Posted on 2/3/14

Last week, Oklahoma state senator Nathan Dahm introduced a bill named sardonically after Piers Morgan, the CNN talk-show host infamous for his vehement opposition to gun rights. Some believe that Morgan simply doesn’t understand the American way and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Morgan is, after all, a Brit. How could he understand the American love affair with guns and with our right to bear arms, enshrined in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights? Those rights were penned in reaction to the political and social history of the British themselves and the many abuses perpetrated by British monarchs against dissidents and political rivals, who more than once had been disarmed by force of law prior to being summarily slaughtered by the Crown.

Indeed, Piers Morgan does not understand the American love affair with guns. He has made that quite clear in his prolific coverage of gun violence over the relatively brief history of his show. He realizes that he doesn’t understand our gun culture. But I suspect even he was surprised at the Oklahoma senator’s clearly articulated desire to loosen restrictions on gun ownership and gun carrying. The senator repeatedly stated that he believes the right to bear arms is a “God-given, Constitutionally protected” right. Piers Morgan and Senator Dahm had a brief discussion about the role of mental illness in gun violence, but when pressed, the Oklahoma politician stated emphatically that mental illness is not ultimately to blame for gun violence. It’s simply a matter of “sin in people’s hearts.”

Now, I want to be equally clear that I am not mocking the senator’s religious beliefs. I do not even know exactly what those beliefs entail, so it would not make sense for me to try to mock them, even if I were so inclined. But I must confess, I am at a loss to understand why he would claim either that the right to carry a gun is a “God-given right,” or that “sin” is truly a useful explanation for gun violence. I cannot think of any way to attribute the right to bear arms to any divinity of any religion that I know anything about. From what I’ve seen of Senator Dahm, I suspect that he would identify as Christian, but that inference leaves me especially baffled at his claim, as I certainly can’t think of any way to attribute this political right to the God of Christianity. Nor do I understand how “sin in people’s hearts” actually explains gun violence in a theologically sound way. America has a great deal more gun violence than other industrialized countries do, so does the senator believe that Americans have more sin in their hearts than do people in nations? Like Piers Morgan, I must admit that I don’t get it.

In contrast, I can easily understand how someone steeped in an honor culture might conflate his culturally determined beliefs and values with his religious ones, and my collaborators and I have recently conducted some research documenting how the gun culture in the U.S. overlaps with the regional boundaries of the honor syndrome. I’ll share more about that research in my next post. Right now, though, I need to go and clean my gun. If Senator Dahm has his way, there are about to be a lot more yahoos running around my state locked and loaded. God help us all.