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June 11, 2008 - 12:27pm



What next? UD has now visited the NRA, written and reflected on it, and read many comments and emails about her having done that. Aside from looking at the articles about guns and their controversies that readers have recommended, the most pressing question about her desire to continue to educate herself about guns -- again, judging from her extensive mail -- is whether she should pick up a gun and have a go at shooting it. Five people, four of them local, have offered to take her shooting at a range.

Before she talks about that, she wants to thank all the gunnies (This is one of many new words UD has learned; and here's a new phrase, courtesy of one of the readers of her other blog: freaking the mundanes. Which in this case refers, I guess, to UD freaking out gun control people.) who've written comments here or who've emailed her to express appreciation for her willingness to get closer to guns rather than, as she's done before this, rail against them at a distance. She's been delighted by the helpfulness, courtliness, and humor of many of these responses.

One other small matter of business to get out of the way before the should-UD-shoot question: Sex.

In a 1994 piece about guns for the New York Times magazine, Philip Weiss frames his long article in terms of erotic gratification. Samples:

... The guns were heavy. They wearied my arms, and when I looked through the circular or notched sights, everything else dropped away. The solid kick goes out through your shoulder and back and it feels good. You don't know when the gun is going to go off. "It should always come as a surprise," Doughty explained to me. At his urging, I tried to establish a rhythm, squeezing the trigger slowly, applying more pressure as the target came closer, letting off as it drifted away. Hopefully, the gun explodes when the target is nearer alignment. It was almost orgasmic.

... I asked him what he was shooting and he slung a busted fake-leather bag around his shoulder and let me look in. There were two handguns inside, .22's, nestled in old cloths. It reminded me of my own secret adolescent rituals, getting Playboy magazines, one boy introducing another to the pleasures of masturbation. The bond with guns shared some of that same seediness.

... The gratification of shooting is private. Other people looked on but they couldn't share in it, couldn't even see what I was doing. It all happened in my head.

...The gunny's dream about subduing endless enemies was like a pornographic illusion: your sexual powers caused scores of people to succumb to you at your will. No wonder the gunnies were so attached to ugly guns. Asking a gunny to go back to a less sophisticated firearm was like asking a devotee of pornography to go from videos back to still photographs: the level of actuality, the degree to which the thing simulates a primal experience, was greatly diminished.

Reading this, I'm reminded of a comment a friend of mine made when I told him about the primarily aesthetic nature of the NRA's gun museum: "The word I'd use is fetishistic." A gun museum, my friend said -- with remarkable confidence for someone who's never been in one -- is the same sort of thing as a women's underwear museum. That is, anyone interested in guns can't have a primarily aesthetic, or utilitarian, or historical, or defensive interest: To have an interest in guns is by definition to fetishize them, to derive masculine orgasmic gratification from them.

... So maybe shooting would pacify UD's lifelong penis envy!

But, really, she wonders why one of her commenters can't say this about shooting without being dismissed as a perv:

Each time I practice with a rifle I'm reminded of Eugen Herrigel's classic little book Zen in the Art of Archery, the necessary calming and shutting out of all distraction until the only focus is one's pulse transmitted through the hands to that tool of wood and steel. Shotgunning for clay birds is totally different, all fluid motion and quite satisfying...

It's a constant temptation of one sort of academic to tell everyone around her that whatever activity they do enthusiastically is really -- what's the name of that short story collection about Orthodox Jews? -- For the Relief of Unbearable Urges... This academic would point to the word tool in the comment and get smug and smutty about it. But UD would like to close out this section of her post by suggesting that sexualizing guns is somehow at once necessary and boring. She can't promise she won't do it to some extent -- especially if, assuming she does begin to shoot, it turns out to be a major turn-on. But since - as with most theorizing about sexuality - it seems really stupid, she'll try to avoid it.

Should she shoot? Those who've offered to take her shooting have all been very thoughtful about it; they say that she shouldn't do it if she has any reservations about it, and that she can learn pretty much what she needs to know about guns without hoisting a rifle. Since a lot of people seem to be paying attention to this Inside Higher Ed series about a professor and guns, she opens the question up for comments.


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