Zelman and Alan M. Rice in Lethal Laws, published in 1994 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, Inc., genocides perpetrated in at least seven cases, namely in Ottoman Turkey, Soviet Union, Nazi Germany with occupied Europe, China, Guatemala, Uganda and Cambodia, were all preceded by civilian disarmament. In each case, the civilian disarmament was preceded by the enactment of gun control legislation making possible the disarmament.
On the contrary, Fr. Sebastian McDonald, superior of a Passionist monastery near Detroit, favors gun control and put forth three problems with recognizing the saint as patron of handgun owners. First he questioned the veracity of the handgun incident itself, arguing that Father Poage, though a peritus (expert) at the Second Vatican Council and a holy priest, is “an Irishman with a tremendous imagination and a reputation for story telling”. Secondly, the designation as patron would be misleading and third would be extrapolating a small incident in the saint’s life and giving it too much importance.
My reaction to this is that this allegedly “good” father and others like him are more concerned with being politically correct than they are with being historically accurate. It also appears unseemly, to say the least, of him to publicly criticize a fellow priest and fellow Passionist in this particular manner.
4. You spoke about the promotion of philosophical and theological bases for the doctrine of legitimate self-defense. Could you give us few examples?
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself stated, according to Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 22:36), “The man without a sword must sell his cloak and buy one!” Furthermore, Our Lord said that “blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God”. Interestingly enough, He said “the peace-makers” and not “the peace-lovers”.
The record indicates quite clearly that the ability of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms is a crime deterrent and a lifesaver. In the U.S., 31 of our 50 states mandate the issuance of permits to carry concealed firearms to qualified law-abiding citizens, and one other state allows such carrying without the issuance of the permit. Yale University Law School Professor John R, Lott, Jr. in his book More Guns – Less Crime, published by the University of Chicago Press, demonstrated that those states which have enacted permits to carry concealed firearms provisions have witnessed dramatic reductions in rates of violent crime.
The Catholic Church, as a genuine and consistent defender of the right to life, also could speak out for the right of the individual to self-defense, of the right to the means necessary for self-defense, of the right to keep and bear arms. In making this gesture, the Church could find hundreds of millions of people throughout the world recognizing it as a courageous institution. Courageous enough to validate the selfless use of force in the defense of the innocent. Courageous enough to stick its neck out for the right of individuals to defend themselves against evil and tyranny. Courageous enough consistently to be not afraid!
I am convinced that this lack of sensitivity to the genuine interests of average people leads to an undermining of our beloved Church’s ability to attract to it more of the same people. In promoting Saint Gabriel Possenti as Patron of Handgun owners, the Church would let this untold number of people realize that “yes, we have the genuine article, a holy example of the exercise of the right to self-defense and the use of force for a beneficial social purpose.”
5. You said that The St. Gabriel Possenti Society is not a lobby and there is no gun lobby as such, but how do you explain handgun owners’ clout and influence?
Although I indicated that the Society is not a lobby, as that term is understood in American law, I did not say that there is no gun lobby. What I said is that what is referred to mistakenly as the gun lobby is not primarily an organization or group of organizations but rather is a vast number of people who themselves in reality constitute what some media casually and somewhat inaccurately refer to as the “gun lobby.” There are several organizations of supporters of the right to keep and bear arms in the United States, which are registered with the United States Congress, officially, as lobbying organizations. However, the people who comprise unofficially the gun lobby are far, far more people than belong to all of these organizations combined.
I think figures speak for themselves. In the United States alone, my own country, where the Second Amendment to our Constitution recognizes the right of the people to keep and bear arms, approximately 80 million law-abiding citizens own about 200 million handguns, rifles and shotguns.
In my country, more people own guns than vote every four years for all of the leading presidential candidates combined. There are more handguns alone in the hands of law-abiding citizens in the United States than there are people who vote for the winning presidential candidate every four years. Former President Bill Clinton himself indicated he realized the popularity and political potency of gun ownership in the United States when the U.S. House of Representatives switched from Democratic Party control to Republican Party control for the first time in 60 as the result of voters’ opposition to the Democratic Party’s support for Clinton’s gun control proposals.
Not many years ago a madman in Killeen, Texas, murdered a number of innocent customers in a cafeteria, including the parents of Suzanna Gratia Hupp. She owned a handgun, which she had to leave in her automobile because at that time Texas did not permit the carrying of concealed handguns, and contended that she could have saved her parents and others, had she had the handgun with her.
At around that same time as the cafeteria killing, Governor Ann Richards vetoed a bill to mandate the issuance of permits to carry concealed firearms to law-abiding applicants and her political opponent campaigned against her on that issue and won the election. The newly-elected governor signed into law a similar bill: his name was George W. Bush.
To learn more about the St. Gabriel Possenti Society visit their web site at: http://www.possentisociety.com