On Guns and American Masculinity in Daily Life

At Daily Life Australia, where I’m now contributing occasionally, here’s Defending Masculinity with Guns, written in response to the Connecticut horror.

Excerpt:

The “Man Card” campaign can only work in a culture where white masculinity is seen not only as fragile, but under attack. The modern enemy isn’t King George III and his Redcoats; it’s the emasculating influence of a culture in which women and ethnic minorities have gained access to what were once all white, all-male preserves. (Though a “Bushmaster” refers to a kind of snake, the name instantly conjures up an image of an intrepid white male explorer in Africa, using his gun to fend off wild animals and natives.) The company is coy about what it is that young men are supposed to do with the gun once they’ve bought it, knowing that for many, merely owning it will be sufficiently “masculinizing.” The hope, presumably, is that young lads will think “as long as I own this gun, I am still an independent person, a force to be reckoned with, even if I never use it.” One gun is invariably an insufficient talisman, however. This is why so many American young men collect as many as they can afford, perhaps hoping to amass an arsenal to protect themselves against every imaginable threat (or, more honestly, against their own nagging self-doubt.) Adam Lanza brought so many weapons to the Sandy Hook elementary school that he couldn’t carry them all; forced to leave one in the car, he carried three, including his Bushmaster, on his rampage.

Fragile masculinity was not the sole cause of last Friday’s massacre. Lax gun laws (themselves rooted in our national myth of violent self-reliance) and mental illness also played a part. So too did class privilege: Lanza, like most rampage shooters in America in recent decades, had grown up in comfort in bucolic suburbia, the son of a vice-president at General Electric. Privileged white men aren’t the only ones to suffer from mental anguish, but as a result of our national history, they are disproportionately likely to imagine that they are entitled to foist their pain onto others in a terribly public way. Privileged white American men are also the ones most likely to feel the rage of “frustrated entitlement,” keenly aware of the disconnect between the affluence and autonomy they were taught was their birthright, and the anxiety and rejection that seems to characterize their daily experiences with others.

8 thoughts on “On Guns and American Masculinity in Daily Life

  1. Lanza, as we know, stole this weapon from his mother. Was his mother’s gun ownership part of this “American masculinity,” as well?

    I think most people (men and women) who own guns do so not to feel powerful, and not to shoot innocent creatures; they wish to protect themselves, the ones they love, and other innocent people.

    • I think this is part of the thrust of the article. Protect them from what? And who?
      We don’t have hordes of marauders strolling the streets looking to challenge people or take their homes.

      If you insist on having a gun for “protection,” then a handgun or simple rifle will do. There is no need for an assault rifle to spray down dozens at a time.
      Of course, even having the handgun can lead to the 4 year old accidentally shooting his/her family member rather than serving the intended purpose.

      Regarding the “disaffected white man” syndrome that is painted here, I definitely see a lot more of the “I’m an American and I have a right!” from other white males far more than some deeper thought as to what might be driving that feeling.

      • “I think this is part of the thrust of the article. Protect them from what? And who? We don’t have hordes of marauders strolling the streets looking to challenge people or take their homes.”

        Most houses also never have a fire, but that does not mean having a smoke detector is a waste of time. Rememer that the mass-shootings in Pearl, MS, Edinboro, PA, and Oregon (two weeks ago) came to premature ends when a law-abiding, armed citizen confronted the murderer.

        “If you insist on having a gun for ‘protection,’ then a handgun or simple rifle will do. There is no need for an assault rifle to spray down dozens at a time.”

        A hunting weapon was used in the Newtown shooting.

        “Of course, even having the handgun can lead to the 4 year old accidentally shooting his/her family member rather than serving the intended purpose.”

        Of course. These weapons are not toys, and anyone who makes the solemn decision to own one must have a 0% capacity for carelessness as to its storage.

        • Just as a point to consider:

          I do have fire insurance, and even a fire extinguisher, but I do not have my own fire truck.

          To push the analogy a bit further:

          This is because I recognize the limitations of what I am able to handle by myself. I can handle a small fire in my kitchen, but if my house was burning to the ground, I recognize that the only practical thing I can do is hope that I have the ability to retreat.

          I think such an analogy is a good mirror for what would be a very sensible attitude about guns.

  2. I suspect there’s a lot of people feel they need a gun to stay safe. I myself have wondered if someday I will join them, after getting the right training, of course. But it seems that being able to take down a crazed gunman in a crowded place w/o hitting anyone innocent–or being able to knock off an intruder in or near one’s home–might take more training than I have the money or physical ability for.
    I decided that I would just continue checking where the exits are when in a public place, and so on. For now, anyway.
    I understand some people have guns for sport, taking pride in hitting nonhuman or even inanimate targets. They consider it a nifty machine, if needed to be handled with extra care. I loves me some machines myself, of a different sort. But even so, with all the bad stuff I’ve been through, I’ve never had the idea of going and killing a bunch of strangers, big or small.
    What an awful thing to happen–and stricter gun regs aren’t going to be enough; mental health reform/improvement and the dismantling of sexist, racist, classist crap are necessary too.

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