What It Do: Control Addicts

The ad for the Bushmaster .223 caliber semi-automatic assault rifle tells it all.

Displaying a weapon clearly designed to appeal to the Tom Clancy fantasies of (mostly) white men of a certain age, the caption reads, “Consider Your Man Card Reissued.”

Interesting that the makers of the Bushmaster perceived that their target market would, by default, feel as though their “Man Card” had been somehow suspended or revoked. And even beyond that, that they would be receptive to the notion that they could restore themselves to good standing by purchasing an assault weapon.

Not because they would ever be participating in any activity that would require an actual assault weapon. The kind of people who use assault weapons as part of their job—military Special Forces, SWAT teams, etc.—generally don’t need their masculinity validated by a glorified display piece.

It’s not that the Bushmaster can’t actually kill. We’ve been shown its lethal capacity twice in the past month. But it would hardly be the weapon of choice for anyone who isn’t a cowardly psychopath shooting at unarmed people.

People who purchase Bushmasters do so because it is a prop in their own personal control fantasy. In their minds, the security of their property and safety is under threat from some external force or event—be it gang bangers or the impending collapse of civilization—and the possession of firearms gives them a sense of control over the situation.

Having a Bushmaster, or any similarly designed weapon, allows one to engage in a self-delusion of empowerment. There are, of course, several deep problems with such thinking.

Most fundamentally, the threats that our Bushmaster buyers envision are often grossly exaggerated, if not completely imagined, as are their imagined capabilities of responding to said threats.

The fear is similar to the irrational panics that gripped people fearful of (non-existent) roving bands of violent Negroes during the civil rights era. In small minds, the anxiety living in our tumultuous and constantly changing times manifests as confusion and fear, and that must be transferred onto some sort of external enemy, whether that enemy actually exists or not.

For instance, the fear that the federal government will become—or reveal itself to be, depending on the level of paranoia—totalitarian and institute a weapons confiscation program in preparation for some unspecified horror. And a fully armed citizenry is essential to serve as a check against such developments.

Leaving aside the potential of the federal government to metastasize into something tyrannical, it is darkly humorous to contemplate the delusional arrogance of people who truly believe they could stand against cruise missiles and armored infantry with their arsenal of relative peashooters.

If the feds ever went full-on dystopian police state, effective resistance would not involve much in the way of firearms and violence. Not to say those things wouldn’t be present in abundance, but violence and chaos breed fear, and fear makes people easier to control.

Thus the genius of people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. in recognizing that non-violent resistance is the only thing that has any hope of effecting true change in human society, but I digress.

Of course, I don’t personally believe that there’s any real chance of our government—misbehaving beast that it may be at times—going down that road anytime soon, so it’s really just an intellectual exercise, anyway.

And that’s the point.

The valid reasons for private ownership of firearms—hunting and self-defense—do not require such weapons as the Bushmaster. A good hunting rifle is designed for range and accuracy, not for making its bearer look like a Special Forces wannabe. And, to the extent that firearms are actually useful for self-defense, a handgun is much more preferable.

The Bushmaster is sold for entertainment. Of course, the people that consume the entertainment don’t call it that, and would likely be very offended if you did so. But that’s what it is. It’s the fantasy of being in control, the fantasy of being more than your mundane self, manifested in an object.

And that’s fine, as far as it goes. Human beings have all sorts of issues they must sort through, and, in and of itself, purchasing weapons like the Bushmaster to make yourself feel more empowered is no worse than meeting up with your friends in the woods and dressing like World Of Warcraft.

The difference is that, with a firearm, what would otherwise be a harmless fantasy becomes a deadly tragedy when people lose the line between reality and fiction.

So whereas, in a world without guns, Michael Dunn—the asshole that shot a teenager in Florida for not turning down his music—would have merely been an ineffectual bigot who dealt with his self-loathing by directing it as rage and hatred towards non-white people, and lacked the self-awareness to maintain his hold on where reality ended and his paranoid delusions began.

Introduce a firearm and the idea that it can be used to resolve conflicts without real consequence, and you have a dead 17-year-old.

It’s clear that a widespread firearms ban is not going to happen, nor is it evident that such a thing would even be desirable. But a deeper understanding of ourselves and our relationship with guns would perhaps be a step in the right direction.