According to House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), if everyone had just prayed more, 19 children and two teachers might not have been massacred by a gunman in a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school last month.
The House Oversight Committee held a hearing Wednesday on gun violence and heard testimony from survivors and families of victims from the Uvalde and Buffalo, New York, mass shootings. The speakers included an 11-year-old who covered herself in her friend’s blood and played dead as her classmates were killed.
Gohmert complained in a House floor speech that Democrats “sure don’t want to hear any more about prayers” as a solution to the issue.
“They’re disgusted hearing about prayers,” he said.
“Look, maybe if we heard more prayers from leaders of this country instead of taking God’s name in vain, we wouldn’t have the mass killings like we didn’t have before prayer was eliminated from school,” he added.
Scalise used a similar line of reasoning in a news conference, arguing that “we had AR-15s in the 1960s. We didn’t have those mass school shootings.”
“We actually had prayer in school during those days,” he said.
In “those days,” when school-sponsored prayers were still in action, schools were hardly peaceful. Many schools were still segregated, and there were violent campaigns to keep it that way.
In 1957, for example ― five years before the Supreme Court struck down state-sponsored prayers in public schools in 1962 ― an all-white Nashville elementary school was bombed a day after a Black child was admitted. White church members had been leading a violent crusade to oppose the integration of the city’s public schools.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an assault weapon ban that outlawed the AR-15 and similar semiautomatic rifles after a rise in mass shootings involving those types of firearms.
Mass shootings were down in the decade that followed, compared with the decade before and the decade after.
Scalise and Gohmert are far from the first Republicans to cite a departure from Jesus as a contributor to rising gun violence. Also during Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) argued that guns had always been readily available in the U.S. but mass shootings were a more recent phenomenon.
He correlated that with a “breakdown of the family,” “erosion of faith” and the proliferation of social media. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) argued last month that “we don’t need more gun control. We need to return to God.” And Oklahoma GOP Senate candidate Jackson Lahmeyer said after the Uvalde shooting it was time to arm teachers and “bring back prayer in our public schools.”
Other Western countries have become increasingly secular without seeing increasing gun violence. In Australia, for example, there hasn’t been a comparable mass shooting since 1996, when a massacre prompted mandatory gun buybacks to remove semi-automatic firearms from civilian possession.