Guns and Religion at the 2014 Gun Rights Policy Conference

Notably absent from the Second Amendment Foundation’s Gun Rights Policy Conference (GRPC) — a conference dedicated to the political, legal, and cultural battle for gun rights in American – is the National Rifle Association. So many major figures and organizations are represented at GRPC — including Gun Owners of America, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), and the Sporting Arms & Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI) — that this absence is initially notable. But it makes sense if you understand that the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and the Citizen’s Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms pursue an alternative, some might say more aggressive, strategy than the NRA. These differences are well-known to those inside and outside the gun rights movement.

NRA-Members-Pray-to-God-before-MeetingI previously described the NRA as a Christian organization, based on my observations at the 2013 annual meeting. When the GRPC began with a prayer in which Missionary Dennis Cox invoked the name of Jesus Christ, I thought here we go again. At the NRA meeting, I actually thought about Alan Gottlieb (the founder of the SAF) specifically when keynote speaker Glenn Beck declared “Christian is a badge to wear proudly – the only thing that will save us.”

When the GRPC began in Jesus’s name, I again thought of Gottlieb, who this time was sitting to the left of the podium, and also to Charles Heller, former executive director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (which has recently “merged” with – or, more accurately, been acquired by, the SAF). Heller was sitting near me and running the audio for the conference.

Beyond the opening prayer, however, the rest of the conference steered clear of the “God Bless America” refrains that dominated the NRA meetings.

Although there is some strong culture war language invoked (e.g., frequent references to “enemies”), most presenters are content to stick to the practical law and politics of the Second Amendment work to be done.

A couple of speakers giving state level legislative updates spoke specifically about disentangling the gun rights issue from broader issues central to the ongoing (religiously-based) culture wars. For example, Tony Montanarella, board member and past president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, said they are all about guns and not other cultural issues. In his words, “If you’re gay and you want to get married, you’re welcome to be miserable like the rest of us.”

Similarly, Andrew Rothman, vice president of Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance (MN), cautioned gun rights activists that if they talk about Jesus or common core or gay rights, they are going to lose people. In Minnesota they take the opposite approach, he said. “We talk to everyone. We don’t brand people as enemies. If they are for our firearms freedoms, we want them.” Among them he included socialists, communists, fascists, anarchists.

Of course this does highlight the difference between gun rights proponents who are culturally conservative and those who are libertarian.


  1. Gottlieb’s SAF is an joke. What he has done is create a very good mail list which he sells to any organization or political candidate searching for donations from the hard-core right wing. He designs your pitch, sends it out to his mailing list, takes a cut of what comes in and laughs all the way to the bank. He’d do a fundraising campaign for Hitler if he was signed up to do it. He has probably made a half million bucks sending out findraising appeals about the ballot initiative in WA to extend background checks.

    Your problem David, is that you take all these guys way too seriously. Two years ago Glenn Beck discovered the gun market. He had two interns write up a stupid little book about gun rights, the usual 2nd Amendment, anti-liberal crap, then went to the NRA meeting and sold 4,000 “pre-autographed” copies at $20 apiece. You can figure out who did the autographing, can’t you? Made himself an extra 80 grand beyond his speaker’s fee.

    The other day I received a marketing email from a company that is marketing a Field Survival Tool, which is a bunch of little tools looking very much like a Swiss Army tool, which fits into the Magpul grip of an AR-15. And here’s how the advertisement promotes the tool: The Field Survivor tool is the one tool necessary for every AR to keep you safe in Combat or in play on the range.

    Keep you “safe” in combat? What kind of combat are they talking about? Oh, I forgot. There was a report that ISIS just landed a brigade on the North Carolina coast.




  2. Hey, Mike –
    By your account, Glenn Beck sold 4,000 copies of his book in one weekend at the NRA. Who knows how many thousands of copies he has sold beyond that, but probably alot more than I will sell in my entire life. Almost 1,000 people have written reviews of the book on, many, many times more than most books (including ours). The NRA meeting itself was an event that drew tens of thousands of people, while the other side managed to turn out a couple dozen protesters.

    These facts seems worthy of being taken seriously. As I have said from the start, my approach to Gun Culture 2.0 is inspired by philosopher Baruch Spinoza: “I have sedulously endeavored not to laugh at human actions, nor to lament them, nor to detest them, but to understand them.”

    Whether one thinks these actions are good or bad is a different question.Your approach is different, but that doesn’t make mine a problem per se, does it?



  3. I agree that the opening invocation could have been a bit more -ah- ecumenical. The gun rights movement is necessarily a player in the culture wars. There is always a risk of the gun rights movement becoming a tool of other players and other issues.


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