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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.

20 Responses

  1. On a much lighter note, what a difficult wordle today, hardest for me in a long time. I had to sit for a half-hour or so, trying to think of combinations, after my first three guesses got me only two letters, not in the right spots. Then I finally figured out a good fourth guess, but still missed, but this made the fifth guess very likely, so I got the word, and I was proud to do it. Wordles have been very easy most of the time, for weeks, so this was a good challenging one.

    • Agreed, after three I had one letter correctly placed (the first) and two others. Next guess helped and after thought the only possible answer was to add two more of the correctly placed letter. These are the ones that cause me issues… when the word contains only 3 letters.

      • I had l and u, not in right spots. I figured there might be a double l, but I did not at all think of another triple letter. I ran through so many combinations in my head, and since I had seen that there was no s, or p, or n, or t or r in the word, I finally came up with “bluff.”Had that not helped, I don’t think I would have gotten the word in six guesses. But fortunately that gave me – l u f f, and so, fluff! I had been worried that the word had two u’s, one at end, some foreign-based word like the previously used cacao!

        • My experience was similar, F, with u and l. I guessed FLUNKY which gave me the first 3 in proper order. two u’s with an l is uvula

          • Yes, I thought of uvula, but it has six letters, like flunky. :). Did you see Camilla, Charles’ wife, say that she plays wordle every day with her granddaughter, and the granddaughter might say, I got it in three, but Camilla would have gotten it in two? What version are they playing?Getting the word in two is extremely rare, even for a member of royal family! Delusions of grandeur.

          • Uvula has five, of course, I usually count better, even in the morning.

          • And I guessed fluky not flunky. So we draw on mistakes :-o)

          • Today’s wordle was appealingly literary. II like those. I bet some people will be upset, though.

          • Literary maybe, but the Greeks will love it.

  2. I’ve never understood the gun fetish being from a liberal city. I don’t understand why these supposedly burly man’s man types need guns when they profess to be so strong and top of the food chain. Who are they trying to protect themselves from? They are itching to use them. It’s sort of like the paranoid narcissistic men who install cameras all over and record their spouses every move. They want to find something on those recordings just as gun owners want a reason to use their gun.

    • I think that your last sentence is very important. They want to have an excuse to use their guns. Like Kyle Rittenhouse. Like those “stand your ground” people in Florida, I think. I am not sure that most of them have any sense of purpose in their lives, other than their hatred of “the other,” which is not just various people, but beliefs, anything that upsets them. Their guns give them the only sense of power that they have over a world that they cannot deal with in conventional ways. For them, the world comes down to them, their gun, their target.

      I can understand some of the limited appeal of shooting at inanimate targets. I went to a week-long summer camp once, and they had offered fishing and archery and rifle shooting. They didn’t do much of it, until the last day, when they had to get it all in so as not to get complaints, or demands for refunds. So my cabin got an hour or so where someone taught me how to hold a rifle to shoot at a target. I had never done it before, and I have never done it since. I abhor the concept of hunting. But I have good hand-eye coordination, and I did very well with my five target shots, and it was rather fun to do, just in an athletic test way. They do it, or used to, at the Olympics, I think they still do in pentathlon. But the idea of shooting to kill someone, even a human target, is warped humanity. Other animals only kill for food.

    • Well, I don’t personally own any firearms and don’t really have a desire to. However, I’ve had the opportunity to get acquainted with a few gun owners out here in the Mountain West (or the Mountain East as William would probably term it) and I’d say they’re a pretty diverse bunch. I don’t personally know any gun owners who are “itching to use them”, but I’m sure they exist. Most of the gun owners I know grew up in rural areas where guns were common and thought of as just another tool. Politically, they’re all over the place. My best friend, who is even more left-wing than I am, is paradoxically also a Life Member of the NRA (to be fair, he joined in his youth). I wouldn’t say he has a “gun fetish”. His dad took him hunting when he was a kid, so he was familiar with guns from childhood. He doesn’t hunt anymore, but does target shoot from time to time. He isn’t “itching to use” a gun anymore than he’s itching to use a hammer or a screwdriver.

      What makes perfect sense in a densely populated urban area with 2-minute police response time just may not make any sense at all in a sparsely-populated region where the cops may take 30 minutes to a couple of hours to answer an emergency call. And vice-versa, of course.

      According to Gallup, 31% of respondents say they personally own a gun, and 44% say they live in a household with at least one firearm. I suspect the 31% is low, because at least some gun owners would never tell a pollster they had one. Taken at face value, that’s over 100 million gun owners (and at least 400 million guns). If every gun owner was “itching to use” a gun, our firearm death statistics would be even worse (much worse, in fact) than they already are. There were about 19,000 firearm deaths in the US last year. That’s 0.019% of the number of gun owners (assuming Gallup’s numbers are right). Even in the worst case (assuming that each of those people was shot by a different gun owner and that Gallup’s polling is accurate), that means that 99.981% of gun owners didn’t shoot anybody, despite any “itching” they might have had to do so.

      Those >0.019% of gun owners are, however, a very serious problem. I’m just not sure that stereotyping the other <99.981% helps with the resolution.

      • And I see I flipped my “”. And I can’t fix it. Thank you, WordPress.

  3. Let’s face it: The Supreme Fart and the entire GOP are ABUSERS…
    name anything or person, and they abuse….
    Frankly, it’s time to hang that around their necks and stop the “my colleagues across the aisle” crap. The “colleagues” are not interested, they are faking their civility, when they even are civil…

  4. I do not know the history of the making of guns, so I am sure that there was some utilitarian purpose to the shape,

    Indeed there was. The bullet only accelerates while it’s being pushed down the barrel – once it leaves the barrel it starts to slow down due to air resistance (and fall due to gravity). .Ceteris paribus, the longer the barrel, the more time the bullet has to accelerate, so the higher the muzzle velocity and the greater the range (and the kinetic energy of the bullet when it strikes a given target). Also, because the distance between the front and rear sites is greater in a longer gun, aiming is more accurate. If the barrel is rifled, the bullet will also spin faster on exit, which means that conservation of angular momentum will keep it from wobbling in flight, making it still more accurate. That last factor helped win the American Revolution: the Hessians exclusively used smooth-bore muskets, which were much less accurate (and shorter range) than the newfangled rifles used by many of the colonists.

    It’s all physics, William.

  5. A very knowledgeable and helpful explanation!

    • I suppose from a military standpoint, the fact that a long gun with a bayonet has a very similar form factor to a spear is also an advantage – there are millennia of institutional knowledge concerning the deployment and usage of spears that would translate almost immediately. I think Heinlein made an observation about the similarity of a rifle with a bayonet to the old Roman pilium (the standard short spear of the Roman legions) in one of his books.

      • On second thought that might have been Jerry Pournelle, but it’s still an interesting observation.

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