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The Faith to Act on Gun Reform

Outlining a road map for addressing gun violence. A policy window is open—let’s grab it!
Like other issues of great importance, thoughtful people of faith have come to very different conclusions about guns. Yet too often the conversation is so skewed and infected with hostility that everyone has stopped considering other viewpoints. We share this essay as an insightful and well-reasoned representation of those who see greater gun control as central to any reduction in gun violence.

Many of the most important moments in our national history have come as a result of religious conviction turned into political action. From abolition to women’s suffrage and child labor laws to the civil rights movement, religion has played the role of an instigator for political change. Religion compels us to act and to become, or else our faith is in vain. At this moment, while our shared pain and anger at the loss of life in Uvalde, Texas, and elsewhere are still intense, it’s been good to see congressional efforts to leverage those feelings as a goad to new political action.  

This compromise is a welcome response, although it is by our estimation too limited to meet the full needs of the moment. If those in political office refuse to act further, then it’s perhaps time to replace them in the upcoming election. It is time for us to become single-issue voters with gun control as our top priority. 

For those open to considering sensible pathways to common-sense gun control, this essay provides a framework for thinking about responses to gun violence but is not meant to be the definitive statement.  Instead, it represents the thoughts of two concerned citizens, who got on their knees to pray and then got up and sought to turn that faith into action. It begins with some basic information about gun violence, the U.S. political system, and what is needed to enact policy change, before concluding with a roadmap for political action in 2022.  

Gun violence data. Mass shootings (Note #1), such as those in Uvalde and Buffalo, have become an everyday occurrence in America.  Between 2020 and 2021, there was a 13.4% increase in the number of incidents. In 2021, there were 693 mass shootings, which resulted in 702 deaths and injuries to another 2,844 people, with racial minorities being disproportionately victimized (Gun Violence Archive, 2022).  This year (as of May 25, 2022), 234 people have died in 214 mass shootings, which translates into an average of 1.6 every day.  Thus far in 2022, Texas is leading, both in terms of the number of mass shootings (21) and mass shooting fatalities (45), but there have been shootings in 35 states, as well as the District of Columbia (Gal and Hall, 2022; Gun Violence Archive, 2022). (Note #2)

Many of the most important moments in our national history have come as a result of religious conviction turned into political action.

An important first step is to have a clear understanding of who mass shooters are and what drives them to take these actions.  The most striking commonality is that nearly all shooters are male (#3), although their motivations are quite diverse.  According to Fridel (2017), there are three types of mass gun killings: familicides, felonies, and public killings. Each has a different etiology.  In familicides, which is the most common form, there is a “close victim-offender relationship.”  The shooter typically is an older white male, who targets intimate partners and other family members.  The second most common form is felonious killings, where financial gain is the primary aim.  Most shooters are young Black and Hispanic males, with previous criminal records.  Public mass killings, which are only a very small part of the total, have high visibility and are what most people consider to be mass shootings.  The perpetrators typically are white males (Fridel 2017), but there are differences in public shooter motivations (#4).

Nearly half of mass public shooters leaked their plans in advance, which some consider to be a “cry for help” by suicidal individuals (Peterson et. al. 2019).  Some perpetrators have histories of psychiatric illnesses, but any link between mental illnesses and mass killing is tenuous at best.  The vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent (Knoll and Annas, 2016; Fridel, 2017).

Most gun violence and fatalities are not caused by mass shootings.  As of May 25, there have been 17,300 firearm fatalities in the United States (Gun Violence Archive, 2022).  Between 2017 and 2021, the number of gun deaths, excluding suicides, increased by 35%.  The total of non-suicide deaths was nearly 21,000 in 2021.  Among children and adolescents, gun fatalities have overtaken auto accidents as the leading cause of death (Ogasa, 2022).  The US also has the highest gun suicide rate in the world, approximately 24,000 annually (Brownlee, 2022).

