Every time there’s a shooting–which I assume we can all agree is far, far, far too often–the big argument about guns and gun rights rages across the nation (and to some degree, across the world). We all have our views on what should be done when it comes to changing gun laws, and I’m not going to talk about that here. What I’m going to talk about is something that I see happen regularly in the comments section of articles, and in various arguments/discussions in social media, when the anti-gun crowd or the “sensible regulation” crowd face off with the pro-gun crowd.
Almost invariably and inevitably, one of the anti-gun crowd calls one or all of the pro-gun crowd an “ammosexual.”
There’s a lot of general name-calling back and forth, and a hell of a lot of stereotyping, when it comes to this kind of heated political debate. Ad hominem attacks are never productive in any kind of debate, but this particular attack rubs me the wrong way for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with guns, and everything to do with how our culture sees sex and human sexuality.
Wiktionary defines the term as follows:
(US, Slang, Derogatory) A person obsessed with owning guns; a zealous supporter of the right to bear arms.
So why is the word “sexual” in there?
It’s because our culture–especially when trying to make things seem unseemly–loves to project a sexual element where it doesn’t necessarily exist, because we have a generally negative view of sex and sexuality.
The implication of the term “ammosexual” is not only that the person in question sexually fetishizes guns, but also that they are morally and even factually wrong for doing so. I’m going to unpack a lot of the things that are wrong with that.
First, it’s a conflation of two entirely different (if sometimes overlapping) things: a political stance supporting the right of people to own firearms, and a sexual fetish for firearms. I know many gun owners and pro-gun advocates, and I’ve never known one yet who seems to see their firearms in a sexual way. At the same time, I’m aware that there are people out there who are into gun kink, who use firearms to spice up their sex life the way that other people use whips, knives, or ropes. Believe it or not, the people in the latter category aren’t necessarily NRA members or gun rights advocates. They’re just people who have a certain kind of kink.
Having that kink does not mean that there’s anything wrong with them, nor that they are wrong about whatever side of the argument they’re on.
Moreover, the people throwing the term about do not–as far as I can tell–seriously believe that the people they’re hurling the word at actually do have any kind of kink when it comes to guns. They’re using the word as a hyperbolic insult, trying to shame people by insinuating that they’re into something kinky.
Because our society thinks that kink is shameful.
Because our society thinks that sex and sexuality is shameful.
But it’s not shameful, and it shouldn’t be shameful (unless your particular kink is being shamed, and you’re engaging in consensual play).
In a conversation about guns and violent crime, people are using sexuality as an insult to try to shame the other side into submission. It’s not simply an attack on the people targeted by the word; it’s also an attack on sex in general, kink more specifically, and gun kink directly.
Worse, this kind of thing usually comes from leftists/liberals/progressives, the kind of people who are supposed to be more enlightened when it comes to sexuality.
A similar situation is the idea that men who own guns must have small penises. I haven’t done a survey to see if there’s any truth to this, and nobody else has either, because the claim/insinuation doesn’t hinge on truth–it hinges on shame. It’s an attempt to shame and insult gun owners, not to do anything else. So it’s probably not true, but let’s pretend that it was true for just a moment. Let’s pretend for a moment that if a man owns a gun, for some reason that’s because he has a small penis.
Should men with small penises be non-consensually and publicly shamed for their bodies? Is that what we want to accomplish in our online political arguments? Is that any better than when a man dismisses what a woman has to say on a political subject by calling her “fat,” “ugly,” or “mannish?”
Body shaming is body shaming, and body shaming is bad.
Especially when the body shaming in question directly feeds the kind of toxic masculinity that is at the heart of much of the gun violence that we’ve been seeing, the tropes we have about manhood, and what it takes to be a Real Man. Accusing a gun owner of having a small penis relies on the assumption that any man with a small penis can’t be a Real Man. Considering the fact that the key traits of a spree shooter is that they are almost always males who are concerned with or caught up in societal notions of what masculinity is, I don’t think that attacking their penis size is a productive way to defuse or discuss anything.
Whatever we as a nation or a planet ultimately do with guns, we need to make our ideas of masculinity more inclusive, and our ideas of how men deal with shame more productive. What we do NOT need to do is to shame more people, and to reinforce existing prejudices about sex, sexuality, and sex organs.
[As a final note, I’ll point out that there are people who self-identify as an “ammosexual,” typically for the same sort of “fuck you” reclaiming reasons why Americans like the song Yankee Doodle, why some women (or men) self-identify as a “bitch,” and so forth. That doesn’t affect the nature of this post, which is not about people self-identifying, but is specifically about people applying the term to others without their consent, as a pejorative.]