Most people purchase guns as fetish items. You’re probably already reacting from a defensive perspective to that statement: “My gun is not a fetish item! It’s a tool. A proud heritage. That which keeps me and my family safe.” And all of those things may very well be true, but is that why you purchased that gun? Or are those just the justifications? . . .
Before I go on, let’s talk a little bit about the word fetish. It’s a loaded word. To most people, it immediately invokes sexual fetishism, which inevitably pushes a lot of people out of their comfort zone. That meaning of the word is actually fairly recent, dating only back to the turn of the last century. Originally, the word fetish referred specifically to objects used by indigenous peoples of the Guinea coast as magical amulets.
As befitting its heritage as a word used to describe magical objects, the word holds similar power today. It’s used to refer to any object that carries unusual psychological weight. Imagine the difference between a gun and — arbitrarily — a stapler. Pick the right gun and the right stapler and they are of similar size, similar weight, and they are both broadly classified as tools. But which carries more psychological weight? Which is more celebrated in prose, in cinema, in song? You see my point.
Often gun owners are asked why they feel the need to have a gun when the chances of them needing to use it are so vanishingly small. A standard response is, “I don’t expect to have a fire in my house, either, but I have a fire extinguisher.” The not-so-subtle argument here is that a gun is a useful tool — just one that is not useful that often. Which is a fair enough point, but people don’t moon over their fire extinguishers the way they moon over their guns. You don’t read about people being “proud owners” of fire extinguishers. People don’t clean and polish their fire extinguishers regularly (most people can’t even be bothered to replace fire extinguishers on the recommended schedule). People don’t take their fire extinguishers out and gaze lovingly at them while they write articles for The Truth About Fire Extinguishers.
What’s ridiculous to me is not the fetishism — which I understand and support — it’s the desperate attempt to hide the fetishism. Perhaps people feel the need to hide the fetishism because it would make gun rights harder to support. It’s easier for a politician to take away your guns if you say “I own this because I’m fascinated by it” than if you say “I own this because I need it to defend my life and property.” And in the political fight for gun ownership rights, it is doubtless prudent to downplay the fetishistic nature of guns. The gun world is not devoid of people willing to confess to their motivations. You don’t have to look far on a gun forum to find someone saying “I have a gun because it’s wicked cool.” The point I’m trying to make is that is a much more common motivation than people are willing to admit.
I certainly own guns because they are fetish objects. I live in a very safe city and I suspect there’s about as much chance as me needing to engage in a DGU in my lifetime as there is of me winning the lottery (and if that happened, I would certainly have more guns). I have tried wrapping myself in the cloak of “reasons.” I have tried telling myself (and others) that I own guns for various high-minded reasons, such as self-defense or prophylactic against governmental tyranny. It has always felt false though, so now I tell people I own guns because I’m fascinated by guns.
I’m not criticizing you if your rationale for gun ownership is truly, deeply grounded in some noble reason. I’m just a proponent of self-knowledge and honesty. If you own guns because they are useful to you, know that deeply. If you own guns as fetish items, don’t be ashamed of it.
I also think the defensive rhetoric isn’t helping the “gun rights” cause. If you want to defend a cause, honesty is your best friend. Say what you will about the irrational thinking of “antis,” but they are not dumb people (any more than you are), and they can smell insincerity. By pretending to be something you aren’t, you are playing to a stereotype: brainwashed puppets of the NRA.
I am certainly not the first person to understand that guns are fetish objects. I particularly enjoyed Stephen Marche’s compelling article, “Guns are Beautiful.” Unfortunately, even though Marche may see the truth of gun fetishism, he connects gun fetishism to gun violence. He even starts his otherwise excellent article with the statement “to stop gun violence, we need to stop fetishising guns.” I may not agree with this assessment, but I agree with him that guns are beautiful.
Perhaps I’m wrong; I am not a sociologist with a clever experiment designed to prove my hypothesis, and I’m not sure what the value of such an experiment would be anyway. However, if I have made even one person examine their motivations, I don’t feel that my words are entirely in vain.
Perhaps some of you will even join me as self-described gun fetishists.