As the thunderous applause that greeted this testimony made clear, gun culture is largely a Christian culture. Imagining yourself as a good guy with a gun, as Mr. Willeford urged members of the NRA to do, may inspire action movie dreams, but it’s ultimately a religious view of a world in which good and evil are at war, where God and firepower make all the difference.
The Good Guy With a Gun is such a powerful religious myth that it has begun to transform the tradition that carried it. When Representative Lauren Boebert recently joked“A lot of little twitter trolls, they like to say ‘Oh, Jesus didn’t need an AR-15. How many AR-15s do you think Jesus would have had? Well, he didn’t. not enough to stop his government from killing him,” it was a joke intended to deride and dismiss accusations of hypocrisy against supporters of a man sometimes called the Prince of Peace who armed themselves to death. Yet it was also a view into a fascinating religious development currently underway, shaped by the understanding that bullets could have prevented the sacrifice at the heart of the Christian faith.
It would be a mistake to paint the link between firearms and religiosity with too broad a brush. The evangelical influence on the sale, use and marketing of firearms in the United States does not mean that Christianity is responsible for the recent spate of shootings. After all, in Buffalo, in Uvalde, in Tulsa, and this month at a religious supper in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, Christians were among the victims. Christian clergy rushed to each scene to comfort survivors. Friends and families gathered at the Christian funeral to mourn the dead.
As historian Daniel K. Williams has noted, “gun rights advocacy is not an intrinsic feature of every type of evangelicalism.” While recent surveys find that four in 10 white evangelicals own guns, the majority do not, and other faith affiliations offer examples of religious involvement discouraging a fixation on guns. It is possible that the less one sees oneself as a wandering loner in a hostile world, like the armed preacher in a silent western, the less likely one is to turn to guns as a source of salvation.
Nonetheless, how Christian ideas can contribute to a gun culture that encourages our epidemic of mass shootings by helping to keep the nation well-armed should be thought-provoking. None of the recent mass shootings had explicitly religious motivations, but the religious contexts of our seemingly eternal problem with gun violence – its history, its theology, its myths – are too important to ignore.
Mass shootings are, in a way, assaults on the idea of community itself. They happen where there are people gathered – to play, to learn, to shop, to worship – in the spaces we create together. Some believe that such attacks are the fault of armed individuals only and can only be dealt with by an individual armed response. Others think they happen within what we collectively allow and need to have common solutions.