The National Rifle Association’s Turn From Its Own History

Image: US-POLITICS-CONCERVATIVES

Historian Neil J. Young reminds us that the NRA did not always behave like a gun “cult.”

Here is a taste of his Huffington Post piece “The NRA Wasn’t Always A Front For Gun Makers.”

…But the NRA’s delusion exposes not only its moral rot, but also its continual turn from its own history. Begun as an organization devoted to education and safety, it’s only in the last 50 years that the NRA has instead dedicated itself to preserving the very circumstances that most endanger Americans’ lives today, especially the nation’s schoolchildren.

In 1871, the NRA was founded by William Church, a lawyer, and George Wingate, a former newspaper reporter. Wingate explained his new organization’s purpose as working to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.”

To that end, the NRA operated mostly as a sporting club and hunting association for its first 100 years. It put a heavy emphasis on gun safety education and training, especially for young people. Church and Wingate had been inspired to create their organization in part from their experience as soldiers during the Civil War, where they had been appalled by the poor marksmanship skills of their fellow fighters. Guns were dangerous, especially in untrained hands, the two men understood. The NRA organized safety clinics and target-shooting competitions to teach young men (and later women) proper gun use and the obligations of responsible firearm ownership.

Read the rest here.

The Founding Fathers and Gun Laws

CornellI have been waiting for Fordham University historian Saul Cornell to weigh-in on guns and the Second Amendment in the wake of the Parkland shooting.  In this piece at “The Conversation” he suggests “five types of gun laws the Founding Fathers loved.”

They are:

  1. Registration
  2. Public Carry
  3. Stand-your-ground laws
  4. Safe storage laws
  5. Loyalty oaths

See how Cornell develops these thoughts here.

And then go read his A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America.  Cornell is the National Rifle Association’s worst nightmare.

 

Evangelical Leaders: Gun Control=Pro-Life

Schenk

Evangelical gun control advocate Rob Schenck

Frankly, I can’t keep up with all the “petitions” and “statements” released by evangelicals in the age of Trump.  But this one caught my attention.  Sixteen evangelical leaders have signed the following statement:

As faithful churchgoers and leaders in the evangelical Christian community, we are heartbroken and deeply concerned about the gun violence that continues to plague our nation. 

Day after day, week after week, we are witnessing one deadly shooting after the other. None of us are safe, even in the safe havens of our churches and schools. 100,000 Americans will be shot this year; more than 30,000 will die, including many children. 

As we mourn for our brothers and sisters who have died, we pray fervently for their friends and family who grieve. We also accept and declare that it is time to couple our thoughts and prayers with action. Our actions might look different for each one of us, depending on how gun violence has uniquely affected us and those we love, be it mass shootings, suicide by gun, domestic abuse, gang violence, or other gun-related acts of violence. We ask all Christian leaders to join together as brothers and sisters in Christ to become part of the solution.

We acknowledge our Biblical responsibility to protect life by lovingly guiding those who are suffering from severe mental illnesses to the appropriate professional resources, by urging America’s lawmakers to pass common-sense gun laws, and by encouraging gun owners to take precautions against the risks associated with allowing firearms in their homes when children are present or when a family member is dealing with crisis.

With this petition, we call on our fellow Christian believers, church leaders, and pastors across the country to declare that we will decisively respond to this problem with both prayer and action

Signers include Rob Schenk, Max Lucado, Joel Hunter, Lynne Hybels, and former court evangelical A.R. Bernard,

“Is there any act of depravity to which the less respectable right-wing media cannot imagine a connection for George Soros?”

Soros

George Soros

Kevin Williamson is fed-up with his fellow conservatives. Here is a taste of his piece at The National Review:

First it was the Holocaust, now Parkland — is there any act of depravity to which the less respectable right-wing media cannot imagine a connection for George Soros?

David Clarke, the sheriff of Fox News, insisted that the Florida students’ reaction to the shooting “has GEORGE SOROS’ FINGERPRINTS all over it,” idiotic capitalization in the original and, one assumes, in his soul. The idiots at Gateway Pundit suggested that one of the student survivors was a fraud because — get this — he’d been interviewed on television before about an unrelated incident. Dinesh D’Souza joined in to mock the students as patsies.

To be fair, D’Souza doesn’t think George Soros is behind Parkland — he thinks George Soros was behind the Holocaust.

About that, a few thoughts.