According to the 2021 National Firearms Survey, there are 81.4 million gun owners in the U.S.  Between January 2019 and April 2021, 7.5 million adults became new gun owners.  This meant that 17 million people, including 5 million children, who previously were living in gun-free households, now are living in close proximity to guns.  The average gun owner has five firearms.  Nearly half (48%) have owned high-capacity magazines (e.g., those holding more than ten rounds) (#5) and more than 30% or 24.6 million have owned an AR-15 or similar weapon, such as was used in the recent mass murders in Buffalo and Uvalde (English, 2021).  

The political calculus. The U.S. Constitution created a system of divided governance with power divided between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.  It also divided power between the national government and state governments (e.g., federalism) (#6).  This created multiple veto points, where politically powerful interests have opportunities to derail legislation, even legislation supported by most of the public.  These veto points have made it possible for pro-gun forces to derail regulation for decades, even when large majorities of the public have favored reforms.

As described in the famous and often mocked Schoolhouse Rock cartoon, “I’m Just a Bill,” getting a bill passed into law is a complicated process, where legislation must gain support within committees in both the House of Representatives and Senate and then be passed by both chambersand hopefully not vetoed by the President before actually becoming law.  While a useful civics lesson for the younger set, the cartoon glosses over the ways that powerful political actors can halt progress at the many veto points.  It ignores the need to get a supermajority of 60 votes to ensure passage in the Senate because of the filibuster rule.  The cartoon also leaves out that the Supreme Court has the power to rule on the constitutionality of laws.   

A further complication, again provided by the Constitution, is that governing authority is divided between the national and state levels, with the former having precedence in foreign affairs and defense while the latter ostensibly has greater responsibility for domestic issues (#7).  Federalism means that civil rights, including those dealing with firearms, can be radically different across the 50 states.  For example, 7 states have assault weapons bans, but 43 do not, which makes keeping the weapons out of a state nearly impossible  

Finally, the Supreme Court has the power to rule on the constitutionality of all laws, including those dealing with firearms (#8).  Judicial rulings are based upon what a majority of justices believe to be the correct interpretations of the relevant Constitutional language.  Although the Court has cited other provisions in gun rulings (#9), the Second Amendment is the fundamental text. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Until recently, the Court did not interpret the Second Amendment as conferring an individual right to have firearms (#10). But in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Court ruled that individuals have a right to possess a firearm unconnected to militia service, but that right is not unlimited (#11).

At this point, one might give up, deciding that the barriers to meaningful change are too great.  After all, the last congressional vote on gun control until this last week was on the 2013 Assault Weapons Ban, which failed in a Senate vote of 40-60. Not a single Republican voted in favor of the bill. What has been true for the past nine years need not be true today. 

Opening the policy window. Please note that succeeding will not be easy, and certainly is not guaranteed, but it is possible. Academic researchers have shown that major policy change is possible when a policy window opens.  According to Kingdom (1995), a policy window opens when there is a convergence of the problem, policy, and politics streams.  The passage of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban provides a good example of how this can occur.

Religion compels us to act and to become, or else our faith is in vain.

A problem stream occurs when there is widespread recognition of a problem. Often high profile “focusing events,” such as a crisis, disaster, or a symbol serve as a catalyst for focusing public attention on a problem (Kingdon 1995: 94-100).  Three very high-profile mass shootings served as focusing events prior to the 1994 passage of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (#12). A policy stream exists when proposals begin to be actively considered.  The proposals must be technically feasible, compatible with values, and be perceived as adoptable within the existing political environment.  Policy entrepreneurs then can work to consolidate ideas and “soften up” the political environment (Kingdon 1995: 116-144).  By the early 1990s, there was a body of academic research that helped refine proposals and a committed policy entrepreneur in Senator Diane Feinstein. A political stream refers to different elements that are relevant at that moment within the political context: public mood, organized political forces, and government officials.  Having political actors with effective bargaining skills and the ability to get a few key actors to modify previous positions is essential. They can help translate changes in the public mood—likely due to focusing events—to move policies to enactment (Kingdon 1995:145-164).  In 1994, the political context had shifted so radically that the assault weapons ban legislation was passed with support from both political parties.

