The National Rifle Association’s Sacralization of the Second Amendment

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.

3 thoughts on “The National Rifle Association’s Sacralization of the Second Amendment

  1. I’m sure like everything it is a complex path that brought the NRA to the point to use such language but in a comment I will try to simplify an observation I have recently come to adopt as I cannot claim it as my own because it at least dates back to Carl Jung and I’m sure earlier. The USA was founded by the remnants of non Anglican Protestants who believed in the ability of an individual to commune with the Christian God without an intermediary (which often was not just a church but a political organization whether catholic or Anglican etc). And while all the framers of the constitution might not have all held the same belief they ultimately represented those that did. So the notion of God (Christian) given rights was part of the language at that time as well as an understood belief. Fast forward to the American Civil War which was in essence the final negation of the Constitutional Convention. You have a group of people who are Christian abolitionists who believe that the individual rights enumerated in the Constitution are more important than state’s rights to the point that they ultimately are willing to support a war which killed more Americans than any war before or after (hopefully) to persecute this belief to it’s end. And then afterwards, two veterans of the Civil War eventually organize the NRA due to concerns about marksmanship abilities of soldiers and potential soldiers after their experience during the war much in the same way Baden Powell formed the Boy Scouts to teach survival after his experiment during the Boer Wars. So you then have two “Yankee” New Yorkers trying to preserve a military skill of the future individual soldier. They have this concern because they witnessed that marksmanship meant survival. For them survival was tied to surviving a war for individual God ( Christian) given rights. Presumably they were once again influenced by the same Protestant values that see the individual as a direct conduit to God (Christian). So considering the totality of the history of the organization, the notion that being able to own a weapon which essentially preserves ones freedom ( a freedom which allows one to worship God (Christian) in one’s own way amongst other things) is a God (Christian) given right makes a lot of sense. The language while I will admit is current used in a ham fisted way is still their by heritage. Please excuse grammatical and spelling errors I have enjoyed a few variations of ECBP after a three hour ordeal of snow removal. Spelling and healer aside the rest of my argument I submit up to full attack by any who would choose to do so. Finally love your work. Wish I could have met you when I was a student in college. I would have done my thesis differently had I.

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