After the Covenant shooting, why do Christians think GOP lawmakers will listen to them?
Wealthy white conservatives who suffered a tragedy are still wrong to believe Tennessee Republicans will listen to them on gun safety
This newsletter is free, but it’s only able to sustain itself due to the support I receive from a small percentage of regular readers. Would you please consider becoming one of those supporters? You can use the button below to subscribe to Substack or use my usual Patreon page!
Back in March, a shooter armed with “two assault-style weapons and a handgun” murdered three children and three adults at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, a private school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America.
Shortly after the tragedy, I wrote that the location of this mass shooting—at a place where belief in God was omnipresent—was irrelevant because Republican lawmakers in Tennessee weren’t going to do anything to protect children. They had just passed a law banning drag shows in the name of child safety, but they weren’t about to take action to do anything useful. In fact, it was the opposite. Those same lawmakers had proposed a bill to lower the age to legally carry a handgun in public from 21 to 18.
Thought and prayers weren’t going to help anybody.
On Tuesday, the New York Times published an ultimately depressing piece (gift article) featuring some of the parents who sent their kids to The Covenant School, where tuition can run up to $16,500 a year. Those parents believed lawmakers who might ignore other victims would take them seriously when it came to gun safety measures.
[Mary] Joyce and other Covenant parents felt they stood a better chance than anyone at cutting through the divisions on gun control. Among them were former Republican aides, gun owners and lifelong conservatives who could afford to spend days at the legislature.
The article could end right there because you already know how this will play out.
They thought that being conservative Christian Republicans who had a history of prioritizing guns over people would grant them some kind of power that everyone else simply didn’t possess. Lawmakers would finally see that this wasn’t some attempt by liberals at taking away their constitutional rights! They would understand that basic safety measures were in the best interest of gun owners and families across the state!
But that’s the sort of bullshit you could only believe if you’re fed a steady stream of conservative bullshit in your media diet. Republican lawmakers don’t give a damn about what the Constitution says; they’re not going to compromise on weapons because their identities are wrapped up in the belief that having the ability to murder your enemies at any time—with the most potent weapons available—is foundational to our country, and any effort to moderate that is nothing but a slippery slope to [insert right-wing fever dream involving Socialism and Soros].
These parents learned that the hard way.
After telling their stories and calling for sensible action that would have prevented the shooter, who had mental health issues, from “legally purchasing seven firearms,” the lawmakers just flat-out ignored them.
It didn’t matter than one parent was a Southern Baptist Convention leader and “former executive director of the state Republican Party” who owned several guns of his own or that his argument to prevent gun violence rested on their shared “pro-life” beliefs.
It didn’t matter that they argued against another GOP proposal to let certain gun owners “take handguns onto school campuses” because it would further traumatize their children.
The heartless Republican lawmakers just ignored them and did nothing of significance. They don’t believe mass shootings are enough of a problem that they ought to do anything to try and prevent them. After all, these are people who believe guns are never the problem and it’s always something else—mental health, video games, a lack of good parenting, or that catch-all term “sin.”
It was demoralizing, some of the mothers said, to be talked down to, to see lawmakers who had sympathized with their pain in private still vote against them in public. To be told that it was too soon for such serious changes, or that any change at all would threaten the Second Amendment.
Did you know, the parents asked one another, that it was like this? How did I not know?
Ultimately, the legislature sent Mr. Lee a few policy bills, but none that the Covenant parents had prioritized passed.
“When is it going to be the right group of people that gets affected for someone to listen?” Ms. Joyce asked on the final day, adding, “I thought we were close enough to their children.”
I don’t mean to condemn any of those parents who bared their souls to do the right thing. Regardless of their past beliefs, that must have been incredibly difficult and they deserve praise for trying. It’s more than we can expect from that crowd. If we want people to change their minds on any issue, we can’t be angry if that change only occurs after it affects them personally. Let’s just appreciate that the change happened at all.
Nothing in the article suggests these people are going to stop voting for a Republican Party that is beholden to gun lobbyists. They might support “political challengers willing to compromise on guns” but they’re not openly saying they’ll vote for Democrats who actually want to take action. Meanwhile, a month after the shooting, the same Republicans who did nothing about gun safety kicked out two Black Democrats who called for action.
Nothing in the article suggests these people will stop going to churches that enable this kind of gun culture. Roughly 40% of white evangelicals own a gun, a percentage that’s higher than any other religious group. It never crosses their mind that believing God will protect them shouldn’t correlate with the need for more weapons.
At the same time, what does it say about these parents that they believed they could talk sense into these lawmakers? It implies that it was easy for Republican lawmakers to ignore victims who weren’t white, who weren’t wealthy, who were LGBTQ, who went to public schools, etc. It’s not like they changed their positions after Sandy Hook, after Pulse, after every other mass shooting. Why doesn’t it bother these parents more that the GOP lawmakers weren’t listening to gun safety advocates in the past? It should. They should have known the same lawmakers weren’t going to listen to them either.
How privileged and spoiled must you be to believe lawmakers who ignored other survivors of gun violence will listen to you? Did they believe that they would be taken seriously, when others were ignored, because they’re the right color and right religion and in the right socioeconomic class?
The solution isn’t having conservative Christians urge lawmakers to take the same actions that other groups couldn’t get them to take in the past.
It’s voting out everyone in the party that puts guns over people. And so far, none of these activists seem to have any plan to do that. They’re not personally saying they’re voting for progressive Democrats, and they’re not taking any meaningful steps to encourage their conservative Christian friends to do the same.
Maybe they think that’s futile. Well, the alternative is trying to get conservative Republicans to pass sensible legislation that actually makes people’s lives better—and nothing’s more futile than that. Tennessee is a gerrymandered state designed to keep Republicans in power, which only works because conservative Christians keep voting against their own best interests.
I appreciate that these parents are trying to do something. But without honest introspection and a realization that many of their friends and family members and the kind of people they all tend to elect are the very cause of the problem they’re trying to solve, nothing’s going to change.