Why do men love guns? When I write that, I am acutely aware of the fact that not every man owns or loves guns, and that not every woman is a pacifist. But when you look at the few studies that are available, one of them being the Pew Research Survey conducted in 2012, only 12% of women responded saying they owned a gun, while 37% of men did. This is surprising in a number of ways.
Guns offer women a sort of leveling ground, so you would assume that men would rely more on their strength, and women would be packing at all hours of the day to ward off a possible attack. What we are unable to do in combat with our strength and hands, we can make up for with a weapon. It could be that guns are marketed to men, or that they appeal to some sort of natural or learned masculine aggression. But the vast majority of gun owners are non-violent people, utilizing weapons as last offensive resorts to protect their loved ones and property.
Some men have employed weapons in stunts of mass violence, promoting a culture that fetishizes weapons and gleans a sort of personal power and strength from them. In the minds of mass killers, guns offer a justice they have not received from the society around them, and killing is justified. This twisted idea and promotion of gun violence is far from the norm, and a major reason that many law abiding citizens want to keep their weapons close.
Naturally we understand that guns do not make one man stronger than another in many of the ways that we value. They say nothing in particular about the inner character, intentions, courage, or stamina of a man. They are merely steel, lifeless machines that become what they will be in the hands of the person who bears it.
Most men have guns for one of a handful of reasons. Perhaps the most widely cited reason for them owning a gun is to protect their family or the community as a whole. It may be protection from a criminal, a raging lunatic, or an invading or tyrannical government. The desire and need for men to protect, to take on a warrior presence against the dangers of the world is not only masculine, but it is a commendable attribute when in the context of protecting family and community at the sacrifice of self.
Still, more men love to hunt and use guns as a means of provision. In the era of supermarkets and prepackaged chicken nuggets this reality is lost on many of us. Many are even disgusted by the idea of shooting a deer while they happily chomp away on a hamburger killed in a slaughterhouse. The reality is that men and their use of tools and hunting have kept us alive for most of history. Guns can be a means of provision, fulfilling an ancient role that men have had in societies throughout history.
A gun is powerful. It has the capacity to turn any man into a formidable giant, a force to be reckoned with. Strength is not necessary in most of our everyday lives. Injury can be avoided for the most part. There is no need for hand-to-hand combat anymore. In that sense, it can provide a bloated and even false sense of security to men who would otherwise never dare enter an argument or start a fight. The problem with this sense of strength is that when disputes are settled with fists, two men go home bruised. When a dispute's resolved with a firearm, someone may be gone forever.
Guns are all over the media from the time children are very young. The mass exposure to violence and killing is disturbing, but while the violence in media has been increasing for decades, killing in the West has decreased with time. The issue of gun control brings up a lot of discussion surrounding the obsession and necessity of firearms. We certainly shouldn't believe claims which imply men with guns are more violent, or that our culture is more violent because of guns. Statistics don't necessarily support that fact. A lot of men love guns. And although the gun certainly doesn’t make the man, a man with a gun can be a good thing.
Do you think gun culture is a healthy expression of masculinity?