There are many reasons to dislike George Soros. The slander that he was a Nazi is not one of them.

Read the rest here.

“Incomprehensible and we can’t let it pass by”

This is what court evangelical Johnnie Moore said on Fox News yesterday.  And no, he wasn’t referring to the shooting in Parkland.  He was referring to Joy Behar’s remarks about Mike Pence.  While the nation’s attention is riveted on this shooting and we are trying to figure out what to do next to curb gun violence, court evangelical Moore, who describes himself as a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” is on Fox News talking about the words of a B-list comedian on a daytime talk show.  Is this how Moore and Fox News distract attention from the real moral issue facing the country this weekend?

Why doesn’t Moore come out and say that the Florida shooting was “incomprehensible and we can’t let it pass by”?

Why have the court evangelicals been so silent beyond “thoughts and prayers?”

Should We Repeal the Second Amendment?

Guns

Flickr photo via Creative Commons

I would support an effort to repeal.  Historian Michael Oberg makes a case at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.  Here is a taste:

No matter what arguments the advocates of gun control deploy — that the phrase “well regulated” implies some ability on the part of government to limit gun rights; that the verb construction to “bear arms” has been used almost always to describe a military use for weapons; that the Constitution is a “living” document that ought to be interpreted in the light of changing circumstances; and that the Founding Fathers could never have considered that the sort of violence acted out in Las Vegas or Orlando or Newtown a justifiable example of  bearing arms — the advocates of “gun rights” will always have their tendentious reading of the Second Amendment to defend their position.            So let’s repeal the Second Amendment. It is dated, lethal, and morally abhorrent. The Constitution is not a sacred text. It is a framework for government, the product of dozens of compromises. The men who framed the document envisioned that it would be changed. They made the process difficult and time-consuming, but it has happened.

The Second Amendment emerged out of a context unique to a new nation. When it was ratified, America’s leaders relied upon the militia for local defense, to punish Indians, and control slaves, and in a nation separated from its imperial rivals by the Atlantic, the militias were barely adequate to that task. But the conditions from which the Second Amendment emerged obviously no longer apply.

Repealing the Second Amendment would deprive no one of their guns, but it would empower the Congress and state legislatures to do something effectively to end the slaughter….

Read the rest here.

Pro-Life and Pro-Gun: Part Two

Shooting At High School In Parkland, Florida Injures Multiple People

The members of the House of Representatives who get the most money from the NRA are listed below.  Their current anti-abortion voting score from National Right to Life is in parentheses next to their names.  Find the list of Senators here.

French Hill of Arkansas (100%)

Ken Buck of Colorado (100%)

David Young of Iowa (100%)

Mike Simpson of Idaho (100%)

Greg Gianforte of Montana (100%)

Don Young of Arkansas (100%)

Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania (100%)

Bruce Poliquin of Maine (87%)

Pete Sessions of Texas (100%)

Barbara Comstock of Virginia (87%)

Charles Marsh: “The call to an armed laity is beset with problems”

Guns

The court evangelical Robert Jeffress says that 25-50% of the members of his First Baptist Church–Dallas carry guns to church and are prepared to use them.

Charles Marsh, a professor of theology at the University of Virginia, is rightly bothered by this. In “The NRA’s Assault on Christian Faith and Practice,” he asks conservative evangelicals to rethink their position on guns.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion & Politics:

Evil cannot be completely eradicated; gun violence cannot be reduced to zero. The world is fallen; all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Yet there are reasonable measures that would decrease the number of gun deaths and mass shootings: universal background checks, limits on the size of magazines, closing the private sale and gun show loopholes, and empowering federal agencies and the CDC to share critical information and compile data on gun violence in public health are all sensible measures that save lives.

On issues related to gun violence, safety, and regulation, evangelicals clearly need, and deserve, a more theologically robust discussion. A good start might be formulating questions for reflection and study, such as: Are there aspects of American gun culture that contradict or confuse the message of the Gospel? (If so, let’s name them.) Have evangelicals sought to understand gun violence in America under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with prayerful discernment of practical solutions? How can followers of Jesus preserve the distinctive speech and practices of Christian witness from the religion of the NRA, whose distinctive speech and practices cluster around the promise of overwhelming force? Under what conditions, if any, should the Christian lay down his or her arms? Does the support of the American gun lobby bring glory to God?

