I seem to have a streak going of looking at buzzwords and catchphrases, so I might as well keep the streak going. I ran headlong into a discussion on Twitter and came out of it a little worse for wear. Social media debates are often won and lost that way because one side ends up tag teaming the other side. In this case I was in the minority.
The debate was over Kyle Rittenhouse and whether he acted in self-defense. The notion at first blush seemed ludicrous. They made their points and based on nothing but their points it seemed like a logical argument. The fact that I pushed back seemed illogical to them. I was the worst guy they had ever met on Twitter. Hyperbole aside, it took me awhile to finally discover where the breakdown in logic came.
The buzzword for today is “toxic masculinity.” This term is a bit ironic considering it was Rittenhouses’s own mother thet drove him there. She was also photographed carrying a big gun on the scene as well. So, maybe masculinity is not the term we are looking for. However, we are clearly looking for something toxic.
Toxic masculinity is defined as “traditional cultural masculine norms that can be harmful to men, women, and society overall; this concept of toxic masculinity is not intended to demonize men or male attributes, but rather to emphasize the harmful effects of conformity to certain traditional stereotypes.“
It’s difficult to put my finger on what I’m trying to describe. However, I felt it very acutely during that discussion. I was less than a man. I have to admit that I don’t fit the traditional male stereotypes. Sure, I’m married and have a child. Sure, I like sports and sometimes watch the occasional action movie. Yet, I don’t fit other stereotypes. I don’t work on things around the house. My hobby is writing. I also don’t own a gun and will never allow one in my house.
It’s that last one that created a divide between me and those guys I was debating with. On the one hand, I was less than a man because I’ve never fired a gun. On the other hand, they couldn’t possibly understand what it must be like for a crowd to witness people openly carry guns into a potentially dangerous situation. They couldn’t possibly fathom what was going through their heads. People that openly carry probably don’t bother to think about such things.
They don’t understand that this is literally the only issue I have ever been militant about in my relationship with my wife. They don’t understand why. They probably think it’s because I’m scared of guns. They would partially be right. It’s really about all of the bad things that can happen with a gun in comparison with the few things that can go right.
I debated using the term “gun culture” to describe this phenomenon. However, that doesn’t fully encapsulate it either. I know plenty of people that own guns. Some of them hunt. Some of them target shoot. Some of them want them for protecting their home and family. I respect all of these reasons and before anyone runs off half cocked, you should remember this statement.
However, this scene wasn’t just about owning a gun. It wasn’t about going hunting for the weekend or practicing at the range. It was about a lot more than that. It was about private citizens taking it upon themselves to “defend” something they had no business defending. It wasn’t their job. It’s not their job.
This is usually when one of them would pipe up and ask whether the rioters have any responsibility here whatsoever. Of course they do. However, most of these situations were under control prior to the militia groups getting involved. Still, this is a lot more simple than that. Openly carrying a gun is not a neutral act. It is a provacative act. The bigger the gun the bigger the provocation. It is designed to make me feel afraid and it is designed to make the carrier feel powerful.
So, to say Rittenhouse didn’t do anything to provoke the crowd is ludicrous on its face. Of course he provoked the crowd. The very fact that he was there with a big gun provoked the crowd. Now, what we don’t know is what exactly prompted them to chase him. This is where the logic breaks down on both sides of the discussion. A big gun is supposed to make you freeze. It’s supposed to make you run away. It’s supposed to allow me to be in charge. The fact that people would react otherwise defies all explanation.
The only plausible explanation is that something else happened to prompt that reaction. Maybe they yelled at him for carrying a big gun. Maybe he yelled at them. There were witness accounts that said he was yelling at protesters. So, either he had used his weapon or the people there felt like he was about to use his weapon. That’s the only reason for taking him on that makes any sense.
Framing this as self-defense conjures up a number of images. We picture someone breaking into the home and threatening the home owner. We picture someone minding their own business and being attacked on the street. Neither of these images are accurate in this case. One of the gentlemen I debated even said he hoped I would find myself in that situation someday. He then in a later comment asked me not to use Christian phrases because I obviously wasn’t Christian. Now, allow that to sink in for a moment.
This is where it was clear we were talking past each other. He meant that he hoped I would be minding my own business and have to consider what to do to protect myself. The fact that he was wishing me harm is something we will have to ignore for now. Except that wasn’t the situation and couching it like that demonstrates a cross between toxic masculinity and gun culture. Rittenhouse himself chose to go into a dangerous situation. Rittenhouse himself chose to bring a high powered weapon into a dangerous situation. Rittenhouse himself attempted to practice crowd control without being formally trained. If witness accounts are accurate, Rittenhouse was also arguing with and yelling at the protesters. That’s not minding your own business.
The same scenario will never happen for me. I will not go into a dangerous situation and set myself up as hostile to those there. I will never openly carry a gun and wave it around like I’m Wyatt Earp. I certainly would never antagonize a large group of people that are already agitated. Is this a sign of fear? Maybe it is. It could also be a sign of common sense. That’s the big thing lacking here. If I instigate a fight, it is difficult for me to come back and say that whatever damage I caused isn’t my fault.
So no, I’m not against gun ownership. What I’m for is a little more understanding that owning and using a gun is an awesome responsibility. It’s not something that you carry around without consequence. The decision to carry a gun openly or with concealed carry brings certain responsibilities. It is also not a neutral act. It is a provacative act. When that act results in the death of two people and serious bodly injury of a third then you bear moral and legal responsibilities. You don’t get to go home with a pat on the head.