In a recent article, ST described telling his family that he had obtained a concealed handgun carry license. His family was appalled by the notion and wasn’t shy about saying so. In particular, something his uncle said when he was lecturing ST about why he didn’t need the gun struck a chord with me. “A real man doesn’t need a gun to stand on his own two feet.” So right, and yet so wrong at the same time . . .
I knew this in my gut, but I was at a loss as to how to explain it in a more coherent manner. As I pondered this, I realized before I could deal with where the gun fit in, I needed to break down the core question first: what does it mean to be a Man?
This is hardly a new question and a great many answers have been found by different groups over the eons. What I came up with is, beneath all the various forms of socio-cultural machismo window dressing, it boils down to a few key elements: an open mind, emotional control, and honor.
A real Man keeps an open mind. Not only does he freely admit when presented with new information that show his earlier views to be wrong, he seeks out those holes and weak spots in his beliefs so as to repair, or if need be, rebuild them.
A real Man is the master of his emotions. He feels them and is influenced by them, yet they do not rule him. They are tools in his workbelt. He does not lash out in rage: his righteous anger keeps him standing defiantly in the breach where others fall or flee. He does not cower in terror: his fear is tempered into caution and prudence, and it fuels his strength when lives are on the line.
Above all, a real Man is honorable. Not the trappings of honor found in the codes of chivalry or bushido, but the real deal: someone who does what is right, regardless of personal cost. He stands by his word. He holds himself accountable for his actions, good and bad. When he hears lies, he speaks out against them. When he sees evil, he fights it.
And therein lay the answer. ST’s uncle would be correct if all men were Men, or at least strove to be. A gun does not make a man a Man, any more than a hammer makes a carpenter. Yet, while a carpenter can do most of his job without a hammer, and while there are certainly items besides a hammer he could use to pound in nails if need be, there will always be certain tasks for which it is just the best tool there is.
In the same way, if someone tries to harm me or my loved ones, or if I see a person being raped, or some lunatic shooting into a crowd, why should I have to settle for a loose rock, a pocket knife, or some other substandard tool? Why should I use anything less than the best tool for the job?
A real Man indeed does not need a gun to stand on his own two feet, or even to stand up against another Man. But the sad truth of the world is that not all men are Men, and there are monsters in the darkness that wear the semblance of Man. As Men, it is our duty to stand against those monsters wherever and whenever we encounter them. Sometimes the best tool is our words, others it is our votes. Sometimes it is simply the example we set for others.
And sometimes, however rarely, that necessary tool is a gun.