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Infantilization of firearms
February 10, 2013 - Harry Eagar
In 1950, when I was 4 or 5, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church held a bazaar, and there was a raffle for a Hopalong Cassidy two-gun cowboy outfit. I didn't win, but I was so bitterly disappointed that my Aunt Elizabeth, who couldn't afford it, bought me one.
In 1950, all the little boys had toy guns, but almost all of us grew up and put them away. A few of us, hunters, acquired real guns. They were, and looked like, sporting arms. In the '60s, you could buy military semi-automatics from surplus stores for a few dollars. Gun nuts then spent a lot of time and effort sporterizing them to look like expensive hunting arms.
They cut down stocks, blued the metal and altered the sights. It would not have been cool to go into the field or to the range (not that many of us could afford to waste ammo at a range) with a cheap military weapon.
“Tactical” was then, and for long after, a technical term used by soldiers.
1960 was the year I first encountered a dangerous gun nut. Up to that point, all the people – all older than me – who had firearms, so far as I knew, had them as tools and treated them the way a workman treats his other tools. They were much too casual about where they kept them, and about leaving them loaded, but they did not worship them any more than they did hammers and screwdrivers.
There must have been crazy gun-drunks and paranoid nuts, but until I got to high school, I had not encountered any. Then I met John, and I briefly thought we were friends.
I knew John had long guns and that he customized them; his fingers were always stained with bluing.
We all wore uniforms at St. Pius X High School, so nothing in his dress revealed John as a crank, and in company he seemed conventional.
One day, he invited me to his home. John showed me his workbench and explained what he was doing to an array of carbines and military rifles. So far, so good.
I was shocked and disgusted when we went to his room, which was full of Nazi stuff. John played me speeches by Hitler – something not readily obtained by a 13-year-old in Georgia in 1960 – and sang the Horst Wessel song. He went on a tirade, in mixed German and English, that I couldn't follow, except that he kept spitting out the word “Juden,” in a voice filled with hate.
I began to think of John's hobby of sporterizing military firearms in a different way. That was the first time I had ever thought of firearms in a less than positive light. (I have elsewhere written that I stopped hunting when it dawned on me that all the people in the field with me were drinking and that might not be the safest kind of recreation; but that came later, when I was 17.)
It was the South. Guns were everywhere. I don't recall anybody talking about Second Amendment rights (never duties) before I got to college. Then it was generally in the context of defending the home, although the American Opinion bookstore was around the corner from the rooming house I lived in, and I was aware that there were Birchers arming themselves against the day the commies started their putsch. But the college boys didn't talk like that.
The zealots, the “red berets,” talked about the short work they would make of the gooks when they graduated and got their ROTC commissions, although I noted that when we cadets were asked to list our three preferred branches of the Army (one of which had to be a combat arm), nobody but me listed a combat branch higher than third.
The red berets were my first close encounter with the infantilization of firearms, except the red berets weren't issued any live ammunition for their M-14s. The real weaponeers on the campus held them in contempt.
I knew the rifle team, which the red berets invited to play the “enemy” in a “tactical exercise.” Some of the riflemen were veterans, or at least in the National Guard. The exercise used flour sacks to mark targets. The riflemen massacred the red berets.
In college, there was no school uniform, so if you wanted to signal your politics by dress, you could. But still at that point, people who had firearms or who cared particularly about the Second Amendment did not dress the part.
You begin, I think, to get my drift, so let's jump forward a few decades.
Today, you can go to Uncle Jesse's on Maui and buy “tactical” anything. Camo underwear, for example.
How weird is that?
Silly, but a sign of a more profound delusion. Camo underwear is, in fact, the gun nut version of the Batman underwear that 5-year-olds wear. Batman everything, camouflage everything. It reveals a disproportion in thinking and outlook that people leave behind when they grow up.
The new meaning of the word “tactical” signals the same infantilization. Just as the 5-year-old obsessed with Batman had, in addition to his Batman underpants, Batman bedclothes and a Batman lunchbox, today's infantilized gun nuts put camo on everything – underwear, flashlights, trucks.
If the object of their affections weren't something that has been used millions of times to kill Americans, no one would care, any more than we do more than merely smile at the sports nut who paints his truck with Steelers insignia, drinks out of Steelers mugs, wears a Steelers shirt etc.
The conversation about firearms – which was not much of a conversation in 1950 – has become a heated, childish, dangerous delusion, like the idea that caped crusaders protect the city from evildoers. The conversation about firearms – from the gun nut side, anyway – is equally delusional, with extremists strapping on guns and donning camo and “guarding borders” and stalking black teenagers in condominium developments and carrying semi-automatics into church services.
Significantly, the practice of sporterizing military weapons has been reversed. Now people hunt defenseless deer with rifles that are, functionally, the same sportsman's weapon of my youth but are now decorated to look like submachine guns.
Non-gun nuts are frightened by these “assault”-looking guns, as the gun nuts intend. The gun nuts jeer and say, correctly, that the Bushmaster is no more deadly than an M-1 carbine or a Remington deer rifle.
The most popular long gun in the country, the Bushmaster, is marketed as a way to “reclaim your man card.” The infantilization is in full scream.
I have not addressed the issue of sexual anxiety. The Bushmaster ads confirm the idea that guns are substitute penises for men who are worried their natural equipment is substandard.
But extreme and long-lasting sexual anxiety is also a marker of the infantilized personality.
Probably all this was latent in the gun culture I was introduced to around 1950. What has changed is that what was latent is now celebrated.
It's true, as the Wayne Lapierres say, that banning assault-looking guns would not prevent, or even slow down, a mass murderer who could do as much damage with a sportsman's style hunting rifle.
The conclusion they draw, though, is incorrect. If what they say is true, then what needs to be banned is the semi-automatic.
I hunted with a single-shot .22 rifle. That's all you need for varmints.
The gun nuts are being successful in distorting the source of the mayhem. It isn't long guns. It's pistols.
It isn't resistance to government tyranny. It isn't defense of the home or the person.
The issue is the excessive access to and use of firearms in everyday settings.
In law, there is a concept calling balancing the interests. The idea is Millsian – try to do the least amount of harm overall.
Repealing the Second Amendment would harm genuine sportsmen, and in rare – exceedingly rare – instances stop a law-abiding citizen from using a firearm to protect himself. On the other hand, disarming the population would cut out the slaughter of millions of our fellow citizens.
It's the grown-up thing to do.
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