As the storm of applause with which this testimony was received clearly showed, the culture of handling weapons is largely a Christian culture. Envisioning yourself as a Good Guy with a gun, as Mr. Willeford suggested to NRA members, may inspire day-dreams for actionists, but ultimately it is a religious vision of a world where good and evil are at war, where God and firepower are all-important.
The “nice guy with a gun” is such a powerful religious myth that it has begun to transform the tradition that gave it birth. When Rep. Lauren Bobert recently scathingly“Many little Twitter trolls like to say, ‘Oh, Jesus didn’t need an AR-15. How many AR-15s do you think Jesus had? Well, he didn’t have the means to keep the government from assassinating him” was a joke meant to ridicule and refute accusations of hypocrisy against the followers of the man sometimes called the Prince of Peace, armed to the teeth. However, it was also a look at the fascinating religious development currently taking place based on the realization that bullets could have prevented sacrifice at the heart of the Christian faith.
It would be a mistake to portray the connection between firearms and religiosity too broadly. Evangelical influence in the sale, use, and marketing of firearms in the United States does not mean that Christianity is to blame for the recent spate of shootings. After all, in Buffalo, in Uvalda, in Tulsa, and this month at a church dinner in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, Christians were among the victims. Members of the Christian clergy rushed to each stage to comfort the survivors. Friends and families gathered at Christian funerals to mourn the dead.
As historian Daniel K. Williams said noted“Protection of gun rights is not an essential feature of every kind of evangelism.” While recent polls show that four out of 10 white evangelicals own a gun, the majority do not, and members of other faiths offer examples of religious involvement. discouraging obsession with firearms. Perhaps the less one sees oneself as wandering alone in a hostile world, like an armed preacher in a silent western, the less likely one is to look to weapons as a source of salvation.
However, how Christian ideas can contribute to the culture of guns that fuels our epidemic of mass shootings, helping to keep the nation well armed, should inspire thought. None of the recent mass shootings had any overt religious motives, but the religious context of our seemingly eternal problem of gun violence—its history, its theology, its myths—is too important to ignore.
The mass shootings are, in a way, an attack on the very idea of community. They happen where people gather – for entertainment, learning, shopping, worship – in the spaces we create together. Some believe that such attacks are solely the fault of armed individuals and can only be dealt with through individual armed response. Others believe that they occur within the framework of what we collectively allow and should have common solutions.