Christianity and Gun Control

In the wake of the horrific massacre in Arizona Saturday, there are calls to renew restrictions, some of which lapsed when Congress permitted the federal assault weapons ban to expire in 2004, on certain types of weaponry, particularly the high-capacity magazine used by the Arizona shooter. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), whose husband was murdered in a 1993 rampage on the Long Island Railroad, plans to introduce a measure in the House, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) in the Senate.

The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church today released a statement suggesting support for such a ban: “The gunman used a weapon bought legally, but if the ban on assault weapons that unfortunately lapsed in 2004 had remained in place, then the 30-round clip he used would have been illegal. Yes, the gunman still could have inflicted a tremendous amount of harm, but it would have been dramatically reduced.”

In a 2008 resolution, the UMC stated, “No appeals to individual autonomy are sufficient to justify our church’s ignorance of this threat.”

This is in stark contrast to Christian Second Amendment absolutists, who not only believe that the Constitution guarantees an individual right to carry a gun, but that God does, too. Last summer, Herb Titus, a lawyer for the Gun Owners of America, whose executive director, Larry Pratt, says he is a “Biblical Christian,” told me that the Second Amendment isn’t just about “firepower,” but “you have to see it in its spiritual and providential perspective.”

For that story Julie and I wrote this summer, just after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state and local law cannot infringe on the right to bear arms, Titus cited the:

“totalitarian threat” posed by “Obamacare” and “what Sarah Palin said about death panels.” People need to be armed, he said, “because ultimately it may come to the point where it’s a life and death situation.”

Titus, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of the GOA, an organization which claims 300,000 members, told RD that “the ultimate authority is God.” “[I]f you have a people that has basically been disarmed by the civil government,” he added, “then there really isn’t any effectual means available to the people to restore law and liberty and that’s really the purpose of the right keep and bear arms—is to defend yourself against a tyrant.”

As the GOA boasted on its website, “Candidates Backed by Gun Owners of America Scored Tremendous Wins in 2010 Elections,” including nine Republican members of the Senate, and 42 in the House.

Some of those members, as documented by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, engaged in rhetoric suggesting, like Titus and Pratt did, that armed uprising against “tyranny” might be necessary, or painted political adversaries in enemy terms:

March 21-22, 2009—Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) states that she wants residents of her state to be “armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us ‘having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,’ and the people—we the people—are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country.”

September 28, 2009—Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), the Chairman of the Second Amendment Task Force in the U.S. House of Representatives, calls House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “domestic enemy of the Constitution” at a health care reform town hall meeting.

November 9, 2010—U.S. Representative-Elect Allen West of Florida’s 22nd Congressional District hires conservative radio talk show host Joyce Kaufman as his Chief of Staff. On July 3, Kaufman told a crowd of Tea Party supporters, “I am convinced that the most important thing the Founding Fathers did to ensure me my First Amendments rights was they gave me a Second Amendment. And if ballots don’t work, bullets will.”

GOA contends that no regulation of gun ownership is constitutional, assault weapons bans included. Something to watch if McCarthy’s bill is introduced will be how legislators react to any organized religious support of the ban, and what kind of religious language and imagery GOA-supported members use in opposition.