“Dirty” Harry Callahan had his .44 Magnum while James Bond preferred the sleeker Walther PPK. John Rambo and Tony Montana preferred larger automatics—the M60 E3 and M16 respectively. Omar Little and Ash Williams touted shotguns. And countless other action icons wield some type of Glock as their go-to firearm.
For decades now, possessing the bigger and badder gun has been a sign of toughness in American culture, most often associated with “manliness.” Real men not only own guns, they own the biggest, most effective ones; they master their uses; they fetishize them.
Now while not all or even most gun owners and/or opponents of further gun regulation abide by these cultural traits, there does remain a faction within this group, a vocal and powerful one at that, which embodies this notion of manliness as equivalent to firearm possession.
Yet for all this bravado, whenever I witness or encounter these “real men,” these “tough guys,” all I ever see is fear. Instead of the toughness many of these men claim to exude many times all I see are paranoia, anxiety, and insecurity seeping through their well-constructed facade.
Nowhere was this clearer than during the testimony of Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son was murdered in the Newtown massacre. During his heartfelt speech, Heslin asked why an average citizen would need to possess “assault-style weapons or military weapons or high capacity clips.” In response a number of audience members yelled out second-amendment-related heckles.
In these individuals I saw no courage. I just saw fear. Fear that someone is going to take their guns away, leaving them powerless and unprotected. Of what are these people so afraid?
Much else of the rhetoric from these gun zealots also derives from fear. Some have argued against banning assault weapons because law-abiding citizens would need them to protect their home against the government and/or groups of thugs that may attempt to attack their home. When the issue of gun registration comes up, they also argue that the time “wasted” in this process leaves the hypothetical defenseless female home alone unable to protect herself and her children from the inevitable raping and murdering marauders that patrol their neighborhood. (I’d like to know what area of the United States these people are living in where this is a common occurrence.)
This is all the language of fear and paranoia. This isn’t “manliness” or bravery. It isn’t courageous to uncontrollably interrupt a grieving father’s speech to legislators, no matter how much you may disagree with his policy positions. It isn’t heroic to seethe at the mouth and delve into paranoiac dystopian fantasies about the government or bands of hooligans trying to murder you if certain gun control legislation were passed.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy many of these earlier movies I mentioned and admire varying aspects of their protagonists. But I realize that what makes these individuals heroic or powerful or brave is not what gun they tout. The possession of a gun in and of itself does not make one courageous. Often times, it can be the mark of cowardice—of those afraid of the world and its real and imagined evils, of those who choose to suckle off their firearm’s calming sense of security as a baby suckles at its mother’s teat. And that’s how I look at those who shout out at grieving fathers or ramble on about President Barack Obama transforming into Black Hitler and killing them all in FEMA camps. I see them as they truly are — scared, insecure babies.
There are and were countless brave men and women who have wielded firearms and other weapons as a means to support their causes. But we as a people would be mistaken to believe that courage and heroism derive from the possession of a weapon or from a monopoly of violence. Heroism is not enacted by frantically waving the biggest weapon at unseen, unsubstantiated enemies in a hysterical and futile attempt at supreme physical security.
Real courage, real toughness comes from a set of ethics and principles. Real heroism is displayed when individuals stand tall, with or without a weapon of violence, in the face of all odds, in the face of certain failure, in the face of overwhelming violence, in the face of death and still hold true to their beliefs, their ideals of justice and humanity. Real valor comes when a person will fight for these ideals regardless if they have a firearm or not. Whether with sword, a rock, their bare arms, their voice, their spirit, their wit—a mark of true mettle is fighting for your ideals, within a code of ethics, no matter what the odds are and no matter how long it takes to achieve them.
In Rudyard Kipling’s poem If he describes various attributes that makes one a true “man,” or in other words, converting that term out of those sexist times, what makes one truly mature and valiant. Kipling wrote “if you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you, except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”
If Kipling was right, it is not the shouting gun zealots who embody braveness, courage, and heroism.
It is Neil Heslin.
Image courtesy of Phiseksit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net