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Guns at Gonzaga

At approximately 10:15 pm on October 24, a Gonzaga University undergraduate answered a knock at the door of his off-campus apartment, and was faced with what he called a “homeless man” who asked for money. The man’s behavior was perceived as threatening, and so the student called for his roommate, who appeared with a loaded and drawn pistol, which he then leveled at the man. The “homeless man” fled and was apparently arrested later. After the incident, the students contacted Spokane police and campus security. Officers from campus security entered the apartment and confiscated the handgun as well as a hunting weapon. The young men were then placed on probation, since Gonzaga regulations forbid weapons on campus premises.

Those are some of the facts of the case. In a letter to the Gonzaga Bulletin (, Professor of Religious Studies Fr. Patrick Hartin praised the students for their conduct, and wondered whether GU hadn’t turned from a wonderland into “Dante’s Hell” because of the treatment of these young men. He followed up by saying “In the Catholic tradition, to which I ascribe, every person has a right to defend him or herself and to use appropriate means to save their lives.” Even before Hartin’s letter, college administrators had decided to reexamine campus policy on firearm possession.

Is there something specific about the Jesuit or Catholic mission of the college that should encourage or discourage a change in policy? Is this a case of self-defense? Does the Catholic tradition support the use of lethal force, as Fr. Hartin asserts? My understanding – from a blog post and discussion months back – is that at least some scholars in the just war tradition would suggest otherwise. They argue that while scripture tells us to “turn the other cheek,” one is obligated to act aggressively in the defense of innocent others.

I've thought a lot about this case. I'm interested in hearing what you have to say.

About the Author

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.



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Since when is begging for food a "threat" requiring a gun to defend against it?

I agree with Father Hartin.

Using guns for hunting and for defending fellow students at Jesuit schools is an important part of Jesuit tradition.  See, e.g., Father Finn's famous books, best sellers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, translated into many languages.

Finn, as a young scholastic in 1881, was sent from St. Louis out to St. Mary's College, a Jesuit boarding school in St. Mary's, Kansas.  (After many years, the Jesuits sold the school.  Today it's an SSPX stronghold.)  Mister Finn wrote books about the boys he taught.  

In Tom Playfair, e.g., the first book by Francis Finn, S.J., the little boys hunt rabbits and quail, receive guns from home for Christmas (they stayed at school over Christmas), and, at one point, Tom holds a gun on a bad man who is armed with a knife and turns him over to the sheriff.

Search term:  gun  

Strange, I don't remember Jesus mentioning the "right to defend oneself and others" in the NT -  that theory must come from the gospel of Aquinas.   Guns on campus ... what a really great idea! (sarcasm alert).

Like the dog that didn't bark, you'll never see the headline:

"Young female student (coulda been your daughter) not raped!"

So now a scruffy guy looking for a handout is a threat to rape your daughter -- at an apartment shared by a couple of men?

I could be nasty and ask what she was doing there.

And what was she wearing?

In which article is the girl mentioned?  Was a girl there when the felon tried to force his way in?

"A homeless man came to their door Oct. 24 demanding money and trying to force his way inside.

"The man who went to their door, John M. Taylor, 29, is a six-time felon, said police spokeswoman Monique Cotton. His crimes have included riot with a deadly weapon, possession of a controlled substance and unlawful imprisonment."


Come on people, let's try to see around corners, shall we?   Don't make me do ALL the thinking!

I do not usually comment on my own blog entries, but just for the sake of clarification, no report I've read so far mentions a female student in the off-campus apartment. Fr. Hartin does raise the issue of rape in his letter however. 


I thought Fr. Hartin's letter was excellent, but I wondered who was in danger of rape.  I thought I had missed an article about it.

The guns have been returned to their owner, and the threat of expulsion has been lifted.  The boys are appealing their probation.  Looks like Gonzaga is backing down.

(I don't understand why a contributor would not comment on his blog.  If you've "thought a lot about this case," what is your opinion?)



And we wonder why anti-gun legislation doesn't pass.  If a Jesuit can use the threat of a non-existent rape to justify two college age men with two guns threatening one  unarmed man, that's pretty disturbing.

 Fagan and McIntosh were in trouble for having guns in their off-campus apartment last month when they were visited by a recidivist felon named John Michael Taylor. He showed up on their porch, demanded cash and tried to force his way into their apartment after showing off his Department of Corrections ankle bracelet.

