Each time the United States suffers another mass shooting, renewed yet often fruitless debate follows over the role federal and state legislation might play in decreasing the likelihood of future loss of life.
Americans remain sharply divided over the extent to which the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms might be limited by government, and a new study shows that for many Americans, the issue is as much about religion as it is guns.
> As researchers of religion, we know the power of religious identities and beliefs. And so we wondered: How does Christian nationalism influence Americans’ attitudes toward gun control?
> In our newly published and freely available study, the connection between Christian nationalism and gun control attitudes proves stronger than we expected. It turns out that how intensely someone adheres to Christian nationalism is one of the strongest predictors of whether someone supports gun control. One’s political party, religiosity, gender, education or age doesn’t matter.
> You could be a mainline Protestant Democratic woman or a highly educated politically liberal man — the more you line up with Christian nationalism, the less likely you are to support gun control.
The researchers define Christian nationalism as “an ideology that argues for an inseparable bond between Christianity and American civil society”, and Americans who subscribe to this ideology believe “America has always been ― and should always be ― distinctively Christian in its national identity, sacred symbols and public policies.”
> For Christian nationalists, the gun-control debate isn’t just about guns. It’s about a perceived blessing by God of the right to bear arms. Any attempt to limit this right is a denial of the foundational liberties instituted by God.
> Moreover, Christian nationalists believe that any government attempts to fix social problems such as gun violence are foolish. Governments can’t fix the wickedness in people’s hearts. For Christian nationalists, the only way to protect our nation from the menace of gun violence is to address the nation’s underlying “moral decline.”
Looking to determine the degree to which Christian nationalism shapes Americans’ views on guns, the Second Amendment and gun violence solutions, the researchers examined a national population-based sample of 1,648 Americans, asking whether they believed the federal government should implement stricter gun laws.
> To measure Christian nationalism, we combined responses to six separate questions that asked how much respondents agree or disagree with statements like:
- “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation.”
- “The federal government should advocate Christian values.”
- “The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state.”
- “The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces.”
- “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan.”
- “The federal government should allow prayer in public schools.”
Christian nationalism, it was found, is one of the best predictors of whether or not someone is open to gun control.
> This relationship is very strong and exists even when we account for a host of other influences such as religious identity, beliefs and practices; political party and ideology; and socio-demographic factors.
The researchers also found that the link exists irrespective of religious tradition:
> This means the influence of Christian nationalism is not specific to any one tradition, like evangelicalism, but instead operates similarly across traditions. In fact, evangelicals who aren’t Christian nationalists are more supportive of gun control than are Christian nationalist mainline Protestants or Catholics.
Understanding the underlying ideology of some of the most ardent supporters of the Second Amendment is helpful in understanding why the debate fails to move forward, the researchers said.
> The gun-control debate is about a lot more than guns. Common approaches used by gun-control advocates — like appeals to public safety or the success of gun-control legislation in other countries — aren’t likely to convince Christian nationalists.