Why Do White Evangelicals Oppose Gun Control Legislation?
I grew up around guns. As a kid, I'd frequently go out with my dad and grandfather skeet shooting. There were guns in both houses, including some shotguns openly mounted on the wall of grandparent's living room. As a college student, I enjoyed going out and shooting handguns for target practice, including some pretty high-powered weapons. I liked guns and felt comfortable around them.
As an adult, though, I've seen our culture's obsession with guns through a new lens. The United States has more shootings than any other industrialized country by a mile. It's not even a close call. The arguments that try to explain gun violence away as purely a mental issue or the influence of social media simply overlook that other industrialized countries who have even more consumption of violent media (Japan, etc) have far less gun violence and that rates of mental illness related to greater risks for violence (types of schizophrenia, for example) are no higher here than in many other countries.
Any reasonable person, even gun lovers, would have to come to the conclusion that the issue is the proliferation and easy access to guns, not other factors. There are no reliable statistics, but it is widely held that we have more guns than people in the United States.
Now, we have to reckon with the reality that firearms are the number one leading cause of death among children in our country. Number one. No other industrialized country comes close to this. We also have to face another horrifying reality that in 2023, we've had more mass shootings than we have had days of the year. Contemplate that for a moment.
Despite all this, the issue of gun control in the United States is highly charged and fiercely debated, with religious, political, and cultural perspectives deeply interwoven into these discussions. In this social context, Evangelical Christians, often appear in the spotlight for their steadfast opposition to stricter gun control. Despite their insistence on being "pro-life," they express little willingness to advocate for changes that might reduce gun deaths. Let's explore some reasons why this remains true.
Evangelicalism and Political Affiliations
Evangelicals, especially white Evangelicals, lean more conservative politically, aligning with the Republican party in the United States. The Republican party has traditionally been opposed to stringent gun control measures, favoring a rigid interpretation of the Second Amendment – the right of the people to keep and bear arms with only the most limited restriction or government oversight. This political alignment plays a significant role in shaping Evangelicals' views on gun control. As Ryan Burge and other social scientists have observed, Evangelicals are not some kind of "reluctant Republicans." They are thoroughly Republican and tend to align with those politics and positions.
Individual Liberty and Responsibility
One of the core tenets of Evangelical Christianity is the belief in personal salvation and individual moral responsibility. This belief extends into many Evangelicals' worldview, leading to a strong emphasis on personal freedom and individual rights, often reflected in support for broad Second Amendment rights. For them, the Second Amendment is perfectly aligned with a Christian view of culture. Some have even argued it is the freedom granted by the Second Amendment that preserves and protects the freedoms in the other Amendments and the Bill of Rights.
Self-defense and Protection
Evangelicals often cite self-defense and protection of their families as significant reasons for opposing gun control. From this perspective, the right to bear arms is seen as a God-given right that allows for the protection of oneself, one's family, and one's property. This belief is often reinforced by narratives of fear and threat prevalent in many right-wing media outlets, social media, and political rhetoric.
Distrust in Government
Many Evangelicals harbor a level of distrust in the government, viewing it as potentially overreaching in its powers. Stricter gun control laws are often seen as a government infringement on personal liberties. For these individuals, the ability to bear arms is seen as a crucial check and balance against potential government tyranny.
The Role of Culture
Lastly, it's important to note the role of culture. In many parts of the U.S., particularly in rural areas and the South, where Evangelicalism is prominent, gun ownership is deeply ingrained in the culture. Growing up in Virginia, I certainly experienced this, even though I was raised in a bigger metropolitan area. Guns are often associated with traditions such as hunting, recreation (skeet and target shooting), and are seen as symbols of personal freedom.
The Spectrum of Beliefs
While many Evangelicals oppose gun control legislation, there's a broad spectrum of beliefs within this demographic. Many Evangelicals, particularly in urban areas and among younger generations, support more comprehensive gun control measures.
Engaging with the reasons behind the opposition to gun control among many Evangelicals can provide deeper insights and foster a more nuanced dialogue around gun control. Recognizing the diversity within this group also opens the door for constructive conversations, bridging gaps, and finding common ground on this contentious issue.
In my book, "How White Evangelicals Think," I explore why we all perceive the world so differently, as well as the role of fear in shaping Evangelical subculture.