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Guns, Masculinity, and Insecurity

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I get atypically angry — seriously pissed off — at the discourse surrounding gun control in the United States. This, in part, explains the colourful language I employed while digesting the NRA’s response to Sandy Hook, and why I’m happy that my daughter is growing up and going to school in England (note, she is proud at being half English and half American, but she is completely unaware of the gun culture in America.) I come to this anger from a position not opposed to guns in general, and I come from a family that has had (and still has) more than a few. Rather, I find it utterly astonishing that a society more enamoured with and dependent upon motor vehicles has no problem regulating the hell out of cars and those who drive them, yet cherishes a laissez fare approach to firearms.

Cars are designed for transportation (aside from perhaps the 1967 Ford Mustang that I owned for a few years in grad school, which was inconsistent at best in getting me from point A to point B, but it did have a 289, four barrel carb, dual exhaust, enhanced suspension, and it was a beautiful British racing green, so it looked great even when I was interminably broken down somewhere inconvenient), not for killing things.  However, we regulate safety features, gas mileage (somewhat), what comes out of the exhaust (again, somewhat), and the speed at which cars can be driven in various contexts. We also regulate drivers, who have to be of a minimum age, pass both a theory and practical test before allowed to drive alone, and if drivers consistently violate the laws governing the safe operation of their vehicle, can lose their license for a string of misdemeanours. There have been excesses, as one Mr. Hagar points out, but the regulations are largely justified.

Guns are designed to kill. Why is it that we have no problem regulating cars, but a significant segment of society gets paranoid, ignores empirical reality, and generally becomes apoplectic whenever we might possibly consider ever so slightly regulating these things designed to kill? Again, I am not in favor of banning all guns in America; not only do I honestly believe that the majority of gun owners are responsible and not averse to training, it’s also a stupendously impractical exercise. However, I’m completely baffled that we have no problem regulating automobiles, yet rather than accept and adopt sensible controls on freaking guns, the response to frequent massacres such as Sandy Hook is to arm the (already underpaid and overworked) teachers!

Why?

The first wave of comments to my post yesterday on the 72 year-old man with Alzheimer’s shot and killed in a stranger’s yard in northwestern Georgia touched on masculinity, control, and manliness as one explanation for the fetish of guns for a subset of gun owners. There’s a strong “no shit?” dynamic at work here, one I’ve considered, but never considered it well enough to articulate it beyond fumbling some words together to make “compensating” not sound like “small dick problem”.

Fortunately, that’s why we have Amanda Marcotte, who nailed it yesterday:

That men “prove” their manhood by having guns, by acting tough, by seeking out violence, by pretending they don’t care about anything but creating more opportunities for violence.

More critically, and mapping onto the Georgia case well (the fiancee was on the phone to the police, the man was prowling his yard, ultimately firing his Glock four times to ward off a 72 year-old):

In other words, the only way a legitimate man can “care” about people is as objects that you fantasize about bad guys trying to steal from you so that you have an opportunity to shoot them.

Obviously, this does not describe all gun owners in the US, nor does it exhaust the explanations for the paranoid response to gun control legislation, but I’m confident that it does identify the subconscious motivations for a segment of gun owners.

Yet, it still doesn’t address how we can regulate the hell out of cars (which can also serve compensatory functions for a segment of the male population) yet not guns.

(Apologies for linking to my own stuff on a regular basis in this post.  Without knowing it, I’ve written about this topic more often than I recalled).

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