In my book, The Cult of Trump, I discussed the lobbying dedicated to keeping solid gun legislation off the floor in American politics. This influence, one of politics and money, has had consequences, as we all know. Gun-related deaths are already over 17,000 as of May of this year. In 2021, they were at their highest ever at almost 50,000 murders, suicides, and accidental deaths involving firearms. These statistics are personal to me due to my experiences in the Moonies cult, so to further raise the profile of this crucial issue, I spoke with Jonathan Lowy. Jonathan founded Global Action on Gun Violence, a nonprofit working with the international community to stop gun trafficking and violence through litigation, human rights, and other strategies. He has been litigating and advocating against gun violence for over 25 years. He helped win over $100 million for victims in verdicts and settlements, created the precedent that holds gun companies accountable and reformed dangerous gun industry practices. His articles include “The Right Not to Be Shot.” He has been named one of the 500 leading lawyers in America for over ten years by Lawdragon magazine.
Wielding the Rod of Iron
One of the first topics we touched on was my connection to the Moonies cult. The Unification Church loves loose legislation. One of their greatest dreams is to destabilize the American government as we know it and replace it with a theocracy, a dream which they see as accessible through the power of firearms. Kahr Arms, a manufacturer that Jonathan Lowy knows for the lack of safety measures in their warehouses, is owned by Justin Moon. Another one of Sun Myung Moon’s son, Hyung Jin Sean Moon, is the pastor of Rod of Iron Ministries, a cult that proclaims assault guns are necessary to do God’s Will. Its website advertises marksmanship and defense classes for “2nd Amendment Christians.”
While the Moonies may want to dismantle the government, their interests are very much represented in the permissive gun culture of the US. Lowy noted that this connection between a cult and gun culture is unsurprising. The fear-mongering language used by those pushing an extreme pro-gun agenda will be familiar to anyone who knows cult tactics. Phobia indoctrination, a form of emotional control listed on the BITE Model, seeks to convince members of a cult that if they leave or disobey, terrible things will happen to them, as well as marking outsiders as hostile towards anyone with different beliefs. This same assertion can be found in discussions of gun control that claim that the government or liberal activists want to steal people’s guns and leave their families defenseless against criminals. The rod of fear is perhaps an even greater weapon than the rod of iron. This kind of political undue influence allows politicians to ignore the quiet majority of American citizens, including some gun owners, who want better protections.
Globalization and Greed
To get those protections, Lowy suggests, we should take what he calls an “outside game approach.” This focuses on working outside Congress and within a global context. The United States has a growing reputation for gun violence has damaged our standing in that global context. Leaders in countries like Russia and China can level fair criticisms against our laws and make themselves look better to their citizens despite their own human rights abuses. To many worldwide, the US is the land of the free only when it comes to buying weapons.
This is, in some ways, a limited perspective. According to Lowy, 90% of guns used in crimes are supplied by 5% of dealers and manufacturers. However, this small-scale problem is exacerbated by a larger one: it’s not profitable to stop supplying those dealers so that supply goes unregulated. Requiring more stringent background checks for risk factors like prior convictions or domestic violence is also not profitable. Greed allows bad actors like Justin Moon to keep running their companies despite having such poor security measures that workers can literally walk out with guns.
Jonathan Lowy believes we are asking the wrong questions about gun violence in the US. Many media outlets are operating under a psychological fallacy called the fundamental attribution error, which underestimates the social factors in a person’s behavior, attributing the lion’s share of the explanation to them as an individual. When we seek to understand a mass shooter’s past or mental state, we’re not looking at what laws and cultural beliefs enabled them. Again, the problem is small-scale on the surface, but greater issues can be found orbiting around it.
Jon also wants people to be aware of how improbable the idea of arming civilians, such as teachers, to fight mass shootings is. The training and experience necessary to respond appropriately in the high-stress environment of a gun battle is enormous. Even police officers, who are supposed to be equipped for and expecting confrontation, frequently miss their targets or cause unnecessary injury. This latter problem could be due to another psychological factor Jon brought up, which researchers call the “trigger pulls the finger” effect. Carrying a gun can cause hypervigilance. If you are prepared for danger, you see it everywhere. More weapons are not a practical path to fewer deaths.
I suggested combating these misconceptions by turning the phobia indoctrination of gun culture on its head. If politicians pose for Christmas cards with AR-15s, make it a joke. Don’t insult or threaten, which plays into the fear of outsiders spread in extremist circles. Make owning guns something uncool or cringe-worthy. If you can’t laugh, ask questions gently, introducing a new framing for the issue without aggression. Emphasize that freedom can still exist in this new framing. Freedom of mind should mean freedom to live, not freedom to kill.
Jon Lowy’s website, Global Action on Gun Violence