The current convergence of streams. A similar gun control policy window is now open.  As required by the problem stream, public attention is focused on mass shootings, which are dramatically higher than in 2013, the last time when gun control was voted on in Congress.  The number of mass shootings with at least four victims increased from 269 in 2014 to 692 in 2021 (Gun Violence Archive, 2022) (#13) and people have learned there is no place that is safenot churches, synagogues, nail salons, grocery stores, night clubs, schools, office buildings, hospitals. …

According to a public opinion poll taken after the Buffalo shootings (but before Uvalde), roughly twice as many respondents support stricter gun control laws than oppose them (60% versus 32%) (Yokley, 2022).  And according to a poll taken in early June after the Uvalde shooting, 69% favor stricter gun control, with 44% wanting them to be a lot stricter (Ipsos, 2022).  When broken down by party leaning, 88% of Democrats, 67% of independents and 50% of Republicans favor stricter gun regulations.  When asked questions about assigning responsibility for gun violence, respondents identified the mental health system (76%), loose gun laws (64%), racism, and white nationalism (61%) (Ipsos, 2022). An earlier Quinnipiac Poll (Malloy & Schwartz, 2021) asked respondents whether they supported or opposed specific gun control measures and found:

  • 89-8% Support background checks for all gun purchases.
  • 74-21% Support “red flag” or extreme risk laws that allow judges to remove firearms from individuals at risk of committing violence.
  • 52-43% Support a federal ban on the sale of assault weapons.
  • 51-44% Support a ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines

As required by a policy stream, there is solid research showing that gun control is effective in reducing deaths.  According to a study by the Giffords Law Center (2022), there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between the strength of state gun regulations and gun deaths per 100,000 population.  Another study found that a person who was living in a household with a gun owner was twice as likely to die from gun homicide, compared to someone living in a gun-free household.  Spouses and intimate partners were 7 times more likely to be killed with a gun. Eighty-four percent of those victims were female (Studdert et. al, 2022).  The likelihood of suicide was threefold higher among handgun owners (Studdert et. al, 2020). Waiting periods before one can purchase handguns results in a 7-11% decrease in suicides and a 17% decrease in homicides (Luca et. al, 2017).  Background checks and other means of preventing high-risk individuals from owning guns also result in risk reductions (Webster and Wintermute 2015; Vernick et. al., 2017).   

In the aftermath of the Uvalde mass shooting, President Biden came out in favor of an assault weapons ban, lauding the effectiveness of the earlier national ban (#14). After its enactment, the number of mass shootings decreased by 37% and mass shooting deaths declined by 43%. In the ten-year period after the ban ended, the number of mass shootings increased by 183% with a 239% increase in mass shooting fatalities.  It is worth noting that many shooters have shifted to using semi-automatic handguns (DiMaggio et. al., 2019; Kessler 2022).  However, enacting bans on the purchase of large-capacity magazines, which would also apply to semi-automatic handguns, can reduce the harm (Gius, 2017; Koper, 2020).  

Even before the most recent mass shootings, there were signs that politicians were becoming less deferential to gun rights groups. This can be seen in the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America opposed because it closed the “boyfriend loophole.”  Although the lapsed law had a provision banning gun purchases by individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses against spouses and family members, it did not cover acts by intimate partners. Despite gun rights groups lobbying against passage (Johnston, 2022), the bill passed in the House of Representatives on a 244-172 vote, with 29 Republicans voting in favor (#15).  The legislation moved more slowly in the Senate, where it ended up being incorporated into Appropriations legislation that passed on March 11, 2022, with 19 Republican senators voting in favor of the omnibus bill (#16).  Eleven Republican senators also chose to co-sponsor S3623, the stand-alone VAWA reauthorization bill, as did 45 Democrats and 2 Independents (#17).

