Sunday, June 02, 2019


Back in 2013, Walter Kirn published an essay in The New Republic defending gun ownership. What made the piece stand out -- not in a good way -- was Kirn's choice to eroticize gun use. Kirn wrote this, seemingly as foreplay:
Growing up around guns and owning them as an adult affords a person memories and experiences that strangers to guns may have trouble understanding. The divide is phenomenological, not political (or not political until it gets to be), like the gulf between those who've had sex and those who haven't or those who smoke and those who've never lit up. Pulling a trigger and being prepared to do so cuts patterns in the self.
Then things got hot and heavy:
They push back when they're fired. That's the elemental fact involved, the deep Newtonian heart of the whole business. They kick at your will in the instant they also project it, reminding you that force is always two-sided. It's a shock the first time, an insult to the senses, but once you've learned to expect it, absorb it, ride it, recoil becomes a source of pleasure. You're up on your board turning turbulence to flow. You want to do it again, again—again!—and the urge becomes part of your body, your nervous system. It feels as though it was always there, this appetite, this desire for a small, acute struggle that you can win. Win consistently. Repeatedly.


When I shoot at the range, I don't feel personally powerful but like the custodian of something powerful. I feel like a successful disciplinarian of something radically alien and potent. Analyze this sensation all you want; you still can't make it go away....

We're not talking rights here; we're talking instincts.
I wrote a post in response and gave it the title "Walter Kirn's Fifty Shades of Gun." That still seems appropriate.

This weekend, the opinion section of The New York Times has published a long essay on guns with a similar erotics. Sadly, it's by a man who began thinking about guns after his son was killed in a shooting a quarter century ago.

Gregory Gibson was, for many years, a traditional anti-gun activist. Then he began to believe that he couldn't be an effective advocate for changes in gun laws until he understood what it felt like to be a shooter himself. So he bought a gun and took firearm safety training (required in his home state of Massachusetts if he wanted a firearm license). It was during the training that guns began to get to Gibson:
Somehow, during the live-fire part of the course, an empty brass casing — probably from the pistol of the student next to me — found its way into the right pocket of the vest I’d worn to class. I didn’t discover it until that afternoon, when I put my hand in the pocket and pulled out an expended .22 shell. I put it back in my pocket, and every time I stuck my hand in there I rolled the little brass cylinder around in my fingers. This produced an excitement from a place I could not identify.
The place? I think I could identify it.

Gibson selects a "stubby" Ruger 9-millimeter handgun for purchase. After the conclusion of his federal background check and a check of his state license, he obtains the gun. Now he acknowledges the illicit thrill.
Then I knew precisely the word for the feeling that shell casing gave me every time I felt for it in my vest pocket. The word was “transgressive” and the effect was steroidal. I was the father of a gun-murdered child and I had taken a gun course and obtained a gun license and purchased a gun. I wasn’t supposed to be doing this, but I was doing it anyway.
Yes, he's been carrying around that shell casing that flew into his pocket during training. The caption to a photo accompanying the essay tells us that he carries it around to this day.

Gibson had a son who was murdered with a gun. He also had -- we learn this only from a photo caption -- a daughter who committed suicide with a gun. And now he treats a shell casing as ... what shall we call it? A fetish object?

Gibson acquires a second gun, but he's not satisfied with either. Then a firearms instructor makes a recommendation, and Gibson makes another purchase:
I took the Ruger and the .40 down to the gun shop and swapped them for a Sig Sauer P320 chambered in 9 millimeters — identical to the gun Jerry had lent me — and went home feeling a little loopy. Like falling in love for the first time, at least in the sense that I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I liked that gun. I wanted it.
We've started a piece about a man who might understandably have wanted to master the thing that had killed two of his children, and now we're reading soft porn.

Or maybe it's a romance novel, because Gibson questions his desires:
What I was doing was wrong and it seemed wrongest when I had a gun in my hand, as happened one Saturday afternoon during one of Jerry’s training classes. We were between drills when the feeling came upon me. I stuffed gleaming brass slugs into their magazines as if I were fingering prayer beads and tried to talk myself down. I’m learning about guns so I can better understand the problem of gun violence in America, which will enable me to do a better job advocating against it. (Whatever “it” was — a riddle that grew more complex the more I learned.)
Gibson discusses the notion of arming teachers to prevent school shootings with others in the gun community; he delves into the writings of Dave Grossman, who sees gun owners as the "sheepdogs" protecting unarmed "sheep" in American society from psychopathic "wolves." What he never seems to do is say to himself, If I keep shooting guns because I'm horny for them, I should stop, shouldn't I?

He doesn't stop. He still shoots and he still regards himself as an advocate for gun control; he's acknowledged that shooting is an amour fou for him, but he's still in thrall.

The New York Times decided we need to read this, at a length of more than 7,500 words.


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