White Christian nationalist Americans are not only buying assault rifles to protect themselves but to resist government.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Turns out Barack Obama was right about guns and religion.

During his successful 2008 presidential campaign, he alluded to white, blue-collar manufacturing workers in America who were terribly incensed that their well-paying jobs and comfortable lives had vaporized in globalization during the previous quarter century:

“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Guns and religion.

Those factors—along with arch-conservativism—remain two constants in America’s fervent, conservative, white Christian nationalist redoubts in the South, West and heartland.

Former President Obama’s exhortations in 2008 now seem prescient.

Today, the gun part particularly stands out after yet another appalling school mass-shooting event on March 27, at a Christian grade school in the Deep South city of Nashville. Three adult staff members and three nine-year-old students died in a hail of AR-15 gunfire that morning from a transgender man with unknown demons.

This unspeakable tragedy occurred, ironically, in a private Christian school dedicated to the radically nonviolent, love-bomb gospel of Jesus Christ.

Note that Tennessee is the same state where, one Sunday in 2021, a pastor in Johnson City gave away two AR-15s to parishioners.

Guns and religion.

Still, despite a staggering and rapidly-growing body count from American mass shootings over many decades, the nation’s political leaders and legislative bodies, federal and state (aided by a gun-validating U.S. Supreme Court), have done virtually nothing substantive to mitigate the endless carnage.

This begs the question: Why not?

And why does red-state America cling so tenaciously to its guns?

One word: fear.

Conservative white Republican men, particularly those with no college education—they comprise Donald Trump’s bread-and-butter base of support—are apparently among the most fearful people in the country, according to a new survey report by the Washington Post and the global market research firm Ipsos of 400 AR-15-style long-gun owners in the US

The survey, conducted in late 2022, found that AR-15 owners are most likely to live in states former president Trump won in 2020. According to the survey, the most popular reason for owning this weapon with uniquely devastating firepower is self-defense and to protect family and home.

The survey quoted one respondent, identified as “a 52-year-old man,” who said he owned an AR-15,

“To ensure I would not be outgunned if I had to defend my family and property with the rate that society is going.”

In fact, the incidence of home invasions and burglaries has fallen. According to a Forbes magazine report in January:

“For the past several decades, property crime rates, including burglaries, have steadily declined. The current burglary rate, including cases of forced entry, is 75% less than it was in the 1980s, according to Crime Data Explorer.”

Yet, for the fearful, the threat to personal safety is still top of mind.

And there appears to be a lot of thus fearful Americans, notably conservative, white, Christian, undereducated, AR-15-toting men, the Post/Ipsos survey indicates. 

Twenty million of these spectacularly lethal AR-15-style weapons are now in circulation in the US, in the hands of one in 20 Americans. It’s the nation’s most popular firearm by far, displayed with in-your-face prominence in the nation’s gun shops and shows.

So guns provide solace, however usually unnecessary, for self-protection, while religion—the Christian biblical ethos of “an eye for an eye”—provides holy justification for many Americans.

So guns provide solace, however usually unnecessary, for self-protection, while religion—the Christian biblical ethos of “an eye for an eye”—provides holy justification for many Americans.

Guns and religion.

Add social grievance and a sense of abject personal degradation to the mix and you have a really combustible combination.

The results of the Post/Ipsos survey, which notes that embracing the Second Amendment is far down the list of key reasons people acquire AR-15s, illustrates why even after the latest school attack in Nashville, Tennessee lawmakers are mum on improving gun safety. Instead, the AP reported:

In a letter to [Tennessee Gov. Bill] Lee, Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally called for securing windows and glass in school buildings, adding magnetic locks on doors, modernizing camera systems, and increasing armed guards.

While these changes would come with a cost, I believe it is important for us to have a conversation about how to increase and modernize security at schools in Tennessee,” wrote McNally, adding later that he also is in favor of red flag laws like one in Florida.

Meanwhile, Tennessee’s U.S. senators, Republicans Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, were pushing for legislation that would create a $900 million grant program to “harden” schools and hire safety officers.”

This is partisan fear talking, not common sense. Yes, making schools more secure is a useful thing, but it is not the essential thing. The essential thing is sharply restricting the startling ease of obtaining firearms in the US (AR-15s or otherwise), making tough laws to keep them out of the hands of violent and disturbed persons, putting in place truly universal background checks of gun buyers, and closing the loophole allowing no-customer-refused private gun show sales. For starters.

Other nations, such as Australia, have stiff gun laws that have had the inevitably positive—and dramatic—downward effect on deaths by firearms. Wrote CBS News last year:

If we tally mass shootings that have killed four or more people, in the United States there have been well over 100 since the [1996 Port Arthur, Australia] tragedy. But in Australia, there has been just one in the 26 years since their gun laws were passed. Plus, gun homicides have decreased by 60%.

The US, which by far has the most firearms per capita in the developed world—and studies repeatedly confirm this is the reason—the country suffers the highest rates of gun-related murders and mass killings, according to Pew Research Center. In 2020, 45,222 Americans were injured and died of gun-related murders (slightly more than half were suicides), according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

In 2020, red states led the pack in highest rates of gun-related deaths, including, in order: Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri, and Alabama. Blue states had the nation’s lowest rates, including, respectively: New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Hawaii.

This clutching of guns is not only for self-protection. A not insubstantial number of Americans in the political right and far-right have long armed themselves against imagined government oppression in the future. In his The Hartmann Report newsletter this week, Thom Hartmann warned that many anti-government zealots believe “that the Second Amendment was written to give every American the ability to kill government employees or elected officials in order to overcome any future “tyranny.”

Hartman says there’s an ominous reason our elected leaders, primarily Republican, aren’t doing more to staunch gun violence in America:

What most Americans don’t realize is that our gun problem is simply a visible manifestation of our Trump-fueled fascism problem.

There are people among us, led by Donald Trump, who hate our form of government because it tolerates people who are not straight, white, or Christian having economic and political power. Who want to replace our representative democratic republic with a fascist oligarchy like Hungary or Russia with Trump or somebody like him in charge. …

And who are willing to kill their fellow Americans to get there.

A Christian fascist oligarchy.

Guns and religion.

It’s an imagined holy war in the service of which the death of innocent children in an over-militarized, gun-clutching culture is apparently acceptable collateral damage in a misbegotten quest to protect “patriots” from government and citizens from home invasions that aren’t happening.

An estimated 16 million Americans own AR-15 type firearms, many with civil war, hate, and fear tightly gripping their minds.

That should worry us all.

Even Stormy Daniels (aka Stephanie Clifford) is afraid. After former President Trump was indicted this week for activities surrounding a hush-money payment to Daniels to hide from public view her alleged prior sexual dalliance with him on the eve of his 2016 election, she said she began receiving renewed death threats from his supporters.

She lamented in a Sunday Times interview:

“The country is more divided, and people are more desperate. I’m not afraid of (Trump), or of the government, but it just takes one crazy supporter who thinks they’re doing God’s work or protecting Democracy.”

Guns and religion.

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...