A bipartisan group of senators, with the support of party leaders, have managed to garner enough support to overcome the 60-vote hurdle in the Senate (#18). The bill will help states create and implement red flag laws, increase access to mental health and suicide prevention programs, close the boyfriend loophole, enhance the review process for gun buyers under the age of 21, and boost resources for school security. The bill does not expand background checks, ban assault weapons, or increase the minimum age for gun purchase. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) are acting as policy entrepreneurs in this case.  On the Republican side, fifteen Senators voted for the bill. Another fourteen House Republicans voted for the bill, joining all Democrats in the House of Representatives. Arguably, the single most promising development is that some very influential Republican donors endorsed the bipartisan bill.  This past week in Texas, 250 conservatives, who described themselves as “gun enthusiasts,” including major Republican donors, publicly endorsed the bipartisan effort, calling for expanded background checks, establishing 21 as the legal age for gun purchases, and “red flag” laws (Klibanoff, 2022).  

There are other aspects of the political context that are more favorable now than a decade ago. First, the level of gun violence is much higher now, which raises its salience among the public. Also, the National Rifle Association is weaker than it has been for decades (#19) and there has been growth among pro-gun regulation groups. Within months of the gun control defeat in 2013, two new national gun control non-profitsEverytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and Giffords PACwere established and began making campaign contributions to political candidates willing to support gun control legislation (#20).

Gun control groups still have less money than the gun-rights group, but the gap has narrowed.  In 2012, gun control groups only spent $250,000 on lobbying versus $6,129,911 from gun rights groups and $909,500 from gun manufacturers.  The following year, the gun rights side increased their expenditures ($15,292,052 from gun rights groups and $820,000 from gun manufacturers).  Gun control groups increased their spending nine-fold to $2,197,765.  At this point in 2022, the gun rights side has spent ($2,089,303 from gun rights groups and $640,000 from gun manufacturers), while the gun control organizations have spent $609,329 (Open Secrets, 2022b), but those figures will ratchet up as we get closer to the election.  

One factor that has not gotten much attention is the potential importance of women in organizing for change.  Think about what women accomplished on the issue of drunk driving with MADD. Women have political clout that often goes unrecognized.  There are more women than men in the country and women are more likely to vote.  In 2020, the turnout among female voters was 68.4% versus 63.3% among men (Center for American Women and Politics, 2022a). Women also are more likely than men to prioritize domestic policies that support children and families, while men are more concerned with business and defense.  It is hard to imagine a more powerful trigger event for women than the images of the children who died in Uvalde. 

In their analysis of ANES data from 2020, researchers at the Center for American Women and Politics (2022) found a large gender gap on all gun control measures.  On a general question about whether the federal government should make it more difficult for people to buy guns, there was a 12-point gender gap (women 55.6% v. men 43.6%).  Among Democrats, the gap was 10.7 points (women 79.9% v. 69.2%), while among Republicans it was 8.6 points (women 26.5% v. men 17.9%).  The gender gap on a question about banning assault weapons was almost as large11 points (women 56% v. men 45%) but it was 8.5 points among Democrats (women 74% v. men 65.5%) and 8.1 points among Republicans (35.2% v. 27.1%) (#21). The gender gap on a question about background checks was smaller4.6 points (women 89.1% v. men 84.5%).  It was very low (1.5 points) among Democrats where 93.7% of women and 92.2% of men favored background checks.  Only among Republicans was there a noticeable gender gap of 6.6 points (women 87.1% v. men 80.5%) on background checks.

The material presented thus far has focused on making change through our elected officials.  The Supreme Court, however, has the power to overturn any law that it deems unconstitutional (#22), but it also must pay some attention to the public mood.  As an unelected body, whose members have lifetime tenure, maintaining Court legitimacy is always a concern among its members (#23). Approval of the Court in Gallup polls fell to its lowest ever, 40% in September 2021 (Jones, 2021)and this was before the leaked draft ruling to reverse Roe v. Wade; all of which is likely a concern for the Justices.

Roadmap for Action

The problem of gun violence can feel overwhelming, but there are concrete steps that every person can take to create political change. 

Talk with friends and family: Do not discount the importance of talking with peopleboth those who share your beliefs and those who do not.  With people who support gun control, your goal should be to move them to activism.  Do not be afraid to talk with friends and family members who own firearms, but please do so in a manner that is respectful and not condemning.  Being able to protect oneself and family is the reason that most people give for owning firearms (English, 2021), so point out that gun fatalities are higher in households with guns and that women are particularly at risk. Also, brainstorm about alternative ways to protect oneself.

