You can feel an energy shift when someone brings out some newly purchased rifle or revolver. Yet we rarely talk about just what that shift means or how it affects us. Is it intimidation? The thrill of being in the presence of potential danger? Maybe it’s simply human nature to keep such things to ourselves.
Whatever it is, some people –women as much as men– just plain enjoy handling, learning about, and shooting firearms. Doing so can be cathartic and spirit stirring, an exhilarating hobby to enjoy at gun ranges. For others, often regionally influenced, gun ownership is a rite of passage. Still others like the kick of ownership without the hassles of usage, and many of us don’t even own guns but get into their lore, power, and mythology.
Then there’s the type for whom the hobby’s customary teachable moments mean less than the thrill. The challenges of overcoming intimidation and learning curves matter little compared to the extra inch they grow around guns. This leads us to the dummies: the self-seeking, prideful, boastful fatheads who cherry-pick their gun-debate facts and cry victim like nobody’s business. For or against, red state or blue, they just want what they already know to be co-signed by like-minded crybabies. And let’s not even get into bottom-of-the-barrel ideologues who see firearms as the best path to, say, ethnic cleansing.
For a lot of folks, gun fun wears off once we’re reminded that we have to clean and oil the weapons we’ve been shooting. Others love the discipline of it, and even the mess, but especially the mentorship qualities such activities can take on. I prefer a little of each. And by “a little”, I mean I’ve enjoyed being taken out to the California desert to shoot World War II rifles and pistols, but I’m on the fence about the resulting cleanup. The U.S. Army taught me how and why to respect firearms, but they yelled at us a lot and that sucked the fun right outta’ that. So I’m not a dedicated gun enthusiast or owner. (Full disclosure: as a convicted felon in California, firearm possession is out of the question anyway). I am, however, highly appreciative of discreet gun owners, especially ones who are casual, not bossy, safe and knowledgeable rather than self-aggrandizing. Besides, I’d much rather face the consequences of being caught unarmed than once again have to press my lips between cement and steel to plead for more toilet paper. Besides, I wasn’t raised around firearms (or as a hunter), nor am I some constitutionally-driven defender of rights and property.
Most of my own experience with guns has come from the sheltered world of middle class, Caucasian homeowners showing off high-caliber blah-blah-blahs to their friends. Guns tend to come out during backyard barbecues, where a common scenario is ladies on the patio, dadbods inside, graduating from passing the TV remote to passing a Sig Sauer P226.
On the opposite end of that domestic dork-fest, I once held a beat up .357 magnum with a scraped off serial number. Instead of being empowering, though, the thing felt like a hot rock. My imagination went wild. How many crimes had it been used to commit, and by whom? Had it ever been pried from someone’s cold, dead hands? It outsized my capacity for aggression, so I was happy to hand it back to its then current possessor.
I mention this because anyone who can recognize a stop sign can also sense the changed energy in a room where firearms have been introduced. And here’s where the sexes tend to diverge. Guys will tease each other with jeopardy and certain alpha males will go from pesky to unbearable in an instant.
(“Douchebag” is an untunable catchword I avoid, but it does come to mind.)
Some men go too far and lose their grip on reality. They aggrandize and elevate their insecurities to kamikaze status. Among the predominantly white male list of these modern mass shooters, I wonder how many first experienced the high of handling guns with friends or family. But as I mentioned, I don’t hear many people acknowledge what it feels like to be among men treating each other differently than they would if they were holding, say, turnips.
In the presence of guns, even the average guy will typically nod with conviction and say “I know” a lot. Spines tend to stiffen, like those of dogs with their ears shooting back. A lot of men copy each other’s solemn formalities while struggling to suppress a desire to point the things and go “Bam-bam–bam-bam!” And guys hate being told where “the safety” is. Being barked at to keep a barrel pointed skyward in front of the others can be a fate worse than death. It was for me, anyway, and that motivated me to learn. I didn’t want to be someone a gun owner had to delicately hand his weapon to, but the guy to whom he could toss it. I’ve met precious few enthusiasts qualified to tell the difference, but I’ve watched platoons of bros and poseurs heft shotguns and collectible sidearms with exactly the same put-on bravado.
And why does guy-talk so often include flesh-shredder bullets, the handguns most capable of penetrating car doors, which weapons appear in which movie shoot-outs, whether guns deter or increase crime, and, nowadays, the validity of stand-your-ground laws? We men are blowhards that’s for sure. That’s not to say females don’t engage in such dialogue, but this post isn’t about equality; it’s about firearms being bigger than all of us, bigger than gun safety, and bigger than the cabbage heads with tactical apparel fetishes who amass (and dream of employing) their combat arsenals. Pulled straight from the pages of “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” these are typically the folks insisting that if everyone were armed, crime would cease to exist.
Nowadays, I can admit I’ve had many more guns pulled from my hands than thrown to ’em. Maybe that’s ‘cause I find it irresistible to push the boundaries of how men speak to each other while passing around their newest revolvers. I’m the smart-ass who makes penis enlargement references while caressing a rifle barrel. Some guys laugh, but a lot of others shrivel a little inside. Why? Because deep down, nearly everyone knows guns are bigger than they are, and certainly bigger than the 2nd Amendment debate itself. Still, many people resist and resent that which trivializes what they view as a sacred right to bear –or boastingly brandish– arms, especially in front of others.
A lot of Americans these days so desperately cling to comfort zones, entitlements, and a need for instant gratification that sound judgment has become secondary. And what’s more tied to sound judgment than thinking for oneself? Yet by and large, men in the company of other swaggering men with guns is about as far away from that as you can get.
Jennifer Carlson, author of “Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline,” sums it up well: “The gun rights platform is not just about guns. It’s also about a crisis of confidence in the American dream. And this is one reason gun control efforts ignite such intense backlashes: Restrictions are received as a personal affront to men who find in guns a sense of duty, relevance and even dignity.”
My own conclusion is this: The pressure that men put on each other with regard to firearms is at least part of the reason why some are replacing civil diplomacy and social skills with “rampage” and payback shootings. The high of handling guns isn’t an excuse, but it can leave a lasting impression. And peer acceptance, especially in an otherwise fearful world, is a principal birthplace of psychic satisfaction.
” I don’t have to be careful, I got a gun!” – Homer Simpson
Tags: .357 magnum, .45, Americans, arsenal, combat, firearms, guns, high-caliber, Homer, instant gratification, M15TAC18, men, revolver, rifle, safety, shotgun, sidearm, The Cartridge Family, U.S. Army, WWII