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Owning a Gun Makes Me Masculine and Powerful: Firearm Ownership Relieves Feelings of White Male Insecurity, Meaning Racism and Guns Are Inextricably Entwined.


There is a hidden and disturbing aspect to the national obsession with owning guns.  Three percent of the people own half of the guns, which means that a few people have a large number of firearms each.  These unusual people are overwhelmingly white, mostly male, and usually rural.  The most disturbing part is the connection between the character of these gun owners and their obsession with stockpiling arms.  The possession of a firearm makes a white male feel more powerful and assuages his fear of being robbed of what is “rightfully” his… even though his net worth is rather small.  He feels that brown invaders are going to come and steal his precious possessions, although he owns little other than ammunition.

They’ll probably rape his wife too, and then kill them all.  The movie “In Cold Blood” had a powerful effect on elderly rural whites, but long before that, during the Civil War, there were many episodes of that kind involving soldiers and civilians alike in pillage and rapine, sometimes simply because of starvation.  “Racial memory” of atrocities haunts those who dwell in rural houses far from their neighbors.

Modern insecurity is different: poorly educated white males often lose their livelihoods and have nothing but time to brood over their ill fate.  This has occurred more and more over the last forty or fifty years, in waves with factory and retail closures and the disappearance of entire industries.  Employment in the US steel industry collapsed between 1975 and 1999, from 521,000 to 153,000.  The coal mining industry employed roughly 175,000 men in 1986 and 52,000 in 2016 (this compares to an all-time high of 883,000 in 1923.)  (Wikipedia)

The problem is that the system in this country has both created the insecure white man and provided him with a means to relieve his anxiety: the immediate presence of a loaded firearm.  The insecure white man is motivated by racism and poverty: he doesn’t have enough stuff and he is afraid that brown people are coming to take it from him.

This is the situation that obtains and there is nothing that can be done to change it, unless we relieve the victims of perceived persecution: the white male.  Nonwhite, mostly nonmale, nongunowners will congregate in cities where the police will be forced to protect them from the depredations of gun owning thugs (including some of the policemen themselves.)  Of course, the gun collectors will probably stay in their compounds out in the country and avoid venturing into the city where they might meet their imagined enemy.

The key to real relief of this situation is to provide real security for the people: jobs, money, and protection from thieves and assault.  A nationwide jobs program that gives everyone who can work (especially poor white men without educations) a job with a living wage– coupled with a welfare program that gives everyone who cannot work basic security: food, housing, medical care.  The cost of this program will be large, but if successful will be rewarded with dramatic growth in gross domestic product, median household income, and lifespan– sufficient to support dramatic improvement in the economy.  Unfortunately, this program will not increase the incomes of those who are already wealthy– it will cost them money, in taxes.  But it will be worth it to reduce the death rate from firearms and to reduce the number of mass shootings (besides making many people happy by easing their poverty.)

A comprehensive program includes mental health evaluation and treatment, starting in grade school with emphasis on identifying those who might become isolated enough and vengeful enough to precipitate violence.  All this costs money, and money means taxes.  It won’t be good enough to protect our country from military invasion with a huge army and modern nuclear missiles if society is falling apart from the inside.

(By the way, I oppose a national gun-confiscation campaign because it will play directly to the fears of the alt-right.  It is inefficient to attack this problem with weapons that simply provoke more paranoia.)

Therefore, the national obsession with low taxes will have to be changed.  I suggest an intensive propaganda campaign that emphasizes the duty of the wealthy to protect civil society and prevent internecine violence.  Yes, it’s a liberal idea that is anathema to the conservatives who control the national conversation.  This means the propaganda of the extreme right wing will have to be drowned out.  Intensive propaganda efforts are needed to speak louder than the NRA and the National Enterprise Institute, among others.  Propaganda costs money: Tom Steyer, are you listening?

(photo courtesy of and jabbacake)

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