Advocate. Politicians pay attention to public sentiment, particularly in the months leading up to an election.  At this point in the election cycle, they are working to expand their electoral base, so reach out to them.  Legislators have staff whose primary job is to keep track of constituent concerns.  Staffers keep very close tabs on the number of constituent letters, telephone calls, and emails that they receive about an issue and which side is generating the most heat (#24). Gun rights groups are very skilled in mobilizing their members to lobby elected officials, but gun control advocates can do the same.  The most effective letters are those where the writer speaks from the heart about why this is personally important (#25). Also, consider writing letters to the editor.  If a particular regulation is being considered, write a letter endorsing it and keep in mind what is realistic for someone in a strong gun-rights state to support. The following is a list of policies aimed at reducing gun violence. Decide which ones you support and feel comfortable advocating for.

  • Funding for violence intervention programs for communities with high levels of gun violence
  • Funding for mental health programs in schools
  • Funding for suicide prevention
  • Safe storage legislation
  • Initiate public awareness campaigns akin to what was done with tobacco
  • Add a surtax, like with tobacco, to gun and ammunition purchases
  • Age restrictions on the purchases of firearms
  • Strengthen background checks for purchasing firearms
  • Waiting periods for purchasing firearms
  • “Red flag” laws that allow police or family members to petition courts to remove firearms from individuals whose behavior indicates a risk of gun violence
  • Banning the purchase of assault weapons
  • Banning the purchase of high-capacity magazines

Collective advocacy.  Elected officials are more likely to pay attention when you are speaking on behalf of a larger group.  In the immediate aftermath of mass shootings, politicians rush to offer thoughts and prayers to the bereaved.   Well, let those same politicians know that your faith community is not just sending thoughts and prayers, but it is actively encouraging parishioners to keep it in mind when they vote (#26). Think creatively about which organizations that you belong to would be open to taking a stance on gun violence.  Professional groups and unions, such as those in the education, religion, and health fields, are obvious choices. Most gun violence is perpetrated by men, so advocacy by groups that are predominantly male will carry extra weight. Also, consider joining and supporting gun control organizations.  They need your helpboth labor power and money.

Financial support for lobbying. Money matters in politics.  The Gun rights side typically expends at least 6 times more money on lobbying compared to what gun control groups have.  Their biggest source of funding is gun manufacturers.  Gun control money comes from individual donors, hence the big disparity. The following is a partial list of some of the national groups actively engaged in research and lobbying for gun control: Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, Giffords Law Center, Brady Campaign, Sandy Hook Promise, March for Our Lives, John Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California Davis. According to Open Secrets (2022a), the groups most active in lobbying are Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, Brady PAC, and Giffords PAC.  

Rules for strategic campaign giving.  Running for political office is expensive.  In 2020, the total amount spent on congressional campaigns was $7 billion.  Be strategic in deciding where to contribute and how much to give because money does not necessarily translate into political success. There are two rules to strategic campaign giving. The first is do not flush your money down the toilet.  Resist the urge to give money to candidates who do not have a realistic chance of winning, even if you really like their policy positions and dislike those of their opponents. The second rule is to keep your eyes on the prize, which requires remembering that there are many veto points where bills can get derailed. You need a legislative coalition, which by definition includes people with differing views. A major veto point in the Senate is the need to secure 60 votes instead of a simple majority. With this in mind, a liberal Democrat might decide to donate to Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Alaska has a ranked-choice voting system, where the top two candidates in the primary election move on to the general election. Murkowski voted to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act that eliminated the boyfriend loophole. Her most likely opponent is Kelly Tshibaka, a staunch gun rights advocate. Murkowski might be persuaded to vote for some gun regulations. With this in mind, a person committed to gun regulation might send a check to the Murkowski campaign, but also include a note about the need for “sensible gun regulation.”  

