If You Have More Than 10 Guns, Does That Make You a Gun Nut?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Back at the dawn of time I got the Marksmanship merit badge in the Boy Scouts

In an item after the Oregon shootings, I quoted a reader from Florida saying that if you owned more than 10 guns yourself, you might be considered to have an “arsenal.” And just now on TV I heard the British father of the Oregon murderer asking why anyone, including his son, would want or need so many guns.

Yesterday I quoted a reader who said, on the contrary, ten or more guns could be a perfectly reasonable collection for perfectly non-threatening citizens to have.

On the “how much is enough” point, responses from two readers. First, on the similarities and differences between “gun nuts” and other types of nuts, a reader argues that there really is something different in how gun owners relate with the rest of us.

Your correspondent argues that you can own ten guns without being a "gun nut", then proceeds to list an inventory that he feels makes his case.

Let's try to approach on different collections. Suppose I owned ten motorcycles of different types. Perhaps a cafe racer, an enduro bike, a big touring bike, and so on. Would that make me a motorcycle nut? Probably. You're a runner (I think). Maybe you own ten or more pairs of running shoes. [JF note: Over the years, yes. And let’s not get into old computers, or types of beer.] I'm sure you can come up with a better list than I can, but I can imagine shoes for street running, dirt running, trail running, training, racing, and so on.

Does that make you a running shoe nut. Yup.

How about woodworkers? Some may have a dozen different types of saw, even more different types of planes. Are they tool nuts? Uh-huh.

If you had a couple of PCs, a few laptops, some tablets, more than one cellphone, a Raspberry Pi, a bunch of Arduinos lying around the house would you be an uber-geek, alternately known as a computer nut? Sure. Depending on budget, you could make a list like this for cars, boats, airplanes - almost anything.

But the interesting point is that I don't think any of the owners of these collections would take umbrage at being called the appropriate type of nut.* They'd just smile, say they love their hobby, and think wistfully about the next addition to their collection. So why do gun owners react so differently? Is it because they're defensive about the reactions of others to their "hobby"? Because the central organizing theme of their collection is lethality?

NB: In your writer's example, the common theme is NOT hunting, which might be an alternative explanation of owning a wide variety of firearms. The common theme is the guns themselves.

*in fact, not only do they not take umbrage, but many of these collector types have their own names (and reality TV shows). The only objection to being called a car nut is that gearhead is the appropriate term.

***

Now, from the original “reader in Florida” who originally asserted that if you had 10 or more guns, you were moving into “arsenalist” territory:

That guy's defensive reaction to the "arsenalist" label is exactly what I'm after.

Trying to respect and reason with mass collectors within the 35 percent of gun-owning households has gotten us absolutely nowhere. Nowhere. That's because arsenalists and "tactical" fetishists do not respect the rest of us. And the gun hustler industry thrives on this disrespect. This isn't about defense; it's about dominance. And people like your reader have done absolutely nothing to clean up the culture they perpetuate.

I grew up in a house with 5 hunting rifles and some sort semi-automatic weapon (a mini 14, I believe) mounted on the wall above my dad's chair. [JF note: This is the time to point out that I got the old Marksmanship merit badge as a Boy Scout, now called something else, and that my father was part of the local auxiliary-police force and carried a pistol with him when he went on nighttime house calls as a local doctor.]

We had a handgun stored somewhere. Not quite an arsenal, but a collection. Mostly the legacy of childhood hunting that lost its charm for my dad after Vietnam. The book I wrote revolves largely around heroic, armed self-defense. Armed self-defense is a family legacy. Modern American gun pimp culture dishonors everyone who has ever used a weapon for self-defense.

I'm sorry, if you collect "tactical" weapons for the fun of it, you're an asshole. You're a bully and a thug. You're sending a clear message to fellow countrymen: I'm going to dominate you. Modern American gun culture rests entirely upon implicit intimidation and the economic benefits of it.

And I love the guy's final line: "Why can't we get rid of guns?", not "What is wrong with us?"

Ah yes, the all inclusive "we," the coverer of all sins. There's no "we." He doesn't get to include "me" in his whiny, handwringing pathology of of anti-gun-safety.

Your reader and I have very similar household gun experiences. But faced with the debauchery and hedonism of modern American gun culture, we've made very different political and moral choices. His culture, not mine, puts "tactical" weapons in lunatics hands. If he's going to defend that culture, he should fucking own it and not cower behind "we."

I am anti-prohibitionist. It's my core political philosophy, based on my reading of history and economics and human behavior. I didn't say a damn word about "get rid of guns". That's his language. In fact, I'm not even thinking about laws. I'm thinking about culture. He doesn't like that I use "arsenalist," think it doesn't apply to him, then he should do something about the damn arsenalists in his own culture. Stigmatize them.

Arsenalists have power. I recognize that power. But it does not entitle them to my respect. And if it stings a little to have arsenalist hung on him, good. That is what I intend. Like I said before, stigmatizing the legal thuggery of American gun culture is a long-term project. It is a culture war. It just is. It's been waged against the rest of us for a long time. I'm done pretending that your reader isn't part of it.  

***

In a similar vein, one short email from another reader:

I think we need a simple t-shirt slogan: "The NRA is immoral."

The fact that everyone will understand the message is all that really needs to be said.