Beliefs Culture

Poll: Religious groups divided on gun control, but united against guns in churches

RNS photo courtesy iStockPhoto

Graphic courtesy Public Religion Research Institute

(RNS) After the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., and a deadly shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., Americans are divided on gun control, and within certain religious groups, attitudes are far from ambivalent.

But on the question of guns in churches, there is actual consensus: A strong majority of Americans don’t want them in the pews, according to a new poll released Wednesday (Aug. 15) by the Public Religion Research Institute conducted in partnership with Religion News Service.

“Although the issue of gun control tends to divide Americans by party, gender, region and race, there is broad agreement among the public that there are some places where concealed weapons should be off limits,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director.

More than three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) said concealed weapons should not be allowed in houses of worship, compared to 20 percent who disagreed.

A federal appeals court has upheld Georgia?s ban on bringing guns to places of worship.

A federal appeals court has upheld Georgia?s ban on bringing guns to places of worship.

The poll, conducted in the wake of the Colorado and Wisconsin shootings, shows that a slim majority (52 percent) of Americans favors passing stricter laws, while 44 percent are opposed.

But walk into a Catholic church or an evangelical congregation, and the worshippers may not be so torn about gun control.

Among white evangelicals, for instance, support for stricter gun control is weak, at 35 percent. That compares to the 62 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of unaffiliated Americans who would like to see tighter gun control laws on the books.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest who called for tighter gun control after the movie theater massacre last month, offered several reasons why U.S. Catholics may be more likely to support it.

“Catholics may congregate more in urban centers and may be more exposed to violent crimes than people in other parts of he country,” said Martin, the author of “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.”

“And Catholics might be more sympathetic to government regulation, because the church has always seen legitimate government as one way of expressing the will of the people,” Martin continued. What’s more, he said, “there might be a slightly greater appreciation for the notion of the common good, which is enshrined in Catholic social teaching, in addition to individual rights.”

Black Protestants favor stricter gun control even more strongly than Catholics, according to a 2011 ABC News/Washington Post poll, with 71 percent saying they want tougher gun laws.

As for white mainline Protestants, 42 percent endorse tighter gun control, according to the PRRI/RNS survey. This may be because most mainline Protestants (54 percent) live in a household with a gun, Cox said, and the survey found that those who don’t live with guns generally tend to favor more gun restrictions.

As Americans remain divided on gun control, they show no consensus when asked about the most effective way to prevent mass shootings. “People are all over the map,” Cox said, noting that:

— 27 percent of respondents said stricter gun control would help.
— 22 percent cited better mental health screenings and support for those who want guns.
— 20 percent argued for a greater emphasis on God and morality in school and society.
— 14 percent want stricter security at public gatherings.
— 11 percent said allowing more private citizens to carry guns for protection is the answer.

White evangelicals were more likely than any other group to choose “a greater emphasis on God and morality,” with nearly four in 10 saying that this is the best way to prevent mass gun killings.

The survey also found:

— Women favor stronger gun control laws far more than men (60 percent to 44 percent).
— Democrats favor stronger gun laws (72 percent). Republicans (65 percent) and Tea Party members (78 percent) oppose them.
— Better enforcement of existing gun laws has strong support among all Americans, with 67 percent in favor and 31 percent opposed.
— More than two-thirds (68 percent) say the constitutional right to own and carry a gun is as important as other constitutional rights, while 30 percent disagree.

The poll of 1,006 Americans was conducted Aug. 8-12 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.


About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


Click here to post a comment
  • As a former paramedic in the South Bronx of NYC, I find it hard to understand the notion that Catholics (of which I am one) would NOT want a legal gun carrier in the church. We have had evil men enter houses of worship & shoot people, and those churches that had legal carriers stopped the violence before too many were hurt or killed. To me it is a simple notion, as a concealed carry gun owner, I carry my weapon, even in church, as a means to protect my fellow man; women & children most importantly. I will go to the violence, so others may flee. How is that a bas thing?

  • Alright, so you ban guns from your church. What are you going to do when someone bent on harming your parishioners ignores your rule, walks in with a gun, and starts shooting?

  • Why are mainline Protestants not referenced? We may not be as large a percentage of the population as Evangelicals, but we are not a tiny group either. Is it just easier (lazier) to create a binary of Catholic-Evangelical? Many mainline Protestants supporter greater gun control.

  • That is, we receive a mention but as an afterthought. I’m getting tired of being an afterthought when I belong to a major U.S. Christian denomination.

  • Hi Abigail, Thanks for your comment. The story focuses more on Catholics and evangelicals because this study shows that their attitudes on gun control are far less ambivalent than Americans’ attitudes in general. They get more ink not because of their size or creed, but because their answers to these particular poll questions are more remarkable.

  • Beginning with the fact that violent crime rates in “gun free Europe” are up to six times higher than the US’s piddling 400 per 100,000: Continuing to the fact that guns are not the problem but active killers are; Why would any sane person NOT want at least a few armed people in the congregation?

    Particularly in light of the fact that at the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples – and by extension His followers – “He said to them, “From this hour, whoever has a money bag should take it and thus also a wallet, and whoever lacks a sword, let him sell his tunic and buy a sword for himself.” Luke 22:36 quoted from the Aramaic Bible.

    Swords have become passe since Sam Colt made the least slip of a girl the equal of the biggest, meanest criminal on the street. But Americans have purchased more than 150 million guns since 1992 – and our violent crime rates are half of what they were then. More guns mean less crime. As Europe’s enormous violent crime rate demonstrates.


  • Im amazed that a Jesuit priest would say him control is good. Jesuits tend to be well educated but I’m confused at such a dangerous statement. Gun control doesn’t stop criminals from hurting people that’s why Their calle criminals they don’t obey laws. Guns will always be available and if not bombs or worse will be used. More people die from DUI shoul we ban cars ? The gun is a inapte object it does neither bad or good it’s the person who does it. Guns protect millins of innocent people from being murdered by crazy criminals , rapist , child abductees. Look at the world look at the Christians in countries where they have no guns their being murdered by the dozens and look at the dictator governments they control te people because they have no power to fight back. The leader of Korea I think asked why not invade the united states and he said because “behind every blade of grass is an American with a gun” as human being we are obligated to protect our lives and our family And that’s a doctrine of te church.

  • In response to ‘Stranger’s’ comments:
    I loved the selective reading of Luke 22:35-38 to equate that scripture says that christians should arm themselves. JC says that the ‘two swords’ that were at hand were enough to fulfill the scriptures that he would be called ‘lawless’. In other words, they were props to fulfill scripture (if one believes that he actually said such a thing). It is essential to understand that Jesus NEVER intended that they would be used. When a disciple tries to use one to defend him, Jesus removes the sword from the hands of all disciples when he cries “no more of this” (:50-51). Turtullian wrote c. 200 CE, “When Jesus disarmed Peter in the garden, he disarmed all Christians.” This was the way of the faith before the time of Constantine. Oh to recover that.

2019 NewsMatch Campaign: This Story Can't Wait! Donate.