Okay, so this week I had an opportunity to have a variety of—ahem—new visitors to the Assertive Spirituality Facebook page to comment on a particular meme in which a person expressed concerns about a random person open-carrying a gun in a restaurant. What was really striking to me is that almost all of these dissenting visitors to that particular meme on the AS FB page, most of whom seemed to identify with NRA types of rhetoric, seemed so attached to putting forth and defending the “Good Guy with a Gun” myth that they could do nothing but dismiss, demean, and demonize anyone who didn’t feel safe around a person open carrying in a restaurant.
Naturally, since it’s been a particularly busy time for me, I didn’t have time to explain to them in depth why I was asking most of them to step away or banning them, so I’m taking this week’s blog post to take a closer look at why this kind of extreme defense of this myth is so literally unhealthy for our society from a rhetorical perspective, thinking it through with the god terms idea I’ve already been discussing before.
My Background and Perspective
As usual, I’m looking at this question from my position as a communication scholar who teaches and studies about stress, trauma, and conflict communication. I’ve written about militant masculinity here and here (the last one specifically is about white male aggression as a god term—I’m building on that from a different angle today). I’ve also done a whole series on how I’m using “god terms” and “devil terms” starting here.
Ah, the Disclaimers!
So yeah, let me be clear to start out: my goal in this piece is in no way to demonize gun ownership and training, as you’ll see. In fact, I greatly appreciate reasonable folks who use guns carefully and see the need for everyone to recognize the dangers. These people usually espouse reasonable regulations on gun ownership.
It’s those who get too cocky about their ability to handle a gun, and especially those who defend themselves or others as “good guys with a gun,” seeing that person as a sort of morally perfect savior in dangerous situations with “criminal” others, that I have a problem with.
What I AM Looking At
The specific issue here is the way in which the “good guy with a gun” myth (which is, indeed, a myth: see here and here) gets treated as a god term to be defended at all costs against anyone, including trained marksmen, who have reasonable objections to it.
“God Term” as Religious Term? Not Really, But If the Shoe Fits…
Also, as a reminder, I’m not specifically using the rhetorical studies term “god term” in religious terms, but let’s be clear—if you end up so devoted to anything that you’ll defend it at all costs and see anyone who disagrees as an enemy (which is a big part of what a god term means in the rhetorical studies community), well, maybe you are treating that thing as a god.
So Let’s Dive In: Defending God Terms and Visceral Responses
One of the many problems with god terms is that defending them (which happens as part of their definition, if you’ll remember!) puts people in an incredibly reactive fear and aggression-based response, striking back without thinking.
Again, to be clear, visceral responses aren’t necessarily bad. They often show us where there’s danger on an instinctive level. But they are very much less helpful when they are enacted by people who are socialized to demonize evidence that disagrees with their view because they idolize an idea or narrative about this kind of “good guy with a gun” myth.
And as a reminder, the very definition of god terms are things we see as needing to be defended at all costs, even when evidence, facts, and reality show us something different.
Let’s Be Specific
So yeah, it’s not defending things that is the problem. It’s defending things irrationally and insisting others do the same, while insisting anyone who tries to call you back to earth is somehow a demon to be fought at all costs (and, for that matter, usually presuming they are the irrational one and that they are defending god terms exactly the same as you are).
Discerning the “Good Guy with a Gun” Myth in Action
What I saw this week on that particular post on our FB page was people showing extreme contempt and disdain for those who were expressing understandable concerns with someone open carrying in a restaurant.
Despite the fact that the story shared in the narrative did not specify any details about the gun-carrying individual in question, throughout these conversations these god term defenders simply could not hear anything that went against the idea that this individual was surely an entirely stable individual who would fight back the “real bad guys” if they came into the restaurant.
So yeah, this is classic “good guy with a gun” myth.
And to the people who were defending it, it mattered not at all how much evidence, gun training, or credibility those who disagreed with them had.
