In attempting to make sense of things, one should always look to the insights of the wise and the experienced. But one should also heed the occasional ill-considered outbursts of loud-mouthed idiots, since these too can be quite enlightening. A ranting partisan sometimes gives the game away by thoughtlessly blurting out the cynical thinking behind their own lousy ideas. Such inadvertent and ill-advised slips make it far easier to emotionally reverse engineer partisan stances that more skilled advocates all too often succeed in dressing up as serious proposals.
When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 1994, Democratic representative Charlie Rangel reacted by exclaiming: “It’s not ‘spic’ or ‘(n-word)’ any more. (Instead Republicans) say ‘let’s cut taxes.'” Rangel’s remark underscored the absurdity of treating every policy difference as grounds for racial accusation by deploying the strategy in a ridiculous context, thereby exposing the emptiness of screaming “racist” at everything. His little eruption gave away the standard Democratic approach, and highlighted its absurdity.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, many area experts cautioned there could be no solution to the crisis so long as Vladimir Putin remained in power. Lindsey Graham then unhelpfully ran to every hot mic he could find and yelped himself hoarse demanding Vladimir Putin be assassinated. Graham’s asinine chest thumping only succeeded in making any would-be Putin assassin look like an American pawn.
A more recent example comes to us from a fairly reliable source of spontaneous stupidities: Geraldo Rivera.
A few weeks ago the topic of gun control came up on Fox News’ “The Five,” and this prompted Rivera to unleash a stream of emotionally infantile musings. “I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, there is no legitimate reason… to have an AR-15.” So intoned the man who just months before had pleaded only to prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from owning this particular kind of firearm. Be that as it may, Rivera’s outburst involved two elements: the first is that guns that look scary to Rivera should be seized from their lawful owners because Rivera once saw a gunshot wound, and this so traumatized him that the mere thought of anyone owning a firearm capable of inflicting such a wound is completely outrageous. So the civilian possession of commonly owned firearms should be forbidden to salve Rivera’s recollected trauma. Such narcissism scarcely merits refutation, but it’s worth noting as a psychological oddity. Childish emotional callbacks are not a sound basis for national policy.
But Rivera had more to share with his panelists: it seems he has solved the mystery behind the commercial appeal of AR-15-style firearms. It isn’t the firearm’s ergonomic design, ease of use, ease of cleaning, light recoil, or reliability that’s behind the sale of some 16 million units: it’s something much more vulgar. An AR-15, he scornfully observed “makes macho the people who possess it — oh look at me I’m a big deal.” So owning a firearm to which Rivera objects should be forbidden because such ownership is — in the seasoned judgment of a mature and sophisticated observer like Rivera — an adolescent masculine display that warrants nothing but mockery.
One might ask: Why waste any mental energy on the rantings of a fading carnival barker like Rivera? We have in the past pointed out the twisted priorities and barely hidden contempt that must animate a man who simply could not bring himself to see any policy implications in an egregious murder committed by an illegal alien, but never misses an opportunity to leverage isolated incidents to demand the forced disarming of all Americans. Yet it seems worthwhile to assess the merits of Rivera’s charge that gun ownership (at least of guns Rivera finds scary looking) is inherently pathological — a symptom of toxic masculinity — and that this pathology should be actively stamped out.
For one thing, it illuminates the arrogance that drives the gun-banning lobby. In the view of Rivera and his compatriots, the Second Amendment is not the codification of a natural right, it is an incomprehensible indulgence unwisely extended to a bunch of icky, low-rent people who are manifestly undeserving of any “right” that they might look somewhat silly exercising. This blatant, indiscriminate social contempt — this snobbery — is what lies at the core of Rivera’s bigoted remarks. But let’s for the moment treat Rivera’s outburst with more seriousness than it in fact deserves and ask: is this contempt justified?
Imagine a typical adolescent, a boy in his teens. He has taken an interest in guns, and imagines growing up to build a collection. He looks forward to spending time improving his marksmanship at the range. If his parents are supportive, they may get him a BB gun at a young age. As that boy grows, he learns gun safety, exercises responsibility, abides by the laws, and, as he grows older, he avoids doing anything in his life that might jeopardize his eventual full participation in the right the Second Amendment guarantees. This behavior is not that of a social menace.
Healthy masculinity involves the disciplined application of force to legitimate targets in appropriate ways at appropriate times to an appropriate degree. Gun ownership can be, and often is, a benign component in an individual’s growth into a mature and responsible person. Gun ownership, properly cultivated, is a worthy aspiration, and masculine accomplishment is not a disease. It is no accident that gun owners tend to be more law abiding than people who do not own guns.
The smearing and scapegoating of millions of lawful, responsible gun owners for crimes to which they do not in any way contribute while violent, feral urban criminals are coddled and released by anarchist district attorneys is just one instance of the ongoing political campaign to pathologize the normal and normalize the pathological.
People who might have started out in life like the adolescent described above do not deserve to be looked down upon and sneered at. They deserve the same basic respect our constitution extends to all free, responsible adults. They deserve a thoughtful defense when they are mocked and attacked, and they deserve — and should demand — a political voice.
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