Guns AND Religion?

During Obama’s first go-round in 2008, there was a big flare-up surrounding his comment about rural voters bitterly clinging to guns or religion. It was the equivalent of Romney’s inelegant 47% remark from this past fiasco election.

I’ve already gone on the record about guns here: “Those Immune to Violence Arm and Disarm.” I hope I made myself clear. I am not impressed or persuaded by either side of the Newtown-fueled gun aftermath. I wrote, “I don’t have any solutions because I remain unconvinced that we have truly understood the problem — gun advocates and apologists alike be damned.”


The Twitter and Facebook noise has simmered down on one side of the issue (with a few annoying and predictable exceptions). There are no more breast-beating choirs demanding that we melt all guns or insisting that gun ownership makes you a serial killer or a Republican.

While this herd has apparently calmed down and moved to other pastures, there is a disturbing stream of meme’s and other social media apologetics on behalf of guns and against gun control.

Look: I don’t want to embarrass anybody and I am not trying to be nasty about this. I understand that it’s easy to get caught up in something like this amidst the new media flurry. I got rather carried away with Notre Dame football this season and we all saw how that turned out. Oh boy. How embarrassing!


Obama was wrong about the rural “guns or religion” comment. For one, there are many young professionals who don’t know the first thing about guns who are all up in arms about  them right now. Not just farmers. People who admit having zero interest in guns before recently, and no use for them, are buying them and clinging to them somehow. Why? Because the ideological winds are blowing them in that direction. The right is buying guns for the same, stupid reasons the lefties call for banning them entirely. Know-nothings, on both sides.

What is perhaps more disturbing is the second point that Obama got wrong: it is not an either/or between guns or religion. It has become a both/and. There are many people—who I won’t single-out here—who equivocate their guns and their religion, together. And I don’t mean “the religion of guns” or the “state religion of gun ownership” or something clever and esoteric like that. What I mean is that there are creepy, growing signs that some people are beginning to get too close to being comfortable with something like this: 

The prevailing argument seems to be that owning a gun is a God given right, established by the Divinely inspired Constitution of the United States of America. Okay. I take it back. Maybe I really do mean that it is a state religion of gun ownership. But this argument is also being used in tandem with other things, including the generic religious faith of Christianity, not to mention Catholicism. More and more, it seems that being personally opposed to gun ownership or supportive of any degree of gun regulation is reason to be caricatured as downright unchristian.

Don’t forget: I’m not an anti-gun loon. But I am also not ready to hand over the conversation to people who seem to be willing to ignore their own religion’s long-standing tradition, especially when it directly speaks up on the matter at hand—as the Catholic Church did via Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Press Office of the Holy See, on Vatican Radio. The title is revealing: “Against Arms.”


Obama was at his most insulting in his “guns or religion” comment when he insinuated that there’s something wrong with clinging to one’s religion, to faith. But at least he had the sense to separate the two. Sadly, there are more than just a few of my Catholic brothers and sisters who are clinging to guns and religion right now, ignoring the absolute fact that there is nothing intrinsically harmonious about them.

I struggle with the Vatican’s rather absolutist statement about arms. I can understand the spirit of the message, but the letter of it seems overly privileged and European to me. I think it needs more nuance. As a Catholic, I am not forced to take it hook-line-and-sinker, but I certainly cannot willfully ignore it and I should never flaunt something that goes in the opposite direction. Even if I doubt or dissent in my heart, that should remain there to be wrestled and reasoned with, not in a Facebook meme or another, tired-out jingo about how American gun control is the moral equivalent of the genocidal intentions of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

Our Holy Father knows a thing or two about the lessons of Nazism. He also knows this: even when we fail to cling to Christ, he clings to us and will never let us go. Cling to that and that alone. Cling to love.

  • Anonymous

    Obama and his secularist team assume that all of us religious believers are lower class. After all, THEY, those cool people, have never (knowingly) met a church-goer. I’m not sure if they don’t realize that some of us are educated, upper middle class professionals and NOT Evangelicals, or whether they just don’t think there are enough of us to count politically. One way or the other, they don’t make fine distinctions between Appalacian snake-handlers and urban-coastal mainline Protestants: they think we’re all poor white trash. Obama and his team are contemptous of religion and look down on us.

    • srocha

      I know many, many Obama supporters and even some people who have worked for his administration. Every one of them is a chruch-goer. While his gaffe didn’t reflect it, I don’t think your assessment of him or his sympathizers is true. One need only look as far as Biden to see an exception to the rule. Your impassioned reaction bespeaks very little for your ability to be fair and sober-minded about this. Welcome to the club!

