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Gun Fetish

When I moved into a dorm in college as a freshman of barely 18, I didn’t know too much, except about academic things, and sports. So when my roommate asked me one day, “Do you think that an umbrella is a phallic symbol?,” I thought that maybe this was the kind of thing that the college cognoscenti debated about. Had he asked me that ten years later, I would have politely said that this was ridiculous, people trying to act mature by thinking that everything is a sex symbol; and that an umbrella is no more a phallic symbol than a pencil, or a tube of Chapstick.

But a gun as phallic symbol? That is a concept that many theorize about, and it is understandable. I do not know the history of the making of guns, so I am sure that there was some utilitarian purpose to the shape, but it is undeniable that there is some psychic relationship in many people’s unconscious, if not conscious, mind, between the gun and the male sex organ.

Guns have become fetishized, much more so than they were a hundred years go, as far as I can gather. Guns are a symbol of potency. Take someone’s gun away, or even suggest some restrictions on gun purchase and ownership, and the reaction is probably about what it would be if forced castration were supported by some people.

The Beatles wrote a song, almost certainly mostly written by John Lennon, called “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” It is a savage mockery of an ad he saw in a magazine, made by the National Rifle Association, which perverted a famous “Peanuts” cartoon, with Charlie Brown holding Snoopy, and the caption, “Happiness is a Warm Puppy.”

The lyrics to the last part go: “Happiness is a warm gun/ (bang bang, shoot shoot)/ Happiness is a warm gun, mama/ (bang bang, shoot shoot)/ When I hold you in my arms/ And I feel my finger on your trigger/ I know nobody can do me no harm/ Because happiness is a warm gun, mama/ Happiness is a warm gun, yes, it is…”

You can’t get guns away from people like that. Somehow the NRA ads, and the relentless Right Wing brainwashing, has made guns into something that people are terrified to have taken away from them.

Lennon knew exactly what he was writing about. A gun has become a totem, a symbol of virility, a magic charm to keep one from harm. Those who worship at the gun cult do not think in those terms, they just feel it. Without their gun, they are not potent. I do not want to just limit this to a male thing, because women like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene write ads and posts filled with gun symbols. Eric Greitens wrote about “RINOS” (“Republicans in Name Only), and showed himself with a long-range gun, with a caption about “going RINO hunting.” Guns fill the advertising of the Far Right.

They also use it as a “Boo!,” intended to scare people who fear guns, who fear that somebody is going to deliberately or accidentally shoot them. The Right loves the idea of “concealed carry,” probably not because they think this is going to help them in a shootout on mass transit, or at a picnic, but because they might just have a gun or two or three in their pocket or their purse, or their picnic basket, “and then, lib, we might pull them out and shoot you and your family, if we don’t like how they look, or you tell me to wear a mask, or that Biden won the election!”

I am not kidding. This is where they want it to go. Wait until the elections, and see how many Far Right people bring their guns to the polls, how many warnings on social media, that if you go out to vote, they will come after you.

The gun was known as the equalizer. A man who was not physically strong, who could not win in a fistfight, suddenly had the upper hand if he pulled out his gun. It was transformative. Of course, if the other person also had a gun, then it was pretty even, that is the legend of the Wild West. But you had to have a gun with you, and be ready to use it at any minute. The Right wants to use the threat of guns to terrify their opponents, to keep them from ever saying or doing anything which they don’t like.

I wrote yesterday that I thought that there is something, maybe amorphous, maybe more concrete, behind the terrible repeated stories of mass shooters who were supposedly radicalized on internet sites which glorified guns, killing, and death. That there might be various people who intend to draw recruits into this cult, so that they become obsessed with killing people, as the accused in the Highland Park murders is said to have been.

This man killed seven people so far, and apparently wounded 127 or so. It is said that the wounds are like battlefield wounds, because of course they come from assault rifles and bullets. Many of the wounded may never recover from the wounds. One wonders how many would have died had this man been a better shot. The next one might be.

I don’t write this to scare you or me, but it is scary. And we are now at a point where guns have become almost a religion to many millions of Americans. Their reactions when someone suggests some restrictions on the purchase and ownership of guns, verge on the insane.

There are some people out there who want this to be an armed country, with multiple shootouts, with ordinary citizens, law enforcement officers, being killed. Maybe they want a civil war, where they are sure that they have more firepower. I would guess that the Russians would like the United States to turn to civil war. People like Steve Bannon have essentially said so.

The Supreme Court is ruled by some very strange people who are filled with hatred of “the liberals,” and who seem determined to turn the streets into shooting ranges, while they are protected in their own homes by their benefactors, who live behind gates, with hired guns who will turn a barrage of fire against anyone who threatens them. Then they can sit back and watch, maybe it will be televised for a price they can afford.

We know that a strong majority of Americans want some significant gun safety legislation. But they have to turn that into power, and without the use of guns. Because the minority which wants not one restriction on guns or their use, has most of the guns, and intends to use them to keep whatever it is that makes them so much in love with the many guns which they go out every day to buy more of. What would they be without their guns? They are afraid to find out.

Do you remember the scene in the movie “Goodfellas,” where Joe Pesci’s nascent gangster seems like mostly attitude, until the time that “Spider” a mentally handicapped errand boy in those circles, dares to make a joke at Pesci’s expense, and actually gets plaudits from the other guys. Pesci has no ability to retort in kind; his milieu is not that of the Restoration “wits,” who triumphed by verbal cleverness. The only way he can keep his image, his manhood, his power in that world, is to pull out his gun and shoot Spider eight times, and then tell his pals to “clean it up.”

What would these gun fetishists do without their guns? Where else could they derive any sense of control over their lives and environment? We might say that “a real man,” or woman, should not need this artificial implement of power, that their power should derive from knowing who they are, from trying to learn more about the world, and how to live together in it; from caring, and trying to help.

But that’s not how the gun lobby and their marketing targets comprehend things; they want the guns, more, of them, and fancier. Like most humans, they create the world that they want to live in, the one that helps them to feel stronger, and more in control of the things which frustrate, upset, and terrify them.