In a recent appearance on Ballistic Radio with John Johnston, I spoke some about ways in which gun culture can be like a religion. Although I ultimately concluded that there are important differences between the two, I have noted the confluence of guns and religion previously — both in my academic work and on my Gun Culture 2.0 blog.
For example, reflecting on my first experience attending the National Rifle Association annual meeting, I came away with the conclusion that the NRA is a Christian organization. Of course, this was a somewhat impressionistic observation.
Recently, Dr. Jessica Dawson — a sociologist the United States Military Academy at West Point and a U.S. Army Major — has addressed this issue more systematically in an article entitled, “Shall not be infringed: How the NRA used religious language to transform the meaning of the Second Amendment” (the journal, Palgrave Communications, is open-access, there is no paywall to read or download it).
Examining every issue of The American Rifleman from January 1975 to December 2018, Dawson coded the text for discussions of the Second Amendment tied to religious discourse. For example, looking for language of “God” or “God-given” rights.
She finds that references to “God-given” in connection with the Second Amendment increased dramatically after the 2000-2004 time period (see blue line in Figure 1).
If people think the NRA is using more God-talk to legitimate the Second Amendment, they are right, at least according to the NRA’s discourse in this magazine. I attended the NRA meeting for the first time in 2013, right in the middle of this sacralization.
Dawson also breaks down “God-given” into connections with aspects of the Second Amendment. Given my interest in the rise of self-defense gun culture (Gun Culture 2.0), I was fascinated to see how the increase in the use of God-talk in connection with the right to self-defense follows the same general pattern as God-talk in general but begins from a lower starting point and slightly earlier.
There is much more to this article than these two brief snippets, but the fact that my impressionistic observations at the NRA annual meeting in 2013 are confirmed in a systematic analysis of NRA discourse in its flagship magazine, The American Rifleman, was reassuring.