America’s Gun Culture is a Wimp Culture

Shooting an unarmed person because you’re afraid of a fistfight isn’t “manly.” It’s pathetic and weak.
 
On Monday, a fistfight nearly erupted on the Texas House floor after representatives got into a heated argument over SB 4, an “anti-sanctuary cities law” that will allow local police in the Lone Star State to ask for the papers of anyone they believe to be an illegal immigrant. At the center of this quarrel was Republican state Representative Matt Rinaldi, who represents the Irving area. Rinaldi apparently got flustered when a large group of protesters entered the chamber to express their opposition to SB 4. After watching Reps. Ramon Romero and Cesar Blanco acknowledge the demonstration, Rinaldi told his colleagues that he had put a call into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to report the protesters, who were largely Latino. This enraged Democrats and a shoving match ensued. During the melee, Rinaldi looked at Rep. Poncho Navarez and told him, “I’ll put a bullet in your head.” Rinaldi said he did this because Navarez threatened to beat him up in the parking lot, or something along those lines.

Texas state Rep. Matt Rinaldi (dark hair, red tie, lapel pin) threatened to shoot and kill his Latino colleague, Rep. Poncho Navarez, during an argument over Texas’ new “Papers Please” law, SB 4.

The following day, in Mansfield, Texas, a concealed handgun permit holder brandished a loaded handgun at another man in Rose Memorial Park (literally feet away from a playground where children were playing) because he was “provoked.” Apparently, this gun-toter said something inappropriate to a child in the park that caused him to be surrounded by an angry crowd. 
 
Back when I was growing up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s (I’m 46 years old now), it would have been utterly unthinkable to shoot someone over the prospect of a fistfight. Anyone threatening to do so would have been mocked and ridiculed immediately as a “coward,” “wimp,” and a five-letter word starting in ‘p’ that I am now too mature and civil to repeat. And it’s not like fistfights were uncommon. They happened fairly regularly in the schools I attended, from K-12 up through college, and outside school in the neighborhoods I lived in. Never, in any instance, did I see anyone seriously injured in these altercations. Scrapes and bruises were pretty common, black eyes and broken noses less so. The most typical worst-case scenario was wounded pride, which healed relatively quickly.

Still image of concealed handgun permit holder who brandished a loaded gun at Rose Memorial Park mere feet from a children’s playground. Park visitors had confronted the man over something he said to a child at the park.

Consider that in 2015, there were only 119 total blunt trauma homicides in the entire United States [CDC data queried via WISQARS tool]. That includes all blunt trauma homicides, not just those caused by hands or feet (“Struck By/Against” is the category). That’s a rate of 0.04% per 100,000 population — hardly an existential threat.
 
So how did we get to the point where America’s gun culture — a testosterone-obsessed underground that prides itself on rugged “manliness” — thinks that it’s OK to shoot someone because you’re afraid of being punched? The pro-gun movement now routinely describes such shootings as “justified,” and the NRA has pushed through “Stand Your Ground” laws in 26 states to defend shooters that kill unarmed parties when they “fear great bodily harm” (i.e., getting punched and kicked) — even when these shooters could otherwise walk away safely
 
The classic example, obviously, is George Zimmerman’s killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012. Zimmerman profiled and stalked Martin (who had committed no crime whatsoever) that night with a loaded gun, and then put a bullet through the teen’s chest when the two (allegedly) became engaged in fisticuffs in the apartment complex Martin lived in. Listening to pro-gun activists describe the shooting after-the-fact, you’d think that Martin had bashed Zimmerman’s head against the pavement so relentlessly that his skull cracked open like an egg. 
 
In reality, Zimmerman substantially outweighed Martin and endured no real injuries. First responders with Sanford Fire and Rescue merely cleaned cuts that Zimmerman had on his nose and the back of his head while he sat in the back of a police car (and without using a single bandage). That was it. These EMTs reported no evidence whatsoever of a concussion, swelling or bleeding of the brain, whiplash, and/or a broken nose. Zimmerman was asked repeatedly if he wanted to go to a hospital, but he declined.
 