(Why display the bracelet?  Did the jailbird threaten the young men with rape?)

McIntosh in turn showed Taylor he was armed with a 10mm Glock pistol. The thug beat feet but was apprehended a short time later and arrested on an outstanding DOC warrant.

 (One gun was pointed at the intruder, not two.)

University President Thayne M. McCulloh announced yesterday that this incident allows the opportunity to re-evaluate the policy on firearms.

Glad they're backing down.   Glad McCulloh didn't have to call the boys' parents to give them bad news.

The "thug", the "jailbird", the "recidivist felon".  Case closed.


Thug is a perfectly good word, from the Indo-European root, (s)teg.

Recidivist comes from the Proto-European root, kad.  

And felon, of course, is a legal term, which the intruder earned by his previous convictions.

(Jailbird was my mistake.  I had forgotten that the thug, a recidivist felon, would have served his time in prison, not in jail.)  


I can't see around corners, but I can testify that the girl was a figment of Mark Proska's overactive imagination. He was busy thinking for us when he imagined her.

Sorry, I guess being a non-gun-toting woman who lives alone, who's had to chase a guy at night out of her backyard, I'm finding it hard to empathize with two men with guns being  worried about losing their virtue and their lives to an unarmed himeless man, recidivist felon though he might be. To use this as an excuse to allow students to own guns seems just nuts.  But then I'm a liberal Christian pacifist, so what do I know.

Crystal, embellishing the story does not help.  One gun, not two.   The pistol only, not the shotgun.

None of the articles said the young men were "worried about losing their virtue."  They had already demonstrated the virtue of charity by offering the intruder food and a blanket.

(Being raped does not mean the victim loses his/her virtue of purity.)

Google News has several articles about the students fending off the six-time felon.  A police officer praised them for handling the situation so well.


Just to recall, here's what the catechism says:

Legitimate defense

2263 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."65

2264 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:


If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.66(Aquinas)

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.


I wssn't embellishing - I said they had guns, plural, which they did - though only one was trained on the homless man, the other was in the apartment and I assume available.  You were the one who speculated that the homless man might want to rape the students ... "(Why display the bracelet?  Did the jailbird threaten the young men with rape?)"

I can't see around corners…

Mr. Blackburn, on that we agree!

A young daughter tells her daddy she was out playing in traffic, but didn’t get hurt.   Daddy says, she you didn’t get hurt this time, let me change my policy:   You are now allowed to play in traffic.

In this story, you (and several others in here) are playing the role of Daddy.   It’s a lot easier when someone else’s ox, or daughter, is being gored, I suppose.

Crystal, I'm sorry for planting the idea in your mind that the six-time felon may have mentioned what he would do to the Eagle Scout and his roommate if they didn't hand over money.  Brandishing the bracelet would help his credibility.  

A shame the thug destroyed the college experience for the brave young men.  They will look back on the years at Gonzaga, not with pride and joy, but with sadness at knowing the school thought they did wrong and deserved expulsion for standing up to a violent intruder.


A gun, whether handgun or long gun, is a tool that is designed for the specific purpose of killing or maiming a living being.   Yes, it can be used for target practice, but that in no way changes underlying nature and purpose of the tool.  Anyone who takes up arms needs, as a matter of both prudence and morality, to understand this underlying fact: when one takes a gun into hand, she must be prepared to take the life of a creature that we believe is created by God.   If the creature threatened by me is a human being, then I am threatening a creature I believe was created in the image of God. 

I recall a church service during which a disheveled and dirty man came into the Sanctuary and walked up to the front row, sitting down with the Deacons.  He became increasingly agitated, finally standing up and speaking wildly.  Threateningly?  Well, that is a subjective judgment.   The senior minister stopped reading, turned to his junior associate and asked him to continue.  Then came down the altar steps, took the agitated man by the arm, and calmly and gently walked out the side door, listening and speaking softly to him.  

“Which if these, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Mark L

Many students get drunk. Many are immature and lack self-control. A large number have psychological problems. I bet that the no-guns-on-campus policy can be thanked for preventing many tragedies.

Some reading ... a past article in The Economist - "The gun control that works: no guns" - written by a man who lives in DC, cites differences between the UK and US on gun laws, numbers of gun-related deaths, and attitudes towards bearing firearms ...


NY Daily News account of John M. Taylor's foiled attempt to get money from the Gonzaga students.  He was arrested later that night after attempting burglary at another house.

