Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose — and if Congressman Thomas Massie has his way, it may soon be mounted above his fireplace. In case you missed it, the Kentucky Republican posted a photo on Twitter this weekend which showed him and his family all holding assault rifles in front of a Christmas tree. “Santa, please bring ammo!” the caption read.
The congressman was rightly ridiculed by anyone to the left of those rushing to offer Kyle Rittenhouse an internship. That photo was beyond the pale, and it is an insult to responsible gun owners everywhere. It is also quintessentially American.
Like Massie, I’m from Kentucky. I grew up around guns. My grandfather could have armed a small insurrection, and many of my friends and family members enjoy shooting, hunting, and all sorts of outdoor sports which require firearms. I’m also a Marxist who thinks that an armed working class might come in handy one day. So, while a proponent of gun control, I’m not necessarily anti-guns.
For me, though, Massie’s photo was a personal insult — as it was to responsible gun owners like my grandfather. One of the earliest lessons I remember learning was to never touch my grandpa’s gun. He and my grandmother were not mean about it, but they were unusually stern in their tone. “Never point a gun at someone you don’t mean to kill,” my grandfather taught me as early as I can remember. And when he taught me to shoot — I never had a lot of interest in the sport, so our lessons didn’t last long — he made sure I understood that guns were not toys.
This is what infuriates me about Massie’s photograph. It gives responsible gun owners everywhere a bad name. That Massie made a mockery of the season of peace is, to a Christian, offensive enough. But that he would do so by using his platform, influence and respect as a congressman to demonstrate reckless and irresponsible gun ownership at a time when the nation is mourning the latest school shooting is disgusting and morally reprehensible. Shame on him.
Unfortunately, this problem is bigger than one idiot congressman or even the Republican Party, of which Taliban-esque gun photos have become all too regular. (We all remember Lauren Boebert’s Zoom background.) It is also indicative of a bigger problem in our culture — one that gun laws won’t fix.
In a 2016 speech, then-President Barack Obama made the argument that guns are America’s problem and gun control is the solution to our gun violence epidemic. “The United States of America is not the only country on Earth with violent or dangerous people,” he said. “We are not inherently more prone to violence.” Respectfully, I disagree. America fetishizes guns and violence. We have since our inception.
This is a nation that was born of violence — quite literally. Whether you consider 1619 or 1776 the birth of the United States, both dates involve violence: the former in the bondage and brutality of chattel slavery, the latter forged in the fires of revolution. From there, our nation continued its violent conquest of this land. The Trail of Tears removed the Native populations of the American Southeast, including the people who lived on the land I now call home. They were marched west to Oklahoma with the barrel of a gun pointed at their backs. And they were not alone; the “Indian Wars,” as they are collectively known, lasted for 300 years.
Our national mythos is one of violence. If America has a defining national archetype or hero, it is the cowboy of the Wild West, a national legend defined by bloodshed and gunfire.
No gun law can change this. The truth is, America does fetishize firearms. It does glorify guns. It revels in violence and gore and conquest and dominance. Thomas Massie did not so much take a photo as hold up a mirror, showing us exactly who we are and who we have always been. Not all of us as individuals, of course — there are plenty of responsible gun owners like my grandfather, as there are opponents of guns in general — but as a collective. As a culture. As a nation.
Guns are not toys or props. They are weapons. Tools, intended to kill. This very real fact was underscored by a reply to Massie’s tweet by Fred Guttenberg, whose teenage daughter Jaime was killed in another school shooting in 2018. “Since we are sharing family photos, here’s mine,” he wrote. “One is the last photo I ever took of Jaime, the other is where she is buried because of the Parkland school shooting. The Michigan school shooter and his family used to take photos like yours as well.”
Massie gives responsible gun owners a bad name, but he also shines a light on the rot in our culture. Gun violence isn’t funny, and it isn’t very festive. But it is quintessentially American.
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