Contributing to Senate races in 2022. Senate races are used to illustrate how one can apply the two rules of strategic campaign giving in evaluating candidates, but it is equally applicable to other races. This year, 34 Senate seats are being contested.  To avoid violating the “do not throw your money down the toilet” rule, one needs to assess the overall competitiveness of a race. Objective measures of competitiveness are derived from calculations of the partisan leanings of voters and the quality of the candidates.  

According to the Cook Partisan Voting Index (CVPI) and Politico Forecast, the following states are competitive Senate races: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Neither listed Alaska as competitive because it will not switch from being Republican, but it also is likely to have a closely contested Senate race. 

There is solid research showing that gun control is effective in reducing deaths.

It used to be very easy to identify where congressional candidates stood on gun issues because the NRA posted scorecards for all candidates, but those are no longer publicly available. One of the easiest ways to find out whether a candidate supports gun control is to see whether they are funded by gun-related political action committees (#27).  It also is generally safe to assume that Democrats are far more likely to support gun control than Republicans.  The following is an evaluation of how likely candidates are to support gun control/gun violence legislation in the Senate.

1. Arizona:  This is a toss-up race, pitting Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Kelly against a Republican, who will be chosen in the August 2nd primary. This is a battleground state. In 2016, Kelly was elected with 51% of the vote.  Kelly is the husband of Gabby Giffords.  Although he has not received campaign contributions from gun control groups in 2022, he has been a recipient in the past.  Kelly is not a sponsor of the current assault weapons bill in the Senate, but he has supported it in the past (Greenwood, 2022).  It still is an easy decision to support Kelly.

2. Florida: This is a race that is labeled as leaning Republican, as is the state.  So far in 2022, the Republican incumbent Senator Marco Rubio has received $22,510 from gun rights groups.  Rubio was elected in 2016 with 52% of the vote. It is not clear yet who the Democratic nominee will be, but this is another easy callgive to the Democrat.  One of the Democratic candidates, Val Demings, while in the House, sponsored assault weapons ban legislation (Greenwood, 2022), while the other candidate, Alan Grayson, has tried to avoid the issue or limited his comments to calling for “common sense” regulation on Twitter. The primary will be on August 23.

3. Georgia:  This is a toss-up state. The incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock has received $32,166 from gun control groups in 2022.  In the 2021 special election, Warnock got 51% of the vote. Warnock is a sponsor of a bill introduced by Senator Feinstein to ban assault weapons (Greenwood, 2022). His opponent Republican Herschel Walker gave a very confusing answer to a question about how to respond to gun violence after the Uvalde shooting (#28).  This is another easy call.  It is a toss-up state where one candidate is pro-gun control and the other is confused, at best.

4. Nevada: This is another toss-up state.  Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has not been a recipient of gun control funding.  She was elected in 2016 with only 47% of the vote.  Cortez Masto is not a sponsor of the current assault weapons bill (Greenwood, 2022). The Republican nominee will be chosen in the primary on June 14.  While having a Democrat in the seat is almost certainly better than a Republican, Cortez Masto is not going to be out front on gun issues. 

5. New Hampshire: This is a lean Democrat state.  The incumbent Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan is a sponsor of the current assault weapons ban bill (Greenwood, 2022) and this year has received $10,613 in funding from gun control groups.  The Republican nominee will be chosen in the September 13 primary.  But supporting Hassan is an easy call.  In 2016, she won with only 48% of the vote.  

6. North Carolina: This is a lean Republican state.  The incumbent Republican, Senator Richard Burr was elected in 2016 with 51% of the vote.  He has not been a recipient of significant funding from gun rights groups.  The Democratic nominee, Cheri Beasley, generally is supportive of gun regulation measures, such as safe storage, universal background checks, and “red flag” laws.  Working against the Democrats is the presence of a Green Party candidate, who will pull from them.  

7. Ohio: This is a lean Republican state.  The incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman is not running for re-election, which makes this an open-seat race. The Democratic nominee, Tim Ryan, has served in the House for many years and has a strong history of support for gun control measures.  Thus far in 2022, he has received $18,458 from gun control groups.  His Republican opponent is J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, who had supported “red flag” laws, but now opposes them, along with all of the proposed legislation endorsed by President Biden (Israel, 2022).  This is another easy call.

