the lack of thought and prayers is probably the single biggest factor in what is behind them,” – Gov. Mike Huckabee’s response to Dayton, El Paso mass shootings.

Jesus draped in the flag holding his shotgun beside still watersIt’s not only Huckabee that feels this way. Virtually all GOP national and state politicos say that prayer is the solution. As well as some Democrats.

So, is the lack of religion the key problem underlying firearm deaths in the USA? I examined our 6 most and least religious states to see if their oft repeated statements are accurate. After analyzing the facts, I found that not only were the statements self-serving and misleading, they are simply false. 

Based on the percentage of residents rating themselves as highly religious (per Pew Research surveys), these are the most devout states: Al (77%); MS (77%); TN (73%); LA (71%); AK (70%) and SC (70%). Every one of these deep red states are in the South. I’ve worked in all of them. Close relatives or I have lived in half of them.

So, are these highly religious states also the states with the lowest gun deaths per capita? If prayer were the answer, we would expect them to be. 

Quite the opposite is true when we look at state rankings regarding firearm deaths/100,000 (CDC data): AL (2); MS (6); TN (11); LA (4); AK (7); and SC (12). Thus, we can see that all of our most religious states are also in the top quartile of gun violence states. For example, Alabama, our most religious state, has the second highest rate of firearm violence.

On the flip side, here are the least religious states (with the percent professing to be deeply religious shown): NH (33%); MA (33%); VT (34%); ME (43%); CT (45%); WI (43%). If prayer were the answer, we would expect these states to have much more gun violence relative to the more devout states. Again, the opposite is true. 

Here are the rankings as to gun deaths per capita: NH (39); MA (49); VT (34); ME (35); CT (46); and WI (40). As shown, Massachusetts is the second least religious state and also has the second fewest gun deaths. But it’s not just that state that shows a pattern. As you will note, as a group the least religious states are all in the bottom one-third in gun deaths per capita. In other words, the least religious states have much less gun violence than do the most religious. 

Does this mean that agnostics are less prone to violence than those who are believers? Not necessarily but, assuming that believers pray more, Huckabee is incorrect in his assumption that prayer is the answer to reducing firearm deaths.

So much for prayer; there must be a better solution to gun violence.

Let’s look at the states with the lowest rates of deaths/100,000 from firearms: HI; Ma; NY; RI; CT; and NJ. All are ranked in the bottom third in religiosity.

What else do they have in common? These states with the lowest gun death rates also have strong gun control. Specifically, with strength of laws shown, here are the six states: HI (4); MA (3); NY (1); RI (8); CT (6); and NJ (2) (per Guns and Ammo Magazine). For example, again using Massachusetts, it ranks second lowest in gun death rates and third toughest in gun laws.

For believers, prayer is clearly very positive. Prayer provides a multitude of benefits for those in need of solace and comfort. But, when self-serving politicians state that prayer is the only answer to decrease firearm deaths, don’t accept their words as true. 

Similarly, when your firearm toting buddies tell you guns make us safe, tell them the facts. The more easily guns are available, the more deaths by guns in our nation.

The bottom line is that prayers don’t reduce firearm deaths, but very strong gun control laws clearly do. It’s up to us to tell our elected officials we expect them to act.


Image Credit: This image was originally used in a Dew story by Mike Cox entitled, "Baptists And Bootleggers." Jesus draped in the flag holding his shotgun beside still waters is parody – a composite image created by inspired by an image represented to be from an unsafe site (; the background image is a painting by © Simon Dewey  found at (promotional image/parody); the shotgun from (promotional image/parody); and the flag is an image by © Mark Nazh licensed by at with contributions by generous readers like you.

Jack Bernard

Jack Bernard

Jack A Bernard is a retired SVP with a national healthcare corporation. He was Chair of the Jasper County, Ga Board of Commissioners and Republican Party. He was also on the Board of Health for Jasper County and is currently on the Fayette County BOH. Bernard has over 100 columns published annually, primarily in the South.