Gonzage intends to re-examine its gun policy.  What will come of that?  Are they caving to public pressure?  Will they expunge the probation from the boys' transcripts or cause them to go through life with  blots on their records?

"A gun, whether handgun or long gun, is a tool that is designed for the specific purpose of killing or maiming a living being."

A peace officer might argue that the purpose of her handgun is to help her stop a deadly force threat, not to kill or maim.  She shoots it to stop a deadly force threat, not to kill or maim.

As stated above, this didn't appear to be a deadly force scenario.  A baton or OC spray (non deadly force instruments) MIGHT have been more appropriate.  

Then again, since the residents were not peace officers (assuming), the better option might have been to look the out the peep hole or out a window before opening the door and speaking loudly through the closed door.

Nobody killed, no shot fired.  Thankfully.









Here's some support for both sides, a variation of the old "Walk softly, but carry a big stick".  Phil Robertson (the not really wild hunter of Duck Dynasty) was on a hunting trip with a son in Idaho.  One night in the hotel, Phil, in bed, saw the door opening very, very slowly.  Phil grabbed his gun from under the pillow, aimed it at the intruder, and said, "Wrong room!".  The intruder ran away.  End of story.

(We really don't know what the paraticulars of the Gonzaga story are, do we?) 

It seems like the police and campus officers acted totally inappropriately. The students do, in fact, have a right to have arms in their apartment off campus.

I agree that on campus is another story but there should be security there. And I do understand the problems that have occurred with school shooting and the concerns around student safety.

But again, we do not have all the details. In what context, did the homeless person mention that he had a bracelet and had been in prison. Was he threatening? How did he threaten exactly? At any rate, he left and was he actually charged? Based on the story, he did not do anything illegal either. Knocking on a door is not illegal. Begging is not illegal. Saying that you have been in prison is not a threat. Nor is saying that you have a bracelet. 

But the question a Jesuit university should be asking is, what programs exist for this man. The US has the highest incarceration rate per capita than anywhere else in the world. Mandatory sentencing is a nightmare and has increased the prison population. States are not investing in rehabilitation programs. Recidivisim rates are high. You cannot even access public housing and some forms of social assistance if you are a convicted felon. So in many ways, the criminal justice system perpetuates as opposed to helping these problems.

These are important social justice questions. 



 The students do, in fact, have a right to have arms in their apartment off campus.

No.  Since Gonzaga was leasing the building, its gun rules were in force.


(If you would read some of the articles, you would find answers to some of your questions.)

But the question a Jesuit university should be asking is, what programs exist for this man.

Why is "this man" more important than the students, who have been paying tuition and  attending classes for nearly four years?  Gonzaga is a university, not a rehabilitation agency for ex-convicts.

Imho, the question they should be asking is why were they so quick to bust in the apartment, seize the guns, and decide to expel the students, and then, after a public outcry, return the guns, rescind the threat of expulsion, and decide to re-examine their rules?   


We need to suspend judgment here because there is more to the story than meets the eye.  The larger issue is a group of conservative Catholic students at Gonzaga who are jockeying for a particular position vis-a-vis more progressive students and faculty on campus.  Isn't this always the case, that the back story gets buried. This is a culture wars issue.

From the letter to the editor:

The students living in the Logan Neighborhood are living in one of the most dangerous areas in Spokane. Surely, more needs to be done to provide security for them; maybe then students may find that they do not need guns to protect themselves at night.


According to Gerelyn, the apartment in that neighbourghood was leased by the university. That makes, the university part of that community not some academic island gated and shut out from the social and economic context. I can tell you that the most dangerous part of my city is populated by aboriginal people, people struggling with addictions, homeless shelters, etc. If you happen to live in that area, then yes, you will be exposed to this element but the answer is partnering with local police, enhancing social programs and outreach and heck maybe even offering free education and assistance to many of these people so that they can earn high school diplomas (most probably are drop outs) or degree programs.

Again, is Gonzaga going to do any of that or are they going to invest in private security for the apartment building?

Apparently you don't research much, the perp has an extensive criminal record and was on parole at the time of the incident.

Washington DC, a great example for "gun control", would you walk around DC at night unarmed ???

"Again, is Gonzaga going to do any of that or are they going to invest in private security for the apartment building?"  Now there's an excellent question.

BTW, is the following true?

"Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J. was an Italian aristocrat who became a member of the Society of Jesus. While still a student at the Roman College, he died as a result of caring for the victims of an epidemic." 

