June 16, 2016

I Want an AR-15

Modified AR-15According to The Washington Post, the alleged gunman in the Orlando shooting did not use "an AR-15-type assault rifle" as the Orlando police initially reported; he used  a Sig Sauer MCX rifle, which is not part of the AR-15 family. Many people are still unaware of this, and I figured few would know what I was talking about if I said I wanted an MCX. And besides, I'd rather have an AR-15.

So yeah, I'll admit it. I want an AR-15. I'd never actually buy one, mind you. They are expensive, and I am ridiculously cheap. And I know full well that if I had one, I'd probably never even shoot it. It would likely end up mounted on a wall where it would do little more than collect dust. It would be a complete waste of money. Me wanting one, then, is clearly not rational by any stretch of the imagination.

So, why do I want one? I want one because they are cool. At least, they look cool. People holding them look cool. I have seen countless movies and TV shows in which the good guys use them and have looked cool while doing so. Therefore, they must be cool. Yes, I know this is coming off as a bit flippant. I'm sorry about that. I'll try to be more serious now.

I have lived in the U.S. for my entire life. I have been exposed to countless hours of television and film, the vast majority of which has depicted guns like the AR-15 in a positive light. Starting with footage filmed by news reporters in Vietnam shortly before I was born and going right up to the present day, I have been surrounded by positive images of guns and those who use them. This is also a culture in which I was taught from an early age that those who serve in the military are heroes, heroes who use guns like the AR-15. Good guys and guns have been paired so many times in so many ways that this association has been seared into my mind.

As a young boy, I read comic books, many of which pictured guns. I had "action figures" (i.e., dolls with guns). I ran around my neighborhood with realistic toy guns playing with friends who also had realistic toy guns. We watched cartoons that often included guns. When we went shopping with our parents, we saw real guns for sale in the local stores. Some of our parents had a gun or two in the house; some of our parents let us shoot it. Some kids had BB guns. Some even went hunting with a parent and killed animals. I do not think it would be much of an exaggeration to say that guns and gun-related imagery were as pervasive as automobiles.

By the time I hit junior high, I had developed clear preferences for the sort of thing I liked to watch on TV or the sort of movies I wanted to see. And that preference tended to involve action, which inevitably meant guns. While my earliest exposure to media depictions of guns was fairly passive, I now had a taste for the sort of entertainment media that included guns. And why wouldn't I? It was fast-paced, exciting, masculine, and these were all the things my culture had been socializing me to be interested in. I thought the A-Team was the greatest thing on TV, and if you had asked me what movies I most wanted to see, I probably would have mentioned Rambo or Red Dawn.

But I'd eventually grow up, right? To some degree, yes. But for the most part, I'm still waiting for that to happen. I still like action movies even if I don't watch them nearly as often as I once did. My immediate gut-level reaction upon seeing depictions of guns is still more positive than negative. When I run across images one of my liberal friends has posted on Facebook of someone carrying an AR-15 in a crowded area for the purpose of mocking "gun nuts," my immediate reaction to the gun is almost always "cool." It is only after my the rational part of my mind eventually kicks in that I can agree that openly carrying one's AR-15 in this setting is silly, threatening, or whatever else.

Does any of this mean I would not support a ban on assault-style weapons (most of the AR-15s available for civilian use in the U.S. are not assault rifles, but they can be described as "assault-style")? Nope. But it does mean that I think we've got our work cut out for us if we want to change the many aspects of our culture that glorify guns like the AR-15 and the people who use them. And my guess is that this is not something the majority of Americans have much interest in doing, including many who support increasing gun restrictions.
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