If you listen long enough, almost anybody can say something profound. Dana Loesch, spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, had that kind of moment last weekend when she said the NRA is not a lobbying organization but “a fellowship group.”

On its face, it’s an absurd statement. Of course the NRA lobbies. It spent $5 million to influence policy in Washington last year alone. But if she meant that organization’s real power is not the money it spends but its millions of members who are deeply committed to their cause, she is right. They pay attention and they vote accordingly.

It was her choice of the word “fellowship” that really caught me. It’s a word you hear most often in a religious context, especially in Christian churches, where believers are encouraged to build relationships with each other. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers,” the Apostle Paul warned the church in Corinth. “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? And what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

When you start thinking about gun ownership in this country as a kind of religion, everything starts making more sense. It has its own sacred texts, its foundational stories and its own system of beliefs. Adherents share a vision of how the world works and don’t lose faith in times of trial.

To non-believers, it’s just math. The U.S. has 4.4 percent of the world’s population and almost half of the world’s guns. We also have the highest rates of gun violence in the developed world. Logic tells the uninitiated that fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them would reduce gun deaths.

But for a true believer, every act of gun violence is a reason to buy more guns. That’s why what we’ve been calling a “debate” over gun policy has really been something else – it’s more like a holy war.

Ever notice how conversations about gun control always seem to turn into a discussion about the Second Amendment? Believers claim it gives them the right to own everything from banana clips to bump-stocks, and even the most moderate reform – like a waiting period for some gun sales – becomes a constitutional issue to them. Supporters of gun control are often accused of having a secret agenda to repeal the amendment piecemeal, making the believer unwilling to give an inch of ground.

But there is no agenda to repeal the Second Amendment because it has very little to say about regulation. There are federal and state gun laws that restrict who can own a gun and what kind of gun they can own, and they are all constitutional. You could once buy a submachine gun in a pawn shop, but that ended in 1934. The Founders knew what a felon was and they didn’t prohibit them from owning guns, but much later, Congress did. Even Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the right to bear arms was not “unlimited,” any more than is the right to free speech.

Another article of faith is the belief that an armed populace is what keeps our government from turning into tyranny. This only makes sense if you think of it in religious terms. The gun, a physical object, becomes a manifestation of the invisible concept of “freedom.”

It’s not a rational notion. When you look at the kind of power the government can bring to bear against what a group of ordinary citizens could muster, you know that the people wouldn’t have a chance. In the rare cases where armed Americans use force to hold off the government for a while, restraint by police is the only thing that keeps them alive.

Loesch is right when she says that politicians fear gun owners, but it’s their ability to swing elections that politicians are afraid of, not the threat of insurrection.

Behind it all is the belief that guns make you safer. The question has been studied from a number of angles, and except for a widely discredited study by economist John Lott, the results have not been supportive of the pro-gun side.

Having a gun in the house increases the likelihood of getting shot to death, either in a suicide, homicide or accident. Whether carrying a gun could be a deterrent to crime is hard to measure, but the laws of probability don’t favor it. According to a study cited in Scientific American, most concealed-carry permit holders are white men living in rural areas with little crime and are unlikely to ever have a chance to defend themselves. The presence of a gun, however, makes every conflict that they encounter much more dangerous.

But making these arguments is as pointless as fighting over whether Moses really parted the Red Sea, or delivered the 10 Commandments.

Americans are free to practice any religion they choose, but it’s time to get the government out of the gun worship business.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: gregkesich

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