When the New York Times editorial board issued its powerful condemnation of America’s gun culture, they went beyond mere outrage in response to the recent murder sprees in San Bernardino, California, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Times went so far as to suggest that “assault rifle”-style weapons should be banned from civilian ownership. As is our national ritual, President Obama also condemned gun violence, and just as he has been forced to do too many times during his tenure, pleaded that Americans must find a way to stop killing each other. The American people do in fact support stronger gun control laws; the NRA, functioning as the lobbying arm for the gun industry, opposes even the most basic common sense gun laws. The NRA wins while the American people die.
This is political intractability in a democracy broken by the power of a very well-funded interest group to subvert the public’s will. But, there is another little-discussed factor that helps to explain America’s obsessive and near pathological gun culture, unwillingness to treat gun violence as a public health crisis, Right-wing domestic terrorism, and propensity for mass shootings. It transcends all of those issues. But this factor is usually treated as verboten, something to not be unspoken of, because of the rage, threats of violence, and animus it inspires.
The common denominator is white masculinity and the particular ways that it is connected to American gun culture and the color line.