Men and Guns: An Affinity for Steel

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.


  1. Tom Matlack says:

    One postscript on guns, manhood and war.

    As members of a volunteer army in a country at war almost a decade, the men who are at the front lines don’t get there by accident. They seek out the adrenaline rush of daily fire, and accept the risk of death freely.

    Seb Junger and Tim Hetheringon have produced perhaps the most vivid account of modern American warfare in the film, Restrepo (, which chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action.

    “For the first few months of the deployment, we’d get rocked hard,” recalls Specialist Misha Pemble-Belkin in the film while in the background the sound of guns echoes through the valley. “They’d hit us from—they’d ambush us at 360 degrees.”

    “I remember thinking holy shit, did everyone from the entire country come to this valley?” Specialist Kyle Steiner asks. “Is nobody else fighting anymore? Is every bad guy in my face?”

    “In the entire country of Afghanistan, we dropped something close to 70 percent of all of the ordnance, and all of the bombs that were dropped at that particular time were dropped in the Korengal Valley,” Major Dan Kearney reports in the film. “CNN dubbed it one day ‘the ugliest place on earth.’”

    What would make boys, not even men, travel around the world to voluntarily get their asses shot off for a valley the United States eventually abandoned as impossible to conquer? (The film was shot between May 2007 and July 2008; U.S. troops left in April 2010:

    “Growing up, you know, I wasn’t allowed to have sugar until I was like 13 because my mom was a fucking hippie,” Specialist Misha Pemble-Bilkin recalls of his childhood in Oregon. “She always had us doing hippie children things, I guess, like making paper and painting something or going on nature walks. It was a nice childhood. I just wasn’t allowed to have toy guns or anything like that, like boys should have, I guess—your little toy guns or, like, violent videogames or any violent movies at all. Like, I had a toy squirt gun that was a turtle and my parents took it away because it was a squirt gun.

    “But to my family, I never really told them much until about halfway into the deployment. I didn’t tell them when Vimoto died. I didn’t tell them when Sergeant Padilla lost his arm. I didn’t tell them when Pisak got shot. I didn’t tell them when Restrepo got killed. And then when Restrepo got killed it was a few days before my mom’s birthday also. So I had to suck it up when I called my mom on her birthday and act like everything was OK and say, hey, Mom, happy birthday. You know, like yeah, I’m doing really good out here, everything is fine.”

    Even after he returned from the Korengal, Specialist Pemble-Belkin wanted to go back, despite the death of his friends. (Specialist Misha Pemble-Belkin on life after deployment:

    I asked Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and photographer Michael Kamber, who has spent much of the last decade in exactly these same war zones, about the connection between manhood and guns. “A gun sure makes you feel more secure!” he told me. “But more manly? I think the opposite: You have to be truly hard to walk around without one when you know the bad guys have them. But there is something so comforting about them. I think when we have a weapon, we walk around cockstrong, as they say in the Bronx. It’s like, come on, fuck with me, I’ve got something for you.”

    I asked him about whether it manlier to fight or walk away from a fight, thinking about my pacifist parents and Specialist Pemble-Bilkin’s “fucking hippie” of a mom. “I just moved back to the Bronx after a 15-year hiatus and the rule was always that you don’t want to get into it with some idiot that has nothing to lose,” Kamber told me. “They will kill you, literally, without a thought to the consequences, so better to walk away if possible. But there are a number of real assholes out there that need an ass-kicking occasionally.”

    • Hold the phone right there! Take a step back and look at the last few thousand years! Here is Steven Pinker at TED with “A Brief History of Violence.” Could it be that we are magnitudes less violent than ever before?

    • Chris Albertson says:

      I think you should appologize. Not every member of the military in Afganistan is there because they want to shoot at people. Most are there because they are patriotic and feel the need to defend you and I. The “tough talk” these men engage in is to mentally cope with what they are going through, and is something you will never truly grasp.

  2. I include myself fully in the problem: men who have yet to sidestep the combined impact of evolutionary instincts to hunt and a society that tells us that we should be breadwinners, stay-at-home dads, emotionally present husbands, and peacemakers all at the same time.

    That implies that violence is innate rather than socialized. Society tells us as boys we need to pound each other, dominate each other; football and G.I. Joe aren’t in our DNA, they are cultural forces at least as much as they are biological. You set up a false dichotomy here: biology violent, society non-violent. I think it’s biology neutral, society with mixed messages. Appeals to evolution always strike me as a kind of “I can’t help it, I’m just a guy!” strategy that’s really unappealing.

  3. Seif-Eldeine Och says:

    The one time I went to a driving range I shot a glock and the worlds second largest barreled cougar magnum among other guns. The magnum had such a huge kickback that the gun almost hit me in the face when I shot it. I was so scared that I put the gun down right in front of and in the direction of my father and his business partner. Huge gun no-no. About guns and violence, there have been numerous studies that have shown that guns decrease violence, increase violence and do not have an effect on violence. Studies on socioeconomic factors have shown disparity in class and a large poverty rate are much more important than laws on the books in determining the crime rate of an area.

