There's No Such Thing as an Ironic Gun Nut

BuzzFeed has a fascinating cultural investigation that claims that gun culture has so permeated America that even media elites and "hipster hunters" are "the new 'gun nuts'" because three media dudes went to a shooting range and tweeted a photo about it. It is fascinating, but also false. Maybe it's fascinating because it is false.

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BuzzFeed has a fascinating cultural investigation that claims that gun culture has so permeated America that even media elites and "hipster hunters" are "the new 'gun nuts'" because three media dudes went to a shooting range and tweeted a photo about it. It is fascinating, but also false. Maybe it's fascinating because it is false. Actually, the article, titled "How Gun Culture Won Over Liberals," presents four pieces of evidence: a tweeted photograph from the time New York Times media columnist David Carr, Reuters social media maven Anthony DeRosa and New York media scene regular Foster Kamer went to a New Jersey gun range; the popularity of the arcade game Big Buck Hunter in what you might call "cool" New York bars; the popularity of flannel that reads more L.L. Bean than Kurt Cobain; and that a Field & Stream writer is "hoping" locavores will start killing what they eat. The key element of the first three pieces of evidence is irony. (The fourth is self-promotion.)

But anyone who knows anything about gun culture knows one thing: Gun nuts don't do irony. You can make the case that some New York media people play with guns because they think it makes them look cool. And you can make the case that there are a lot of gun nuts in America. But you cannot say that a few New Yorkers ironically tweeting about this one time they shot a gun is evidence that "American gun culture is more expansive than ever, having gained a foothold among the type of coastal elites that, just a couple decades ago, would have dismissed the very idea of holding a rifle as obscene and offensive." They are not holding a rifle because they think it's normal and acceptable, they are holding because they think it's kind of obscene.

The story's main character is Kamer, who went to a Manhattan shooting range on a whim a few years ago. Now it's a thing he does with friends. "Sometimes we go bowling, sometimes we eat together, and sometimes we go shooting," Kamer told BuzzFeed. "It's something to do." Yet there are signs this is less than a paradigm shift. Though the story is lead by a photo of one excursion, De Rosa revealed on his Tumblr that he's been to a gun range "a total of two times," though he thinks skeet shooting is fun. On Twitter, De Rosa asked Coppins, "why let the truth get in the way of a sensational bullshit story?"

The Atlantic Wire asked Carr what he felt like being a poster boy for a gun nut convert. The process does not sound like it's complete. At South by Southwest once, Carr said, he shot large-caliber handguns for a story. "I found them absolutely terrifying in all regards." The skeet shooting with Kamer and De Rosa "did not freak me out the way the handguns did." Despite being more fun, Carr did not excel. "I stunk so bad," he said, compared to the more experienced Kamer and De Rosa. "I was both appalled and impressed by how good these alleged -- you know these are Manhattan guys don't get off concrete very often." Is there a groundswell of gun love among elite media people? "Foster is to blame for a lot of trends that may or may not be trends. He's an instigator. And a deadly good shot... It's less about what is current and hip and more just prurient interest in things that go boom that never really leaves the male psyche."

Carr said he'd go shooting again, but he's wasn't ready to join the NRA, though the NRA is ready to welcome him as a member. After signing a bunch of forms at the range, "unbeckoned by me an NRA member card showed up in the mail." He didn't register it or pay a fee -- Times employees are not allowed to join that kind of political organization -- but he did tape it on his wall. "I'm a card-carrying non-member of the NRA."

There is one shooting range in Manhattan, and if you peruse the Yelp reviews, you can see that many coastal elite shooters are not true gun nuts, but n00bs. One reviewer says he loved the training scene in Full Metal Jacket, and the range gave him the chance "to knock off a very old desire of mine and actually shoot a rifle." Another raves about learning to shoot a .22 rifle, which, well, let's say it's not quite in the same category of the weapons discussed in the post-Newtown debate. Another enthuses, "Great staff explained carefully and as many times as you needed how to handle, load, aim and shoot properly."

Compare that to a slightly puzzled Yelp review of Gun City in Nashville, which shows a real gun nut culture: "If you want to go down to the gun range which is in the basement you will have to fill out a sheet with your info on it. You would think that someone would want to see some id first, driver's lic, hand gun permit, or something to show how old you are...or know what I'm saying?"

But this evidence is strong compared to the data point that 130 New York bars have the game Big Buck Hunter, in which you shoot deer with fake rifles. BuzzFeed explains:

On a recent evening at Bull's Head Tavern in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, twentysomething revelers balanced IPAs in one hand, and toy firearms — green handled or blaze orange — in the other. Antelope and deer loped across an HD screen, and players took turns drunkenly firing off shots at them. This was Big Buck Hunter, an arcade shooting game that has gained irony-fueled popularity across New York...

"It is our big draw," said Bull's Head bartender Jess. "People drive from Jersey to play it."

Irony-fueled popularity is not the same as actual popularity. Gun culture has not permeated hipster culture if hipster culture is only engaging in it to mock its crude brutality, garish color scheme and unflattering wood camo pants.

One time I spent €30 to beat House of the Dead III, a game where you use fake rifles to kill zombies, at an arcade in an Italian beach town that was mostly shuttered for the winter. I am going to make a bold statement: It had no relationship to my IRL existence. And now for an even bolder statement, one that could shake New York media people to their core: It was not the start of a trend.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.