How To Enjoy Shooting

Todd McGowan

June 1, 2022

After each mass shooting that occurs in the United States, liberals wonder if this will be the one that changes public opinion against the easy availability of guns. And each time, disappointment follows, as American attitudes toward guns remain just as they were prior to the shooting. The liberals continue to be surprised that the more shootings, the less desire, it seems, to change the situation that produces them. Typically, the only effect of a shooting is that it increases the quantity of guns present in the society, as gun owners run out to buy additional arms and previous holdouts decide to take the plunge and arm themselves. The fact that no number of senseless deaths has the ability to change people’s minds about the legal status of firearms indicates that the attachment to this violence is libidinal, that gun violence is crucial to a prevalent form of American enjoyment.

We know that a form of enjoyment is at stake precisely because the way to put a stop to mass shootings is easily discernible and realizable for anyone looking into the problem. The solution to the epidemic of gun violence in the US is not a great mystery that we need to research and ponder. One cannot emphasize this point too strongly: When one looks at the rates of gun violence in other nations in comparison with those in the US, it quickly becomes evident that simply lessening the number of firearms and regulating them through the law would almost immediately bring this violence under control, as the case of reform in Australia reveals. Other countries' attitudes towards guns are instructive in other ways as well. It subverts, for example, the oft suggested idea that gun violence reflects human nature. Clearly, other nations are populated with people who share this same nature. The only genuine question is why the nation doesn’t take the necessary steps to reduce the number of guns in the country and restrict who can own them.

This question encourages us to think about the relationship between mass shooting and the psyche. There must be some psychic benefit to the proliferation of firearms and their widespread use in violent acts. I want to suggest that the increasing possession and use of firearms in the US facilitates a right-wing form of enjoyment. This enjoyment becomes apparent in the rightist response to mass shootings. It is what gives the American addiction to guns its staying power.

Right-wing enjoyment is an enjoyment always under siege. For this to occur, there has to be an endless supply of enemies or omnipresent threats. If these threats don’t exist then they have to be fantasized into existence. In this form of enjoyment, one’s own form of life takes on a value because an enemy is always trying to take it away. Under the spell of this enjoyment, the danger that this enemy poses increases my own sense of worth. I can enjoy otherwise banal activities when I know that someone is trying to take them away from me. If I know that communists want to take away all my possessions, for instance, the tedious act of driving my car to work can become replete with enjoyment. Every mass shooting confirms the existence of such a threat, just as communism did during the Cold War. Mass shootings let those championing guns know that enemies lurk everywhere and that we must be constantly vigilant against them. They are not just an unfortunate side effect of the freedom to bear arms but are themselves integral to the enjoyment that guns provide.

Each shooting underlines the extent to which we are in danger and require weaponry to protect ourselves. But what becomes masked in the mania for protection is that protection is never the point of calls for more protection. The point is establishing a threat to defend ourselves against. If everyone possesses firearms, then everyone represents a potential threat. This is why rightist forces promulgate the widespread distribution of firearms. It is essential for advancing a right-wing form of enjoyment.

One would think that each mass shooting illustrates the folly of the belief that the widespread availability of firearms leads to more safety for the society. But after each shooting, rightists proclaim the need to even more armaments, for greater capacities for defense, for more hardening of targets. Since it is readily apparent that