8. Pennsylvania: This is a toss-up state.  Incumbent Republican Senator Pat Toomey chose not to run, which makes this an open-seat race.  Democratic candidate John Fetterman has endorsed an assault weapons ban, as well as other control measures (Greenwood, 2022). The Republican nominee, Dr. Mehmet Oz, in 2017 and 2019 was listed as a co-author on articles espousing many types of gun control, but he now claims to not have written the pieces and that he is strongly pro-gun (Nerozzi, 2022).  Supporting Fetterman is an easy call.

9.Wisconsin:  This is a toss-up state.  The incumbent Republican, Senator Ron Johnson, was elected in 2016 with 50% of the vote. Gun rights groups have given his campaign $24,536 this year. The Democratic nominee is not yet clear, but will certainly be more supportive of gun control than Johnson. The primary election will be held on August 9.

Concluding thoughts.  At this moment, there is an open policy window for gun reform. Don’t let the policy window close without making your voice heard. Candidates for office are making political calculations about what they must do to build political coalitions large enough to win in November.  Help them make the calculation that taking action on gun control is the way to prevail on Election Day. Let’s turn our prayers into action, knowing that we are agents unto ourselves commanded by our respective faiths to do good in our political communities.


1. The data, cited in this section of the paper, uses the Gun Violence Archive definition that a mass shooting is where four or more people are shot at the same place.  It is important to recognize that there are different classifications that result in different numbers of incidents, fatalities, and perpetrator profiles.  Fridel (2017), in an important study of mass murders committed between 2006 and 2016, limits her data to incidents that resulted in at least four fatalities as opposed to four shooting victims.  The FBI also collects data on active shooter incidents, which are defined as “one or more individuals who are engaged in killing or attempting to kill in a populated area” (Ogasa, 2022).

2. The 15 states, thus far in 2022 without mass shootings, are Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

3. Females make up less than 4% of mass shooters (Statista, 2022).

4. Researchers, drawing upon a data set of 318 mass public shootings that occurred between 1966 and 2017, developed the following four categories: disgruntled employees, school, ideologically motivated, and rampage offenders.  Disgruntled employee shooters often are acting on the spur of the moment and have done the least planning, while the ideologically motivated shooters have given their actions a great deal of thought and inflict the greatest harm (Capellan et. al., 2019). Other research suggests that public school shooters tend to be young males (Murray, 2022).

5. Although there still needs to be additional research on the impact of high-capacity magazines, one study found that it increased the number of school shooting victims by more than 50% (Gius, 2017).

6. Local governments have the power to pass laws that apply within their jurisdictions, but those laws can be overturned by state governments. All local governments are subordinate to their respective state governments, which created them. For example, an urban area can pass a city ordinance banning certain types of firearms, but that can be overturned by the state legislature.

7. Over time, the national government has become increasingly important in what used to be state-controlled policy areas, resulting in most domestic policy areas having become shared spheres.  When the issue is brought to the Supreme Court, most national government incursions have been ruled permissible, but there have been some reversals as the Court has become more conservative.

8. The current Supreme Court docket includes a case that could result in New York state’s stringent licensing of concealed carry permits being overturned.

9. See, for example, U.S. v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995), where the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling overturned a federal law prohibiting handguns within 1,000 feet of a school, on the grounds that the law was based on a flawed interpretation of the Commerce Clause. According to the Court, the Commerce Clause only gave the national government a right to regulate interstate commerce, not the sale of a gun in a single state.

10. There were a number of Supreme Court decisions dealing with the Second Amendment in the years following the Civil War.  See U.S. v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875) and Presser v. Illinois, 116 U.S. 252 (1886) that failed to provide clarity on who had a right to bear arms and under what conditions. Then in U.S. v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), the Court clearly held that the right to bear arms was contingent upon a relationship to militia service.

11. The Supreme Court in subsequent decisions reaffirmed that the right was fundamental and was equally applicable to state and national governments. They also held that the right covered firearms not in existence at the time of the Second Amendment’s adoption. See, McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010) and Caetano v. Massachusetts, 577 U.S.  (2016).

