The notion that guns serve as phallic implements (and thus tokens of masculinity) is about as old as it is obvious. ("Consider your man card re-issued," read a recent gun ad.) But the idea that gun control exists to symbolically castrate gun owners is, surprisingly, a far more recent development. The strange rhetorical device received fresh attention today after Illinois State Representative Jim Sacia compared gun control to male castration during a
speech rant delivered on the floor of the State Capitol, which led to his colleagues calling him out of order. Indeed, a third of the video that captured Sacia's speech, which quickly went viral among left-leaning political types, shows Sacia quarreling with his fellow representatives about the propriety of the comparison:
"They're coming for your guns" has given way for, well, something else, only after Democrats began laying plans for more restrictive gun laws in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. For supporters of more gun regulations, one of the questions provoked by the tragedy was why gun control efforts had failed so miserably. Answers to that question, in letters and essays published by outlets like Progressive and The New York Times, suggested that opposition to gun control could be explained by a fear of being castrated. "In America, 'packing a piece' is equated with virility, and depriving a man of his weapon is nearly equivalent to castration," read a letter to the Gray Lady.
In a January essay for the Progressive, NYU professor Linda Gordon traced this sentiment back to a single essay written and published by a conservative blogger named Michael Enoch on December 24, 2012 — ten days after the shooting at Sandy Hook. Under the title "Gun Control Is Castration," Enoch weighed the results of a 1994 Canadian study that investigated the disparity between male and female support for gun control. His conclusion:
It is clear from these results that the gun control attitude is not an informed opinion that one comes to after sober reflection and analysis. Rather is a product of ignorance, irrational fear and the desire to control and manage what is perceived as the threat of out of control male sexuality and agency. Gun control is castration.
The essay was mysteriously deleted, but not before being copied onto dozens of other websites. That said, it's basically impossible to trace a clear line between Enoch's essay and Jim Sacia's outburst on Tuesday. But the two incidents occurred within two months of each other. Furthermore, the first expresses, and the latter relies on, the same bizarre sentiment, best put by Enoch himself: "A gun is an obvious symbol of male power, sexuality and virility. [...] Gun control is an attempt to perform a symbolic castration of all men in society, in particular those men that would outwardly manifest strength and a will to power by owning a gun."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.