Reading a bit more it seems poor health was a life long source of challenges for him. Nonetheless, I wonder what Luigi would have done about all this.  Perhaps modern times suggest a need for a university name change.  "Liberty University" comes to mind.


This sounds like an extremely risky confrontation.  One twitch of a finger could have resulted in a dead man - the sort of thing that can't be undone.  We should hope that these students are able to reflect on a more prudent way to handle uninvited visitors.  Those who possess firearms must use good judgment in their use.  

McIntosh was trained in the use of firearms.  He used good judgment.  

“I come down with the gun at a low ready, as per how I’ve been trained,” McIntosh said, pointing his hands at the ground.

McIntosh saw his roommate and the man standing there, he said. The stranger’s hand was behind his back. McIntosh didn’t know what the man was doing, but he didn’t take any risks.

“I draw on him,” McIntosh said, lifting his arms into the air to demonstrate. “As soon as he sees me, he decides he doesn’t want to deal with me. So he takes off.”



The men called police and campus security; both arrived within minutes. McIntosh told the police officer he’d chased the man off with the pistol, for which he has a concealed weapons permit, he said.

The officer commended the young men for their actions, telling them they used the right amount of force to keep themselves safe, Fagan said.



No question everyone has the right to defend herself. But there is an irony for Christians drumming up the use of firearms and for Mr. Geroux and Co, posing this question rather than what to do for the 15 million slaves in India. A land which sends us its mercenary priests even though there is a deep need for the practice of the Gospel in that country. It is like everyone knows the difference between mortal and venial sin  but dismisses the fact that 7 million Jews were killed in countries where the majority is Christian.  Why are you et alli, Mr. Geroux talking about how moral it is that Walmart and McDonalds do not pay the medium wage? Why does that not trouble you? 

"Washington DC, a great example for "gun control", would you walk around DC at night unarmed ???"

J. Birch --

No, I wouldn't.  But I wouldn't walk around D.C. armed either, as that would be much more likely to result in somebody's injury or death.  Guns are NOT the solution. They aren't even the *basic problem*. If someone has to be out at night, then, yes, perhaps a gun for protection is in order, but, don't kid yourself, it won't make the carrier safe -- the bad guys have guns too.  

In the meantime, the rest of us had better just accept having to avoid night walks until our social ills (bad eduction, lack of jobs, etc.) are solved.  And they can be, but only if we're willing to spend the money. But that's more expensive than buying a gun, even a big one.


Tobias Maguire: > A peace officer might argue that the purpose of her handgun is to help her stop a deadly force threat, not to kill or maim.  She shoots it to stop a deadly force threat, not to kill or maim.

The purpose of the officer in drawing her weapon might be to forestall a deadly attack (though it often enough is drawn when no such attack is in the offing), but that is not the purpose of the weapon.   Even if it has the effect of stopping the threat, it achieves that effect by virtue of the weapon’s capacity to kill or maim its target.  Every person who is taught to use a gun to protect society – military and law enforcement – understands the consequences of using the weapon.  They train at the range specifically so that their use of the weapon will be effective. 

Only someone who has never cradled the head of his dying friend on a field far away, or dealt with a GSW in an emergency room, or stood at the doorway of a mother who is collapsing in pain at the news you bring will mistake the purpose of a gun.  We can pray for God’s forgiveness, and hope that our faith in the catechism was well placed.   But once the trigger has been polled, you will know the fruit by the taste on the tongue.

And it is bitter.

Mark L.

The two students are appealing their probation.  I wonder if they will be successful.

For the record, Fr. Hartin is not a Jesuit. He's a diocesan priest who happens to teach at a Jesuit university.

For the record, Fr. Hartin is not a Jesuit. He's a diocesan priest who happens to teach at a Jesuit university.

Sorry for the double post just above.

I've got to say that, despite the differences of opinion here, the timbre of this conversation is vastly more civil than the one that ensued on the Gonzaga website after the letter from President McCulloh was posted. As a proud employee of the university, I was appalled at the insults that were cast about, the wild presuppositions that were assumed, and the cognitive distortions that were displayed. Oddly, a good number of those posting on that site had no affiliation with Gonzaga.

Anyway, thanks to most of you here for not engaging in those dirtly and uncivilized antics. I've come to believe that you can tell a great deal about a person's character by how they treat a total stranger online.

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