  • Petro

    We can’t destroy tribalism. Christianity has been fighting against tribalism, its deadliest enemy, for two thousand years. In today’s Gospel, Christ fights against it by healing on the Sabbath. Christianity will be fighting against it for at least 2,000 years more. It’s up to the individual to reject tribalism. We need more individuals like that now.

  • arty

    I concur. There is this creepy “guns and religion” demographic out there, the combination of which seems to be taking on its own vaguely “religious” character with its own set of dogmas. Here are a few only half-joking candidates:
    1. Thou Shalt listen to Ted Nugent.
    2. Thou Shalt listen to country singers who wouldn’t know a hay bale if it landed on them, but who wear really worn-looking hats.
    3. Thou Shalt attend know your ballistics better than you know your bible.
    4. Thou Shalt speak of “they” in hushed tones, as we all know that “they” are coming for us, very soon.
    You get the idea. I’m going to be accused of stereotyping, and I suppose I am. On the other hand, I actually know some of these people. And, I actually own guns, I actually shoot them, and all of the meat my family ate last year was shot by me, drug by me, butchered by me, and processed by me. So, for me, gun control isn’t really a matter of theory. As a small “o” orthodox Christian, God is also not a matter of theory for me, and so I often find myself in an odd social position: I can’t talk to the guys with a basement cached full of assault rifles and macaroni and cheese, because this world is only Augustine’s “City of Man” and at some point you’ve got to recognize that this world is not our final home which must be defended at all costs. On the other hand, I can’t talk to the gun control folks either, because most of them would like to see hunting go away, and they’ve never put forward a remotely plausible argument about how to define, let alone ban assault weapons, without attacking gun ownership for everyone else, and frankly, I’ll keep my hunting rifles in a hole in the ground before I register them with any government agency, not because I intend to start a compound but because I regard it as my duty as a citizen to frustrate bureaucratic meddling and idiot legislation of whatever kind. So to me, the problem is how to do this while keeping clear of the conspiracy theory types who seem to think that I and they have some sort of common cause, when we don’t.

    • srocha

      This is a pretty sweet comment, arty. Thanks.

      • arty

        Well, I’m glad that made sense. Are you going to be doing any updates on how the homeschooling thing is going? I read your theoretical elaboration on that subject over at First Things (whose commenters seem increasingly ignorant as to what a “First Thing” actually is), and found myself both intrigued and curious as to how it would work in practice. We homeschool our kids, so this is a subject of some practical interest to me.

        • srocha

          Thanks for asking. Just finished a rather taxing lesson today on the logical structure of subtraction. Started with crackers now he’s woking on his own. I hope to pitch a follow-up to First Things soon. Perhaps I should be writing about that more here, too.


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  • Steve

    At this rate, people will never get anywhere on the gun debate.

    Liberals on this issue demand to paint all gun owners in the same hysterical brush, thinking that because guns are pure EVIL, anyone who owns one must be evil and is clearly just a serial killer wanting to go off. Hell, even the idea of a guy going hunting for some food is contemptible to them. 99% of them have never held, let alone fired, a weapon and couldn’t identify a firing pin if you painted it neon. This visceral fear of guns fuels their lack of reality on the subject. How exactly is declaring a building a gun-free zone making anyone safe? tell you what, if I was a spree killer (if don’t freak out here), I would target those schools/colleges/malls that are gun-free. You know why? Because I know that nobody will shoot back.

    Conservatives on this issue aren’t any better. They read that we have a right to bear arms, and promptly shut their brains down after that. They have no notion of accountability or responsibility that comes with those rights. Stockpiling weapons, buying military style weapons (gross overkill for self-defense, yes I know that the AR-15 is not an actual military weapon but based on the M4) and desperately trying to block the government from even having any idea how many and what weapons are around does not make you safe. Being smart makes you safe, and this may or may not include guns. Thinking that guns makes you safe merely lets everyone know that you aren’t very smart.

    Both sides succeed into scaring each other and polarizing each other into becoming caricatures of themselves. They really deserve each other. Too bad everyone else has to suffer them as well.

    • sailor1031

      I think you’ll find the M-4 based on the AR-15 by way of the M-16, rather than the AR-15 being based on the M-4. The AR-15 was developed to be a military weapon and entered service as the M-16. And it’s being lucky that makes you safe or not. None of the victims in recent massacres were killed because they weren’t smart! They were unlucky to be picked as targets by representatives of the insane american gun culture!

  • Becky

    I think you’re making a false equivalence between the NRA and liberals. I’m on the left on most issues (aside from life, HHS mandate, etc.) and tend to read left-wing news sites, and strangely, the chorus of voices calling for an end to private gun ownership has been … non-existent. What “the left” wants is sane gun regulations, not an end to private ownership of firearms.