My father is a conservative Southern Baptist minister who for 40 years served parishes in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. In his theological and social convictions and most other respects, he would be called a Russell Moore evangelical. The one major exception is guns. On this issue, my father’s deep loyalty to the global ecumenical church and his experiences in missions through evangelical congregations in Europe and Africa have time and again brought him into conversations with people for whom the American gun loyalty remains a stumbling block to faith. Though he is very much a social conservative, my father believes that a Christian’s commitment to the Gospel must chasten the person’s cultural and political preferences—and for this reason, he admires the counter-cultural ecumenism of Baptists like Clarence Jordan and Carlyle Marney.

In a letter written in the spring of 2007 after the mass killing of 33 people at Virginia Tech, my father spoke of the tragic alliance of evangelicals and guns and its effects on Christian conviction. “Church people in the United States are getting their signals from political ideology and the NRA lobbyists,” he said. “There is no rational connection between the 2nd Amendment and stock piling of semiautomatic rifles and ammunition. What should the church’s role be? Teach the people to take seriously the teachings of Jesus. When He talked about refusing to be people of violence, that is what He meant. If I want what is best for my fellow beings, if I really desire to see a society of order, security, and freedom, then I should have no problem in seeing the connection between GUNS FOR ALL and the prevailing tragedies of war and mass killing that follow. The prophets had a vision of the kingdom where swords would be beaten into plows. I hope and I pray, that we in the church will capture that vision.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Real History of the Second Amendment

CornellIn an earlier post I recommended Fordham University historian Saul Cornell‘s book A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America.  It is the best historical account of the Second Amendment that I have read.  I was again reminded of why I admire Cornell’s book when I read his recent piece at The Baffler titled “Gun Anarchy and the Unfree State.”

Here is a taste:

To begin reckoning with this challenge, it’s worth pausing to consider the entire wording of the Second Amendment. Contrary to what the NRA would have us believe, the amendment does not even mention guns, but instead proclaims, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Thus, the Second Amendment, in contrast to the First Amendment, contains a preamble; an introductory clause affirming the necessity of a well-regulated militia. This arcane Latinate construction so dear to the Founding generation was an ablative absolute. Translated into modern parlance, the amendment would read something like this: “Because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Also, note what the aim of a citizen’s militia is: achieving the security of a free state. In other words, the Second Amendment not only ties the right to keep and bear arms to a particular means, but it states a clear purpose. What, then, is entailed in promoting the security of said “free state”? To begin with, we should clearly stipulate that the individual right of self defense—the one closest to the heart of modern Americans—denoted something very different from a free state’s maintenance. Americans esteemed this right, but did not have much to worry about when it came to safeguarding it. Indeed, the right was such a fixture of Anglo-American law that John Adams used it as the basis for his defense of the British troops charged with murdering civilians in the Boston Massacre. An American jury empaneled to hear that case found Adams’s argument entirely persuasive and exonerated six of the eight soldiers.

So a free state’s security was something other than procuring the self-defense of a society’s individual members. It was, rather, a collective enterprise: In the eighteenth century, the security of a free state was accomplished by a well-regulated militia—a local institution, composed of citizen soldiers. And as the wording of the amendment makes plain, that militia was subject to extensive regulation by government. Indeed, militia statutes were typically the longest laws on the books in early America. So the logical question that one ought to ask—one that seldom gets raised in the contentious modern debate over the role of guns in contemporary American society—is this: How do we maintain and promote the security of a free state when we no longer live in small rural communities and depend on well-regulated militias? How can one enjoy liberty in a society awash in guns?

This is, at bottom, a historical question—one that’s largely anathema to the NRA and other advocates of expansive gun rights. Many gun-rights advocates fail to understand the actual historical background of the Second Amendment because our debates over gun ownership typically revolve instead around a potent set of myths that cloud our historical understanding. Chief among these myths is the iconic image of the “good guy with a gun,” eagerly manufactured and marketed by American popular culture. From the dime novels of the nineteenth century to Hollywood westerns and more recent figures such as Jason Bourne, a powerful entertainment folklore has infused the gun-rights narrative.  

Read the entire piece here.

