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On Guns, Religion, and Gender

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

All monotheistic (and some polytheistic) religions have an admonishment about worshipping false idols.


I cannot help but think of that today. Because, as a nation, our unwillingness to confront unchecked gun violence and put our children before our guns makes me think that we must be worshipping false idols.


There are numerous religious leaders who have, rightly, taken up the call to lay down our arms and treat gun violence like the national health epidemic that it is. The largest Presbyterian denomination in the US appointed a minister of gun violence - the Rev. Deanna Hollas - just last week. But this morning, my grief about two mass shootings in less than 24 hours half a nation apart prompted me return to a panel discussion I attended recently about the ways in which gun culture in the US now closely resembles its own religion.


The scholars of the sociology of religion on the panel (three white men - that manel situation being worthy of its own post), pointed out that guns have their own Scripture (2nd Amendment), flagship church (NRA), Sunday school (firearms training, gun shows, competitive shooting), liturgy (gun safety rules), The American treatment of guns in the current moment is more than a fetishization, they said, more than a cult, it has become a religion in its own right.


They discussed the moral order that the church of the gun believes itself to exist to protect: A mythology of whiteness and masculinity and a particular notion of women and family. As a result, neither gender nor race can be readily separated from the church of the gun.


They made a compelling case. Their research seemed to bear out their points, especially about race and gender. Gender being my primary interest, I asked: "Given that these are men interested in protecting a particular idea of family, isn't Moms Demand and Everytown - organizations and advocacy created and advanced by women with the express notion of protecting children and families - uniquely poised to counter this ideology and mythology and, therefore, make headway on this issue?"


Three white men demurred. Two had no response at all. One waved his hand dismissively. "They're not really all that organized. Or that much of a force..." He trailed off, looked around the room, and took another question. The scholar's pivot.


That interaction has stuck with me ever since.


The panel had a gender (male). The so-called "church of the gun" has a gender (male). Religious leaders, in general, have a gender (male). Most understandings of God offer a gender (male). The most recent shooters have a gender (male). The vast majority of all the mass shooters are (white) male. Most have a history of violence against women.


Meanwhile, the largest, most organized, most effective countervailing force around gun violence right now is Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America - whether the men on the manel want to admit it or not. It is not a coincidence that their group's name is also gendered and deeply connotative of family and the protection that women provide to children as mothers. The group is not comprised entirely of women or even mothers, but its leadership and voices are. And they take their cues from a long history of women taking action, of mothers recognizing danger and working to stop it. So often groups of women - especially groups founded by, comprised of, and named for *mothers* - effectuate profound change in the face of violence. Argentina (Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo). El Salvador (CoMADRES). Liberia (Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace).


After the mass shooting in El Paso (and, tragically, before the mass shooting in Dayton), members of Mom's Demand flooded into Lafayette Park across from the White House. An impromptu protest. A clear show of strength. A demonstration that their action will lead to change. That they will protect American children and families, even if our lawmakers won't, in ways that men with guns can't.


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The Wyoming Women's Action Network believes that information leads to action. So here's the information. Here's what the data tell us about gun violence, gun deaths, and gender.

  • One-third of gun deaths are homicides.

  • The U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other high-income countries.

  • Access to a gun increases the risk of death by homicide by two times.

  • Women in the US are 21x more likely to die by firearm homicide than women in other high-income countries.

  • 52 American women are shot to death each month by an intimate partner.

  • Access to a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it 5x more likely that a woman will be killed.

  • Firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens.

  • For children under the age of 13, these gun homicides most frequently occur in the home and are often connected to domestic or family violence.

  • Nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides.

  • The U.S. gun suicide rate is 10 times that of other high-income countries.

  • Access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide by three times.

  • White men represent 74 percent of firearm suicide victims in America.

  • Gun suicides are concentrated in states with high rates of gun ownership.

Because mass shootings can and do happen anywhere - churches, movie theaters, Walmarts, schools. Because suicide by gun claims the lives of too many in Wyoming. Because women in Wyoming who are in domestic violence situations and whose partners have access to a gun are five times more likely to die. We encourage you to take action.



[Ed. Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to "all organized religions." The newer copy is more theistically accurate.]

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