  4. Michael R. Shannon says:

    Three URLs you need to visit for context:

    Majority of deaths in US by firearms are suicides:

    List of countries by firearms related deaths:

    List of countries by murder rate:

  5. Keagan Pearson says:

    “Simplistically, guns seem to bolster a male sense of protectionism and to some extent, a sense of increased confidence”

    Keagan Pearson, Fatherhood Factor,

  6. Chris Blanchard says:

    I’m not into guns, I’m into archery, but they’re similar: you shoot at things. I think it’s related to the hunter gatherer thing.

    Chris Blanchard, Author, 1 Story a Week

  7. David Wise says:

    Canada ranks third among the developed
    western countries (behind the US and Norway) in gun ownership, and yet only 800 people died annually from gun-related deaths there. In the US, 30,000 people died each year from gunshots. The US is truly the wild west. A very violent culture.

    • A neat trick that, considering there have been less than 20,000 annual homicides for the better part of a decade now.

      • David Wise says:

        Listen, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. Hee, hee. I guess you can’t trust stats you find on the internet either. That’s the figure I found anyway.

        • I think you didn’t need to include gunshot suicides to make your point. We are both absolutely and proportionately far ahead of Canada in gunshot homicides. Michael Moore may have a point; we may just plain nuts, not gun nuts. But the homicide picture is improving and guns are easier than ever to procure. Food for thought.

  8. “Why do we love guns and violence so much?”

    -I think it has to do with showing off for women. Women love tough, strong and violent men to protect them.

    I love steel, made by men for the good of society.

    • I don’t love my particular steel, but since the ruling class won’t give in without struggle, I’m willing to use the Second Amendment. For the good of society.

  9. Responsibility & education. I know that sounds cheesy, but they are the balm to many ills…whether we are talking about the dangers of guns or the dangers of automobiles.

  10. It’s crap to turn this into a gender issue.

    I’m a woman, and I own guns. Moreover, I’m a woman and I own guns and I enjoy shooting them. My favorite thing to do at the gym is use the heavy bag. I’ve played (and liked) GTA. I also meditate and do yoga to de-stress. Do any of these things make me a man?


    They make me a member of a personality type. A more assertive (which does not autimatically translate to violent) personality with a penchant for adrenaline.

    • One step further, it is neither an issue nor a gender issue. It is polemic used by the “Man bad, Woman good” crowd. Another of their examples, “domestic violence is the number one reason woman seek emergency rooms,” when in fact bee stings are more likely. We live in a time when fear is easy currency, and fear-mongers have license. Thus politics and The Media…

      • Couldn’t agree more. Most fears are irrational, like fear of flying or sharks

        Why don’t we bring back prohibition cause that worked.

        At least it more rational than gun control.
        100,000 alchohol related deaths each year

        •5% of all deaths from diseases of the circulatory system are attributed to alcohol.
        •15% of all deaths from diseases of the respiratory system are attributed to alcohol.
        •30% of all deaths from accidents caused by fire and flames are attributed to alcohol.
        •30% of all accidental drownings are attributed to alcohol.
        •30% of all suicides are attributed to alcohol.
        •40% of all deaths due to accidental falls are attributed to alcohol.
        •45% of all deaths in automobile accidents are attributed to alcohol.
        •60% of all homicides are attributed to alcohol.

        Read more:

  11. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Because only criminals and government will have guns if they’re radically controlled. We have two and they’re always loaded. I’m a liberal, but agree with Woody Guthrie on this score. I favor open carry for those who want to have guns on their person, but not closed carry.

  12. I always find discussions like these interesting because they’re almost entirely devoid of any shred of mention of the violent women and girls in our society… the same females who initiated half (or more) of all domestic violence incidents, the young girls who kick the ever-lovin’ crap out of one another on youtube, and all of the other violent, controlling tendencies of women.

    As an aside, you then have the “female sentencing discount” in terms of punishment meted out in criminal courts and the fact that an untold number of women commit heinous acts of violence by proxy – they get men to do their dirty work.

    Women are more likely than men to use a gun for protection. Approximately 45% of all men own guns and about 15% of all women own guns. Do women like guns because of the feel of the “phallic” symbol in their hands? That’s more than 15-million gun-owning women in this country.

    The Good Men Project is about as annoying as any other man-bashing site. The stories here tend to slant towards what makes men bad… how men need to change to appease women… what more men can do for the benefit of women…

    Add this to the pile of wretched refuse being put out by what I originally thought was a potentially solid site for real men’s issues. You would think that only men own guns, use guns as a tool for protection, and use guns to commit crimes.

    Women are violent, too. Maybe the Good Men Project can do an expose’ on how violent and controlling women contribute to the demise of men and how often they get away with it.