“One Nation, Under the Gun”

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The good folks at the Duke Divinity School blog Faith & Leadership reminded me of this 2012 New Yorker piece by historian Jill Lepore.  Here is a taste of “Battleground America“:

The Second Amendment reads, “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Arms are military weapons. A firearm is a cannon that you can carry, as opposed to artillery so big and heavy that you need wheels to move it, or people to help you. Cannons that you can carry around didn’t exist until the Middle Ages. The first European firearms—essentially, tubes mounted on a pole—date to the end of the fourteenth century and are known as “hand cannons.” Then came shoulder arms (that is, guns you can shoulder): muskets, rifles, and shotguns. A pistol is a gun that can be held in one hand. A revolver holds a number of bullets in a revolving chamber, but didn’t become common until Samuel Colt patented his model in 1836. The firearms used by a well-regulated militia, at the time the Second Amendment was written, were mostly long arms that, like a smaller stockpile of pistols, could discharge only once before they had to be reloaded. In size, speed, efficiency, capacity, and sleekness, the difference between an eighteenth-century musket and the gun that George Zimmerman was carrying is roughly the difference between the first laptop computer—which, not counting the external modem and the battery pack, weighed twenty-four pounds—and an iPhone.

A gun is a machine made to fire a missile that can bore through flesh. It can be used to hunt an animal or to commit or prevent a crime. Enough people carrying enough guns, and with the will and the training to use them, can defend a government, or topple one. For centuries before the first English colonists travelled to the New World, Parliament had been regulating the private ownership of firearms. (Generally, ownership was restricted to the wealthy; the principle was that anyone below the rank of gentleman found with a gun was a poacher.) England’s 1689 Declaration of Rights made a provision that “subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their condition and as allowed by law”; the Declaration was an attempt to resolve a struggle between Parliament and the Crown, in which Parliament wrested control of the militia from the Crown.

In the United States, Article VI of the Articles of Confederation, drafted in 1776 and ratified in 1781, required that “every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutred, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage.” In early America, firearms and ammunition were often kept in public arsenals. In 1775, the British Army marched to Concord with the idea of seizing the arsenal where the Colonial militia stored its weapons. In January of 1787, a Massachusetts resident named Daniel Shays led eleven hundred men, many of them disaffected Revolutionary War veterans, in an attempt to capture an arsenal in Springfield; they had been protesting taxes, but they needed guns and ammunition. Springfield had been an arsenal since 1774. In 1777, George Washington, at the urging of Henry Knox, made it his chief northern arsenal. By 1786, Springfield housed the largest collection of weapons in the United States. In the winter of 1787, the governor of Massachusetts sent the militia to suppress the rebellion; the Springfield arsenal was defended. That spring, the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia. Among the matters the delegates were to take up was granting to the federal government the power to suppress insurgencies like Shays’ Rebellion. From Boston, Benjamin Franklin’s sister Jane wrote to him with some advice for “such a Number of wise men as you are connected with in the Convention”: no more weapons, no more war. “I had Rather hear of the Swords being beat into Plow-shares, and the Halters used for Cart Roops, if by that means we may be brought to live Peaceably with won a nother.”

Read the entire piece here.

Some Good Books on the Second Amendment and Guns in America

CornellSaul Cornell,  A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America

Saul Cornell, Who’s Right to Bear Arms Did the Second Amendment Protect?

Akhil Reed Amar, The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction

Adam Winkler, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America

Michael Waldman, The Second Amendment: A Biography

Carol Berkin, The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America’s Liberties

 

What a Historian Said to His Classes Today

CMU

Central Michigan University American history professor Andrew Wehrman was kind enough to let me publish his Facebook post on how he and his students worked through the Las Vegas shootings:

Today was sadly not the first time I’ve had to address a class of students who have just learned about a mass shooting. I’m weary that I’m so used to it. I remember talking to in my first ever self-taught course at Northwestern after the Virginia Tech shooting. I remember talking to students in a lecture hall after a gunman had killed a professor and students at Northern Illinois. And on and on. This morning in my early American history class I reminded the students of what the Puritans did after tragedies. As strange and sometimes horrible as the Puritans could be, after tragedy struck they called for a day of fasting and humiliation. A day of solemn reckoning with events. A day to pray, but also a day to listen, think, and a day to ask hard, searching questions. I emphasized a point that I make in class about what the Puritans would think of our celebration of Thanksgiving. That every year we assume there will be something to be thankful for without taking time to reflect on things that we should be sorry, sad, or angry about and wish to change. I encouraged my students not to let recent tragedies like the mass-shooting in Las Vegas and the on-going tragedy of hurricane Maria dull our senses. I encouraged them not to let these tragic events become background noise. But to fully engage with them as our present and to think about ways not only to be kind to one another but also to seek ways to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Amy Sullivan: What Religious Communities Can Do in the Wake of the Vegas Shooting

I am sure there a lot of people tweeting this morning about the Vegas shooting.  I found writer Amy Sullivan‘s thoughts to be helpful:

 

Was Obama Right When He Said Americans Cling to Guns and Religion?