What Demonization of Disagreement Looks Like
If you disagreed with this “good guy with a gun” god term myth, on that particular Facebook post on the AS page this week (up until the time when I was done with other competing responsibilities and was able to come back to intervene), sorry! You were demeaned, dismissed, and/or attacked without any form of consideration for your views or concerns or evidence.
In fact, people were told they were “bigoted” if they presumed that the referenced individual might not be an off duty security guard or police officer. And the assumption was of course that these figures would automatically be, again, extremely stable good guys in any crisis that may arise.
And of course if a crisis did arise, surely they couldn’t be the fault of the individual that original poster was concerned about. (Insert imaginary sarcasm emoji.)
How I Responded When I Figured It Out
I banned or asked these “good guy with a gun” myth folks, most of them, to step away from the thread–or, if they were outright demeaning or disrespectful, I banned them. I didn’t do this, as one charged, because they had “opposing opinions” from mine.
Why I Responded As I Did
It was because they were not there for reasonable debate or consideration of others’ views and evidence they might not have heard of before.
They were not there to be understanding of opposing views, much less to love their neighbor as themselves.
They definitely weren’t there to learn about how much visceral training it takes for anyone, layperson or not, to handle a gun genuinely well in a crisis situation.
To hear about how often things had gone badly in such situations, and to stop, think, and take that information seriously.
A Severe Lack of Empathy
And if they weren’t there for that, they most definitely weren’t there to hear and recognize about how impossible it is to tell between the genuine “good guys with a gun” that occasionally do come through in crisis situations and the many other unstable individuals who carry guns or just the ones who simply aren’t trained well enough to handle a crisis well.
And definitely not to hear how incredibly tone deaf their equation of the good guy with a gun with off-duty police officers might sound in a site full of people who are rightfully concerned about police violence, especially against Black people.
Definitely No Collaboration or Dialogue in Defending God Terms
Nope, they weren’t there for any of that. They were there to dismiss, demean, invalidate, and demonize other views in order to defend their god term.
The thing about god terms and their defense is that it doesn’t leave much space for collaboration, is the thing.
See, god terms and their adherents are dominators.
These types don’t exactly make space for productive “interfaith dialogue,” much less loving one’s neighbor as themselves or welcoming the ideological stranger into a healthy conversation.
Glad I’m Only Meeting Them Online
I must say I’m super glad I only have been meeting these people in cyberspace.
After all, if these folks can’t have a reasonable discussion about the genuine dangers of a bunch of people out there carrying guns around without flying off the handle, what reasonable and evidence do I have that they would not do so in a crisis situation?
The answer, if you were wondering: is none.
Why I’m Personally Concerned About People Randomly Carrying Guns in the US
The fact that this god-term defense is the loudest, most bullying line of rhetoric in America about guns? This is EXACTLY why people are so concerned about people carrying around guns in America.
Because here’s the problem: if you’ve so fused your belief system with defending the “good guy with the gun” myth that you can see no wrong in anyone (at least anyone white) carrying a gun, there’s a very little chance you’re going to acknowledge that you yourself may make a mistake with a gun.
No Space for These Folks to See Unhealthy Possible Outcomes
And anyone that can’t acknowledge the very real potential problems with gun ownership and use—anyone who isn’t open to moderating their gun usage because of real dangers with using guns badly—is an incredibly dangerous person to have around.
If those people on the site had bothered to put aside their god term myth long enough to be curious, this is exactly the reason people are rightfully concerned about people randomly carrying around guns in this country.
Time for Us Who Do See the Problems To Advocate!
Here’s the thing, folks: many of us ARE rightfully concerned about this, but these “good guy with a gun” advocates are still much too loud in their influence on policy. And the rest of us are still much too silent much of the time, especially when it comes to influencing policy.
I know there are a lot of issues to focus on, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by how big the problem is. But those of us who are already working on this could use more advocacy hands, friends. Remember: all of these things are relay marathons.
Let us not grow weary of doing good—and when we do, let’s rest rather than quit.
A Final Charge
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to continue to speak up against this “Good Guy with a Gun” god term crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.
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