    • “Women are violent, too. Maybe the Good Men Project can do an expose’ on how violent and controlling women contribute to the demise of men and how often they get away with it.”

      Good point M…..but I don’t suggest any of us hold our breath waiting for it.

  13. Sandra Benally says:

    Because of the recent shooting in Tucson of a female U.S. Senator, Gabrielle Giffords, owning and carrying a gun is a big issue in Arizona. As I said in the above article, I wouldn’t want to live without a gun. I just wanted to emphasize that my husband was not killed on the reservation. I have been a professional journalist for 15 years and in my younger days I was a Military Policeman. Despite my experiences, my late husband and I chose to live in the upper Painted Desert without weapons. It was a conscious choice by both of us based on our belief that possessing a gun contributes to the use of a gun. I’ve had to rethink our philosophy. Since his death 11 years ago, I have moved into the deep reservation. At my ranch and here on the rez, you would be lucky to have police response to an emergency after an hour. Here on the rez, that might be several hours…not because of lack of police interest, but because officers here may cover a beat extending a hundred or more square miles. I don’t pretend to have the answers. I also wanted to add that I have always enjoyed shooting, grew up on a farm in Illinois, and ate game as often as beef or chicken. My brother and I spent hours target shooting with his pump b-b gun, and I loved firing the big stuff in the military. Yep, women can love their steel, too…but I have no desire whatsoever to use one on my fellow man…or woman.

  14. The Good Man project is a good idea but I would like to rename it. The Good Person does not have the same ring to it, but “man” in the larger world of media and social conciousness is a loaded term. A term I might say is against males. The time has more than come when, if we as a species are to survive, re-evaluation of our collective ethos of living is a necessity. Kick the concept into the bin with Global Warming/ Greening the Earth/religious revival (or rivalry) you might…but if we don’t come to a new accommodation with our fellows, there just might be no fellows. Sad we were so promising.

  15. Wellokaythen says:

    I’ve said this elsewhere on this site, but again I think a real manly man has to be willing to get his hands dirty. I subscribe to the strictest “original intent” interpretation of the Second Amendment — you can own any firearm that was available in 1789 when the U.S. Constitution was ratified (a couple years before the Bill of Rights, but close enough.) If you want to own a muzzle-loading single-shot smooth-bore musket, I say no one should stop you. You have to load the powder, ball, and wadding yourself, round by round. You better be within 80 yards of your target. If you’re really good you could shoot once every 20-30 seconds, but you better be prepared to repel counterattack with a bayonet.

    That would do wonders for preventing drive-bys and school massacres.

    Maybe I’m just a contrarian antiquarian, but there’s something quite…feminine… about the convenience, lack of accountability, and irrationality of much of the handgun culture in this country today. Buying ammo over a glass countertop like you’re buying make-up at the mall? Buying a gun because of how it looks? Treating a gun as a household appliance? Buying a gun mass-produced by robots in a factory instead of built by hand? Shame on you manly men.

    • Wellokaythen says:

      P.S. Obviously it’s not just about steel. There are lots of less cowardly weapons made out of steel, but that’s not where the fascination seems to be here.

      • wellokaythen says:

        On second and third thought, maybe there is something to the whole “steel” thing. Many of the things made of steel fifty years ago are now made of other materials. I think for many men firearms represent something that seems timeless, one of the last vestiges of things actually still made out of steel. (Maybe not in America, but steel nonetheless.)

        One word: plastics

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    Two problems. It appears that weapons prior to or in addition to guns–swords, knives, bows, and other pre-gunpowder weapons–are still popular with men. Some are collectors, some just find them. I got a souvenir court sword when visiting Toledo in Spain about thirty-five years ago. Some friends from Mexico gave me a what looks like a combination machete and cutlass with some nice engravings on it. Presto, I have two swords.
    Swords and guns don’t wear out. If you get one today, you’ll probably have it thirty years from now.
    It isn’t guns, it’s weapons. For a good look at the thinking on the ev-psych line, see Ardrey’s :African Genesis. His paleoanthropology is dated but the rest of the book seems spot-on.
    Weapons are tools. If you want to, or have to, go to trump in human relations, a tool helps. If the other guy goes to trump and you don’t, youi lose. Fairly simple. So do the people depending on you.
    As has been said elsewhere, the Swiss are pretty well armed but they don’t have the murders we do. Again, cultures. Non-hispanic whites in America are about as violent as the notably notable Luxembourgers. Other American cultures have different rates of violence, including gun violence.
    Guns are not a support to masculinity except ina few folks who have terribly wounded senses of self. For the most part they are a tool, and a good man is suppose to be prepared. Jumper cable in the trunk, first aid training, various ways of dealing with contingencies. The threat of violence is a contingency. Some guys want a tool to deal with it. Centuries ago, it might have been a sword or mace, say.

  17. Hard steel is a phallic symbol. It gives power. No more no less. Nothing to be embarrassed about, nothing to be ashamed of, just a fact. If you have to ask why, you are never going to get it.


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