Gun rights fundamentalists are the radicals of the American civil religion

I’m generally a supporter of the right to bear arms, but I’m also a supporter of reasonable and effective gun control measures. In my opinion the current lack of effective gun control measures is resulting in far too many deaths by suicide, accidental discharge, and homicide. And every so often something will happen that gets my gun control juices all riled up. That happened most recently on Sunday, and so late Sunday night I posted some pro-gun control tweets on Twitter using the #GunControlNow hashtag. As you can probably guess, I got piled on by gun rights fundamentalists as a result. Lots of comments, lots of people sharing to their timelines to attract their followers to pile on more, and so on.

In response to some of the comments, I posted my argument on S&R about how the term “well-regulated” allows for some regulation and laws limiting guns, even using the definition of “well-regulated” that gun rights fundamentalists prefer. As I anticipated, I got lots of responses to it. Frankly, people went bonkers. They were still going bonkers as of last night, in fact. And every time I paused my tweets and the responses died down, they would all get whipped into a lather again within minutes if I responded to any tweet. I’ve stopped engaging for the moment, and so the comments will eventually die down, but I can guarantee that if I post a single response even a month from now, the pile-on will resume as if it had never paused.

Over the course of all the tweets I’ve been insulted a few dozen times. Told I should shut up or that I was “posturing.” Laughed at, mocked, and belittled. And it’s all well within what I have come to expect every time I foray into gun control on Twitter. It’s fascinating, frankly. No other topic I’ve ever tweeted about summons the fundamentalists like gun control. Not abortion, not climate change, not even tweeting bad things about Bernie or Bernie Bros (although that last one comes close). Tweeting about gun control is like casting a “summon fundamentalist 5” spell, with no chance of spell failure. (Sorry – D&D reference. OK, I lied – I’m not sorry.)

After probably a dozen different people gave the same response to my argument, and multiple times each, I noticed something interesting. The majority of the gun rights fundamentalists responding to my argument were using the same claim that my argument rejected as a counterargument against me. It was essentially this:

  1. Claim A is made.
  2. Argument X rejects claim A with evidence and logic.
  3. Original claimant reiterates claim A as the counterargument against argument B.

And when I pointed out – repeatedly – that they weren’t providing a counterargument, but were rather merely repeating a claim that I’d rejected for the documented reasons, the various gun rights fundamentalists said instead that I didn’t understand the term, or that I was rejecting the historical definition, or that I didn’t understand the English language, or that I was ignoring reality. Exactly one response out of the dozens I received was a true counterargument, and I’m still formulating a response to it.

Repetition of a claim as proof that the claim is right doesn’t disprove an argument that rejects the claim. It’s circular, but in a way that is so fundamentally wrong that it’s not even a logical fallacy. Yet the fundamentalists making it seemed unable or unwilling to acknowledge that circularity, even after having it pointed out to them repeatedly.

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, Howard Chandler Christy (via Wikipedia)

As a result of this experience I had a minor epiphany. What I was seeing was an indicator that the people I was arguing with preferred their faith and beliefs about the Second Amendment to actual knowledge and logic. They had essentially been inoculated against any counterargument. This became even more clear when I presented data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on where guns used in crimes come from. Their responses boiled down to “that’s not science,” “that’s a survey,” and “you can’t trust incarcerated criminals – they’re all liars.” Instead of deal with the implications of the data and either argue against it honestly or incorporate it into their thinking, they rejected the data outright as invalid, just as fundamentalist Christians reject the overwhelming evidence for evolution because they feel it threatens their belief in God.

Another thing happened on Twitter that truly brought this home to me. In fact, I might not have made the connection without it – I ran into a lot of gun rights fundamentalists who said they’d reject any changes to the Second Amendment as illegitimate and tyrannical and reason to start a second Civil War. Essentially, they were saying that anyone who disagreed with their fundamentalist views on guns was a heretic to the One True American Religion, and if the heretics were unwilling to change their sinful ways, they would be cleansed with fire and lead.

Maybe it’s just me, but that sounds a lot like anti-abortion Christians who are willing to murder doctors, like Hindu nationalists who have stripped citizenship from and rioted against Muslims in India, and like the Taliban and ISIS. Religious fundamentalism, laid bare in all its violent, horrific glory.

The gun rights fundamentalists who were responding to me on Twitter are certain they’re right because they literally can’t imagine that they might be wrong. To them, the Second Amendment is a revealed truth that cannot ever be questioned. For gun rights fundamentalists, the Second Amendment is the first of their Ten Commandments, higher even than the First Amendment (and maybe higher than the Ten Commandments of the Bible), and they could no more question it than a Christian fundamentalist can question the literal seven days of Creation.

In their minds, the Second Amendment is not merely a good idea written on a piece of paper by imperfect white men with limited foresight nearly 250 years ago. It is the revealed Truth from the Forefathers. It shall not be questioned.

And woe be unto any who dare question it.

For more on the American civil religion, I recommend starting with this essay by Robert N. Bellah, the man who first coined/popularized the term.

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