For the Love of Guns: How Racism Drives Insecure White Men’s Attachment to Deadly Weapons

The shooter in Gilroy, California, was a white supremacist who used a legally purchased assault weapon to commit an act of terrorism.

The shooter in El Paso, Texas, is a white supremacist who legally purchased the AK-47 he used to shoot 20 people dead.

The shooter in Dayton, Ohio, was a self-described ‘leftist’ white misogynist who used legally purchased weapons to cause mayhem.

White, male, and insecure is, unfortunately, a more common description of mass shooters in America than not. Newsweek reported last year 54% of mass shootings in America were conducted by white men. White men who are insecure because they fear the loss of white, male privilege are the perpetrators of the majority of mass killings in this country, but simply being white, male and insecure is not enough to commit mass shootings. For that, insecure white males need one additional thing: the weapons of mass murder. That’s what the NRA, an organization comprised of insecure white people, is for.

As we as a country try to deal with the recent tragedies, and as we try to cope with having become a country where the right to bear arms exists at the expense of the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I want to draw our attention to a set of instructive academic studies discussed by the Scientific American. The studies use data to confirm what many of us have intuitively known: stockpiling of guns and the affinity to guns is a white male thing, and specifically, an insecure white male thing.

A Harvard study found that in the past decade, the sale and manufacturing of firearms have exploded, while the percentage of American households with guns has remained stable. The study shows that a small minority of gun owners - insecure white men terrified of the loss of their privilege in a rapidly diversifying society and workplace - are stockpiling small armories.

White male economic anxiety - a direct consequence of white male economic entitlement - is directly related to the white male love of guns. White men feel entitled to “a good job”, and they see immigrants and people of color (read: competition) as a threat, and they see guns as a security to protect themselves and their families against threats. The loss of a job - actually, the perceived loss of economic privilege - badly bruises the white male ego, and in guns they seek to find their lost respect.

We found that white men who have experienced economic setbacks or worry about their economic futures are the group of owners most attached to their guns,” says [Baylor University sociologists Paul] Froese. “Those with high attachment felt that having a gun made them a better and more respected member of their communities.

Gee, it’s almost like certain people are trying to cling to guns

The set of criteria that describes the segment of the population with the greatest affinity to guns appear to be exactly the same for that of the Donald Trump base. The criteria are as follows:

“[white] men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears. They tend to be less educated. For the most part, they don’t appear to be religious.”

Shocking exactly no one, people who have not grown up with the most expansive form of privilege in American society, do not suffer from this tiny penis syndrome.

That wasn’t true for women and non-whites. In other words, they may have suffered setbacks—but women and people of color weren’t turning to guns to make themselves feel better.

Again and again, we keep coming back to this: gun violence and mass shootings exist at the unholy intersection of two awesomely negative social forces: racism and access. In fact, it is clear that the same fear and ideology that drives people at Trump rallies to laugh about shooting Mexicans also motivates them to purchase, stockpile, and ultimately use, weapons of mass murder. The fear and anxiety that “other” people are taking the jobs white men believe is their birthright.

This level of desperate hate does not exist for women and people of color for a simple reason: they have never had the same level of entitlement. Working twice as hard to get half the credit is more the norm for us.

Today, America stands at a crossroads with a president who effectively stokes these fears in insecure white men, whipping them to a frenzy. He tells them not simply that they are right to blame black and brown people for their loss of economic privilege, but far more sinister, at every step Donald Trump tells his legions of followers that they are right to assume that they and they alone are entitled to economic privilege without competition from ‘others’. 

Today, America is paralyzed by a Republican party and a Russian-backed NRA that benefit from these emotions of insecurity and racism in white men - both at the gun dealership and at the ballot box.

That is why today, those of us who count ourselves as advocates for gun safety, for racial justice, and for economic fairness must be careful not to fall into the same traps. We must not buy into the idea that immigrants are drag on society (like Bernie Sanders thinks), we must not convince ourselves that ‘white economic anxiety’ is anything but racism, we must welcome and not reject international trade that fosters global growth and prosperity. Because we will not beat Donald Trump if we try to kowtow to the same fears Donald Trump stokes in the same set of people he inspires.

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