12. These were the 1989 shooting of 34 children and their teacher in Stockton, California, the Luby shooting of 50 people in Killeen, Texas, and the 101 California Street shooting of 14 people.

13. The Gun Violence Archive was started in 2013 but did not begin collecting data until the following year.

14. In 2013, Biden was the primary sponsor of S1607, legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

15. The following is a list of the 29 Republicans: Don Young (AK), David Valadao (CA), Darrell Issa (CA), Mario Diaz-Bolart (FL), Mike Boost (IL), Rodney Davis (IL), Marianette Miller-Meeks (IA), Pete Stauber (MN), Jefferson Van-Drew (NJ), Nicole Malliotakis (NY), Chris Jacobs (NY), Troy Balderson (OH), David Joyce (OH), Steve Stivers (OH), Anthony Gonzalez (OH), Markwayne Mullin (OK), Tom Cole (OK), Stephanie Bice (OK), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), Michael McCaul (TX), John Carter (TX), and Bryan Steil (WI). All of the Democrats present voted in favor.

16. The nineteen Republican senators were John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), Shelley Capito (WV), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Joni Ernst (IA), Lindsey Graham (SC), Chuck Grassley (IA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Mitch McConnell (KY), Jerry Moran (KS), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Richard Shelby (AL), John Thune (SD), Tommy Tuberville (AL), Roger Wicker (MS), and Todd Young (IN).  All of the Democrats voted “aye.”

17. The Republican co-sponsors were Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Shelley Capito (WV), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Kevin Cramer (ND), Jerry Moran (KS), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Thom Tillis (NC).

18. The following is a list of senators, who have been identified as working to craft legislation: Richard Blumental (D, CT), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-Me), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) and Pat Toomey (R-PA).  Early reports indicate the plan is to craft legislation dealing with mental health, school security, expansion of background checks, and incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws. Manchin has come out in favor of raising the age to purchase assault weapons to 21.

19. Over the past two years, the NRA has been embroiled in internal conflicts and fighting, as well as battling financial misconduct litigation that led to the organization trying to file for bankruptcy (Briggerman, 2021).

20. The Sandy Hook Promise and March for Our Lives also engage in national lobbying, but typically have less money (Open Secrets, 2022a.)

21. There also were responses from independents and those not wanting to give party preferences, but those are not included here.

22. There also were responses from independents and those not wanting to give party preferences, but those are not included here.

23. For more information about different aspects of Supreme Court legitimacy, see Fallon (2018).

24. The office of Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) has been flooded with letters and calls in support of gun regulation since the Uvalde shooting. On June 6th Lummis stated that she was willing to consider a range of gun control measures—the same ones that she had vociferously rejected two weeks earlier (Teh, 2022).

25. The June 7th plea for gun control by Matthew McConaughey, who is from Uvalde, was particularly effective. McConaughey and his wife Camila Alves spent several days meeting with the families in Uvalde. He conveyed this sense of personal connection and loss.  McConaughey also wrote an opinion piece in Austin American-Statesman (Kurtz, 2022).

26. Faith communities are likely to be divided over gun control, but that should be viewed as an opportunity for discussion, perhaps starting with Matthew 18: 1-6.  Christianity Today analyzed Pew Research Center data on gun ownership. They found that 41% of white evangelicals, at the time when the survey was taken, owned a gun as opposed to 30% of the overall population. White evangelicals also were more likely to carry that gun, 65% versus 57% (Shellnutt, 2017).

27. All campaign contribution figures are from Open Secrets (2022b; Open Secrets, 2022d; Open Secrets, 2022e).

28. After referring to Cain killing Abel, Walker said the following: “what about getting a department that can look at young men that’s looking at women that’s looking at their social media” (Cillizza, 2022).


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About the authors

Jean Schroedel

Jean Schroedel is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of several books, including Voting in Indian Country: The View from the Trenches.

Savannah Eccles Johnston

Savannah Eccles Johnston is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Providence College in Rhode Island. She was previously a Congressional Fellow for the American Political Science Association. She is also a contributor and board member at Square Two.
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