American gun culture wasn’t always this gutless and dishonorable. Consider this passage about one of the central figures in America’s gun mythos, from Douglas Brode’s 2014 book, “John Wayne’s Way: Life Lessons from The Duke”:

The Duke turned down the role [in 1971’s] Dirty Harry because he didn’t approve or agree with Detective [Harry] Callahan’s extreme vigilantism, which included killing a serial-murder suspect rather than bringing the man in for trial. The John Wayne hero plays by the rules, even if he has to bend them from time to time in order to get the job done. [In 1975’s “Brannigan”] Wayne was [again] the perfect realist, rejecting extremes of idealism and cynicism. One early sequence in this contemporary cop film reveals just such an approach in action. In Chicago, Brannigan knows he needs to apprehend a minor crook before that sleazebag can dispose of the evidence. So he kicks open the door, catching the bad guy in the act … Brannigan even threatens to blow the little rat away if he doesn’t provide some important information. But here’s the difference between Wayne’s persona and that of Eastwood: The Duke’s gun is not loaded. And he would not shoot an unarmed man, no matter what, not even in this soiled modern world.
Gunslinging icon John Wayne was offered the part of “Dirty Harry” and turned it down. Wayne didn’t want to play a “rogue cop” who killed needlessly.

The message from Wayne was, “Always respect human life, even with those who rate as barely human,” says Brode.
 
Unfortunately, the same fears that gave us “Dirty Harry” (i.e., high violent crime rates, rioting by African-Americans in major cities in response to injustice, the omnipresence of serial killers, violent far left groups like the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground, etc.) triggered the “Cincinnati Revolt” inside the NRA in 1977, when hardliners took permanent control of the organization. What had once been a moderate organization focused on marksmanship and recreational shooting became a paranoid political lobby determined to convince every American that they were in grave danger and needed a firearm on their person 24/7.
 
Today, violent crime rates have dropped precipitously, but “63 percent of all gun owners say one of the primary reasons they own a firearm is for protection against people, while only 46 percent cited protection as the principal reason for gun ownership in 1994.” In the words of Deb Azrael, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, “What I see is a population that is living in fear. [Americans] are buying handguns to protect themselves against bad guys, they store their guns ready-to-use because of bad guys, and they believe that their guns make them safer,” against overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The fearmongering in modern-day speeches by the NRA crosses the line into outright absurdity. Consider these remarks by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre at the 2014 NRA Annual Meeting:

We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all. I ask you. Do you trust this government to protect you? We are on our own.

Forget the steely-eyed, brave gunslingers of the John Wayne era. The modern-day NRA contingent is so scared and weak-kneed it’s a wonder they’re able to leave their houses at all. 
 
It would be negligent to ignore the racial element that is also at play here. When LaPierre rants about “carjackers” and “knock-out gamers,” his target is clear: young men of color in our urban centers. Talk to any pro-gun activist and you will quickly hear them blame all gun violence in America on people of color. When LaPierre spoke at CPAC in our nation’s capital in 2011, he told those in attendance, “As soon as you leave this hall, your life is in jeopardy. Right outside these doors of this hotel, 30,000 wanted felons — including murderers, rapists and robbers — are walking free in Washington, D.C. The government hasn’t had time to serve their warrants.” Today’s gun-toters basically see our cities as active war zones — so great is their irrational fear of black Americans.

George Zimmerman arrives at the Sanford Police Department shortly after killing Trayvon Martin. First-responders determined Zimmerman did not require any treatment for injuries. Zimmerman outweighed Martin by 40 lbs.

Finally, it’s important to see modern gun culture as a perverse extension of traditional Southern “honor” culture. Recently, my Facebook friend Andrew McKenzie commented to me that, “Oftentimes, what people call ‘self-defense’ is less ‘saving me from dying’ and more ‘saving me from losing.’” There is a notion of losing face here. These men feel aggrieved and disrespected in today’s society and can’t stand the notion of a final affront to their public pride. Another one of my FB friends, A.J. Roth, talked about the underlying fears at play: “Men are so threatened by women and minorities who are out-performing them in education and on the job that they have resorted to barbaric physical attacks.”

Whatever the cause is, we need to make it clear to gun fetishists that they have no business telling us that the real problem in America is certain people (i.e., young men of color, women who have abortions, etc.) who have no regard for human life. If gun-toters value life themselves, it’s time for them to start demonstrating it in their day-to-day interactions. 
 
Additionally, in the face of one unnecessary shooting (or gun brandishing) after another, it’s time for all of us to state the obvious: No man who is actually brave would ever think of shooting another human being over a fistfight (or some other mundane physical altercation).

Until then, Gun Culture will be nothing more than a sociopathic Wimp Culture populated by chickens***s who can’t take a punch.