Granny get your gun

Since Barack Obama became President, the country has experienced a documented rise in sales of firearms and ammunition, not to mention concealed-carry permits. Recently Congress passed a bill allowing those of us who have permits and where the state allows concealed weapons to carry guns in national parks. And a columnist for Hernando Today says that he’s found an attempt by the National Rifle Association to link health care reform to an assault on gun rights.

While practically silent on the issue of gun-control as President, Obama was known to favor it as a state legislator.

In the past six months, gun-control advocates have suffered defeat after defeat. Apparently even the possibility of such action is a powerful thing. Twin this activism in the gun-owning community with American’s (check the rhetoric in articles here) semi-sacred attachment over the centuries to the right to bear arms — it was probably inevitable that there would be events at which worshippers and others of like mind were invited to bring guns into the sanctuary. And it was also inevitable that the media would cover them.

But why are they covering them like spectators in the Colisseum rather than as social phenomenon with profound cultural and religious origins? In this journalists are doing a deep disservice to their readers. Here are a few recent examples, ranging from the distressing to the not-so-bad but annoying.

Our first example is a story from the Los Angeles Times on what some churches are doing to prepare for potential gun violence. After mentioning several recent examples of church killings, the writer asserts that they are not unique instances:

Violence in churches is on the rise, experts say.

As more shootings at houses of worship make headlines, churches around the country are stepping up security, training their staff on how to detect and confront violent assailants, and asking congregants with licenses to carry guns during services.

That’s what brought 15 Southern California church leaders to Garden Grove last week to attend an “Interfaith Intruder Response” course.

Questions for Ms. Linthincum: did anyone mention why church violence is on the rise? Did anybody draw a distinction between security guards with weapons and congregants with pistols? How come you didn’t apparently interview anyone who thinks this kind of training for worshippers might not be a good idea?

Take a look at the kicker quote and tell me this article isn’t more about sensation than substance.

Meanwhile, over at the NYTimes.com website, Katherine Seelye has written a few articles on Ken Pagano, the pastor who recently hosted a “bring your guns to church event.” This story has gotten a fair amount of space in the New York Times. One of the good things about her articles on Pagano is that she does surface the connection often made by some owners between patriotism, God and their guns. That comes out clearly in the lede:

Ken Pagano, the pastor of the New Bethel Church here, is passionate about gun rights. He shoots regularly at the local firing range, and his sermon two weeks ago was on “God, Guns, Gospel and Geometry.” And on Saturday night, he is inviting his congregation of 150 and others to wear or carry their firearms into the sanctuary to “celebrate our rights as Americans!” as a promotional flier for the “open carry celebration” puts it.

Ken Pagano of New Bethel Church in Louisville, Ky. “God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” he said. “God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” Mr. Pagano, 49, said Wednesday in the small brick Assembly of God church, where a large wooden cross hung over the altar and two American flags jutted from side walls. “I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”

Not every gun owner uses religious rhetoric to discuss his or her gun collection. As one GetReligion reader noted, Christians who aren’t pacifists might object to bringing guns to church — but the Pagano quotes aren’t questioned or explained.

What is the Assembly of God position on bringing weapons in church (if they have one)?

In her second article on Pagano, Seelye describes the actual event — and she does include quotes from secular gun-owners. I also really like the careful way she documents the surge in gun sales — and why that might be happening. Did you know that of the 40 states with “right to carry” laws, 20 allow guns in churches?

And yet — Christians hold diverse positions on gun ownership. They debate whether Christians ought to bring guns to church. And many, like the Rev. John Phillips in Seelye’s article, have theological reasons for their opposition (although that’s a rather weak quote). But we don’t hear much beyond the flashy Gods and guns statements that make compellling quotes — but explain almost nothing.

So I’m wondering — is Pagano an enterprising huckster? How much of his Saturday night gig was done for fascinated reporters? Does he represent mainstream America?

I’d love it if even journalists with challenging deadlines would move beyond the spectacle and write about the prevalance of the American “gun culture.” Is gun rights an arena in which, like that of abortion, the American public displays volatility? And why do some feel this deep connection between faith and their right to bear arms? But given our bent towards covering events over the philosophy and faith that ignites them, I’m not looking for such articles anytime real soon.

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  • Bill O’Connor

    Re: Guns in Church. Twenty of 40 states with concealed carry laws allow guns in church. Why is this a matter for the state to regulate? Or does separation of church and state go in only one direction? Any church (like any private property owner) is free to prohibit or permit guns on its premises. That is how it should be.

    Note, too, that in the rural parts of the country, guns are a part of life, and a very important part, as well. The pastor of our Catholic church often shoots his AK-47 at our local range. The yearly parish raffle always includes a rifle or shotgun. Nor is it controversial that there is a creche on the courthouse lawn. It’s just the way things are here, and the way most of us like it.

    Thank you for your writing. It is always worth reading.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=3978 E.E. Evans

    Thank you Bill for compliment.

    You bring up an interesting point. I suspect the answer has to do with a states interest in regulating guns like it does alcohol — and I wonder what happens if a state’s interest and that of the private property owner clash. As I understand the recent SCOTUS ruling on D.C. gun regulations, they don’t see an absolute individual right to bear arms. It’s a very complex area, but I hadn’t thought about your point when I wrote the post. Thanks for raising the issue.

  • Thomas Holloway

    Does SCOTUS recognize any individual right as being “absolute”? If so, which?

    • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=3978 E.E. Evans

      I agree with you, Thomas. The point I was trying to make was that even if a church is private property the state (remember the decision about eminent domain in which some folks wanted to take Justice Souter’s house?) might claim an overriding interest.

  • Bill O’Connor

    Thomas is correct. A few points: In Heller, SCOTUS affirmed an individual right which requires close scrutiny for abridgment. In Kelo, SCOTUS said that government could take private property for “public benefit,” not just “public use.” The potential for mischief led many states to pass laws to protect property owners (including churches) from overly broad interpretation of what constitutes “public benefit.” In any case, compensation must still be paid.

    What does this have to do with guns in church? My question does not involve eminent domain. The 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms is involved, but I was thinking more of 1st Amendment issues. Concealed Carry laws vary from state to state, with state prohibitions on carry in places like bars, sporting events, courts and churches. (Vermont is the least restrictive, with few state restrictions and no permit required at all.) There are federal restrictions as well. The issue I raise is not whether governments may impose restrictions on rights. Nor is it whether concealed carry is good or bad, or whether guns belong in churches. The issue is who has jurisdiction. I would argue for the principles of subsidiarity and private property. If guns are allowed or prohibited at Rev. Evans’ church, it should be she and her congregation who decide. Churches should be wary of what they render to Caesar.


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