Why the Gun Lobby Loves Christians | Sojourners

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An MP5 submachine gun is shown being taken apart by and entangled in plant stems with green leaves.

Illustration by Danielle Del Plato.

Why the Gun Lobby Loves Christians

A fringe Christian ideology linked to the homeschool movement has stoked an out-of-control gun culture. A look at the battle against the “divine right” of guns.
By Liz Bierly

THE LEADING CAUSE of death for children in 2020 wasn’t COVID-19. It wasn’t cancer. And it wasn’t car crashes. Rather, more than 4,300 of our children in the United States died by firearms — the first time in at least 40 years that guns have accounted for more deaths than motor vehicle incidents.

The numbers are stark: More than 110 people in the U.S. are killed every day with guns, while more than 200 others are shot and wounded. “Gun violence in any form — any form — leaves a mark on the lives of those who are personally impacted,” Giselle Morch, a deacon and mother whose son, Jaycee, was shot and killed in their home, told Sojourners. “So many of us will never be the same.”

On July 19, 2017, Morch took her grandson to Vacation Bible School, where she played the role of the Lord in a skit from Judges about Gideon and the Midianites. “One of the lines was ‘For God and for Gideon,’” Morch said. “And when I got home, that’s when the battle was: That’s when my own son was murdered — my son who said, ‘I may not change the world, but I want to inspire many.’”

One thing about the senseless loss of Jaycee has always been clear to Morch: “This could have been prevented.” Shortly after he was killed, Morch began volunteering with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to advocate for cultural and legislative change. She has since joined Everytown for Gun Safety’s Survivor Fellowship Program to connect with others who have been impacted by gun violence. “There are others in this movement, because it’s not a moment,” Morch said. “A moment was when my son died; a movement is the call to action to make the change so that nobody else does.”

Embedded in our psyche

IN JUNE, NEARLY a decade after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., the first significant piece of gun violence prevention legislation in nearly 30 years was signed into law. It was a major victory for survivors like Morch and gun violence prevention groups like Everytown. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act followed a string of shootings at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, the Tops Market in Buffalo, N.Y., and elsewhere. It seeks to address the roots of gun violence by enhancing background checks, disarming convicted domestic abusers, and investing in mental health services to address the approximately 60 percent of annual gun deaths that occur by suicide.

In an increasingly divided Congress and country, the bipartisan breakthrough showed that conversations about guns — perceived as one of America’s most contentious policy issues — might signal a key to finding common ground. “I’m not sure that there is an issue that Americans agree on more than that we need to be doing more to prevent gun violence in this country,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, told Sojourners. Recent polling backs Watts up: Three-fourths of Americans believe that gun violence is a “major problem” in the United States, and similar numbers support “common sense gun legislation” such as universal background checks, preventing those convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a firearm, and setting 21 as the federal minimum age to purchase a gun.

But supporting common sense doesn’t mean that the country with more guns than people is ready to disarm. More than 40 percent of Americans own a gun or live in a household where one is present, and more than two-thirds of gun owners say a primary reason for having a firearm is “self-defense” — even though the risk of homicide or suicide can increase by as much as three times with the presence of guns in a home, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.

The U.S. allegiance to firearms is rooted in religious, cultural, political, and economic reasoning — and there are powerful players keeping this embedded in our psyche. “The reason we have a 25-times-higher gun homicide rate than any other [high-income] nation is because we have something that no other nation does,” Watts said. “It’s a gun lobby that has essentially been allowed to write our nation’s gun laws — laws that are meant to profit gun makers, not protect constituents. It is the sort of logical outcome of that that we have a gun violence crisis.”

Too many gun owners are buying into what the gun lobby is selling: fear. But the gun marketers aren’t only peddling fear; they are also tapping into a “savior complex” deeply embedded in the American religious psyche. When you consider that white evangelicals are more likely than any other faith groups (or the average U.S. citizen) to own a gun, it’s clear that Christians must continue to take an interest in this issue — because the gun lobby has already taken an interest in Christians.

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The cover for the January 2023 issue of Sojourners features a white Bible with gold leaf pages. A gold-plated pistol sits under the book board with some bullets around it.
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Liz Bierly is editorial associate for Sojourners magazine.