GUns

Courtesy of Vimeo via Creative Commons

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnut reports on a new Pew study that helps us to quantify the relationship between evangelicals and guns.

Here is a taste:

One of past President Barack Obama’s most infamous quotes was his 2008 campaign trail comment on small-town citizens that “cling to guns or religion.” New research identifies how many Americans actually favor both.

Two out of five self-identified white evangelicals own a gun, higher than any other religious group, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center. Four out of five have fired one.

But only a quarter of white evangelical gun owners are members of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and more white evangelicals actually want US gun laws to be more strict than less strict. (A plurality are satisfied with the status quo.)

Pew gave CT an exclusive look at the religious breakdowns behind its recent comprehensive report on firearms (which excludes air guns such as paintball, BB, and pellet guns).

Read the rest here.

Conservative Evangelicals and Putin

Putin and Religion

Are conservatives in the United States growing fond of Vladimir Putin?

Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post uncover a growing connection between conservative groups and Putin’s Russia.  These conservatives are drawn to Putin’s views on guns and gay marriage.  A Nashville lawyer with a porcelain bust of Putin in his office put it this way:  “the value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line.”

Before I give you a further taste of this article, I think I should mention that Putin is a ruthless dictator who probably ordered the deaths of several of his political enemies.

But at least he is pro-gun and anti-gay marriage.

A taste:

Growing up in the 1980s, Brian Brown was taught to think of the communist Soviet Union as a dark and evil place.

But Brown, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, said that in the past few years he has started meeting Russians at conferences on family issues and finding many kindred spirits.

Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, has visited Moscow four times in four years, including a 2013 trip during which he testified before the Duma as Russia adopted a series of anti-gay laws.

“What I realized was that there was a great change happening in the former Soviet Union,” he said. “There was a real push to re-instill Christian values in the public square.”

A significant shift has been underway in recent years across the Republican right.

On issues including gun rights, terrorism and same-sex marriage, many leading advocates on the right who grew frustrated with their country’s leftward tilt under President Barack Obama have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as a potential ally.

The attitude adjustment among many conservative activists helps explain one of the most curious aspects of the 2016 presidential race: a softening among many conservatives of their historically hard-line views of Russia. To the alarm of some in the GOP’s national security establishment, support in the party base for then-candidate Donald Trump did not wane even after he rejected the tough tone of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who called Russia America’s No. 1 foe, and repeatedly praised Putin.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Cedarville University Proposes Concealed Carry Policy

Founders_Hall,_Cedarville_University

If you go to Cedarville University you will not be permitted to read certain texts or watch certain movies as part of your educational experience, but next Fall you may be able to carry a gun to class.

Here is a press release from the university:

CEDARVILLE, OHIO – For the past several months, Cedarville University faculty, staff, and administration have been considering whether to propose a concealed carry policy for the campus as provided by Ohio Senate Bill 199. After consultation with outside experts, review of other universities’ concealed carry policies, and extensive input by the campus community, a draft policy is now ready for Board of Trustees review at its May meeting.

In developing the draft policy, the University conducted surveys of faculty, staff, and students. Those survey results showed strong support for a concealed carry policy that would align with Ohio’s new legislation, allowing citizens the opportunity to utilize their 2nd amendment rights on University property. A town hall meeting with faculty and staff took place April 12, and Cedars, the student-run newspaper, also printed a story on the topic.

Cedarville’s student newspaper, The Cedars, quotes Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, a member of the Cedarville Board of Trustees:

Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Cedarville trustee, stated he requires his vice presidents, deans and at least three people in every building to carry at Southwestern in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I think it is incumbent upon the school in this kind of a day when you can have a shooter — even as unlikely as it is as they would find Cedarville, Ohio,” he said. “It could even happen here, and you must have protection.”

I wonder if the guy holding a gun in this picture is one of Patterson’s gun-carriers:

Tweet SWBTS

Recently a friend of mine wrote in an e-mail: “I can’t help but see a link between this weird brand of culture-war fundamentalism and the Trumpist gun culture.”  I would add Liberty University to the mix as well.