Pro-Life and Pro-Gun?Roundup
tags: guns, evangelicals
Daniel K. Williams is a professor of history at the University of West Georgia and the author of several books on religion and American politics, including God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right and The Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship. He is a Contributing Editor at Current.
Three years ago Texas governor Greg Abbott responded to a mass shooting at a rural Baptist church in his state by reaffirming his support for gun rights. “The problem is not guns,” he told the National Rifle Association (NRA) in May 2018. “The problem is hearts without God. It is homes without discipline and communities without values.”
This week’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas has reopened the question of why conservative white evangelicals in general—especially those in the South—respond to mass shootings by insisting that gun rights need to be upheld. As sociologist Stephen Merino documented in his 2018 article “God and Guns: Examining Religious Influences on God Control in the United States,” white evangelicals are more likely than any other religious group—and especially more likely than Catholics or Black Protestants—to support gun rights, even while claiming to be pro-life.
Gun rights advocacy is not an intrinsic feature of every brand of evangelicalism. It is not a feature of progressive evangelicalism, which includes strong supporters of gun control such as Ron Sider and Shane Claiborne. It is not a feature of evangelicalism in Britain or many other parts of the world. It is not part of the evangelicalism of Christianity Today magazine, which has published an occasional editorial supporting modest restrictions on guns. One can believe in the tenets of evangelical theology while still supporting gun control. But just because one can do so does not mean that most evangelicals will.
Consider, for instance, how the pastor of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, Baptist church reacted after his congregation’s house of worship became the site in 2017 of a mass shooting that killed twenty-six people. Even though his own fourteen-year-old daughter was among the victims of the shooting, the pastor did not allow his own grief to alter his longstanding support for gun rights. “We continue to throw around blaming inanimate objects” for mass shootings, he declared, “when in reality these shootings all across America are a character issue” and “a moral issue.” This was exactly what the Texas governor and numerous other white evangelicals were saying: Guns are not the problem. People’s hearts are.
To proponents of gun restrictions this argument looks ridiculous. The United States is the only country in the world that has more guns than people. (There are 120 guns for every 100 residents of the United States—including infants and children.) The United States has a rate of firearms-related deaths six times as high as Canada’s and at least four times as high as even the most violent European countries. Its overall homicide rate (which factors in deaths from any weapon, not just guns) is four times as high as the United Kingdom’s. Gun restrictions reduce homicides and suicides, proponents of such restrictions argue. After all, when Australia implemented gun restrictions, gun-related deaths declined substantially.
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