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