Guns, Gender and Masculinity (OPINION)

Apr 5, 2023
4:06 PM

Photo by peretzp/CC BY-SA 2.0

The tragic shooting of innocent schoolchildren in Nashville, Tennessee reminds us of the ever-present danger guns pose in our society. Unlike previous incidents, the perpetrator was not a disgruntled man but a trans man, according to initial reports.

This may be a first—a trans mass shooter. But is it really such an oddity?

There is no inherent relationship between a person’s gender identity and their propensity to commit violence. Both cisgender and transgender individuals can perpetrate violence, just as both can be victims of violence. Factors such as socialization, cultural norms, access to resources, and mental health can all contribute to violent behavior, but typically not gender identity.

In fact, research shows that transgender individuals themselves may be at an increased risk of being victims of violence.

The danger, as always when a segment of the population becomes perceived as a threat, is stereotyping by the masses. Rather, it is crucial to approach this issue with sensitivity and avoid making assumptions based on gender identity. Individuals should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and interventions should be tailored to fit specific needs and circumstances.

Most American gun owners are responsible and non-violent, their gun purchases and use reasonable. However, there is a subset of gun owners that buys guns for reasons other than pleasure or protection. For them, it is a symbol of power and masculinity. It binds them together with like-minded individuals. It is “part of their religion,” as some describe it.

Gun ownership has become a symbolic custom for the far right and conservatives in general. Members of Congress have been seen wearing AR-15 lapel pins. They tie their fervor to the Second Amendment as an immutable right, thus stymieing any discussion of reasonable gun control in this country.

But what is the psychology that drives this?  

Guns have been a controversial topic for decades, especially when it comes to their association with masculinity. Many people believe that owning a gun is a symbol of power, control, and protection. These associations are often tied to traditional gender roles, where men are expected to be dominant and protective while women are expected to be submissive and nurturing.

In recent years there has been a growing trend among women, people of color, and members of LGBTQ community purchasing guns for self-defense. Some argue that this empowers such individuals by allowing them to take some control over their personal safety. Others argue that the trend is dangerous, as guns are deadly weapons that can potentially harm innocent people.

The good news is that these groups seem to be demanding more and better firearms training than many of their more traditional counterparts, who tend to think that being born with external genitalia provides an knack for all things that go BANG!

There is a psychological connection between genitals and guns, with phallic objects, such as guns, bullets and missiles, often associated with masculinity and power. They represent strength, dominance, and virility. In some cases, owning such objects can be a way for individuals to compensate for feelings of inadequacy or insecurity.

This is not a new phenomenon. Cultures throughout the centuries have used the phallus as a symbol. This is simply the modern-day manifestation of a historical and consistent association among humankind. 

While owning a gun can be a way to assert their masculinity and demonstrate their power, for men it can also be a way to connect with other men and create a sense of camaraderie through shared experiences of gun ownership. However, it is important to note that this association between guns and masculinity can also be problematic, as it can reinforce harmful gender stereotypes and contribute to toxic masculinity. If you combine the machismo culture promoted by movies, TV, and video games with military-grade weaponry, you get a group of insecure men bonding with equipment that could start a small war. 

For women, owning a gun can be a way to empower themselves and take control of their own safety. It can also be a way to challenge traditional gender roles and demonstrate that women can protect physically themselves just as men do.

However, it is important to recognize that women face unique challenges when it comes to gun ownership and use. Women are often targeted for violence, and owning a gun can potentially escalate dangerous situations.

For members of the trans community, it may be a way to further identify with one’s gender. For minorities and LGBTQ individuals it may be for personal protection and self-defense.

In the current socio-political climate, arming oneself may not be the worst thing to do as long as it is done responsibly. For the members of such communities, fear may be the driving force, with empowerment a close second. Regardless of the impetus, it places more and more guns in the hands of the people. 

Research has shown that owning a gun can increase the risk of harm, especially for women. Studies have found that women who live in households with firearms are more likely to be killed or injured by firearms than women who do not. Simply owning a firearm significantly increases one’s chance of being injured by one. Often this involves a self-inflicted injury due to improper storage and lack of proper training in gun safety. 

It is important to recognize that feelings of insecurity are a natural part of the human experience, and there are many healthy ways to cope with such feelings that do not involve firearms. Seeking support from friends, family or a mental health professional can be an effective way to address feelings of insecurity and build self-confidence regardless of sex or gender identification. 

Guns may be American as apple pie, but so is the responsible use of guns by a strong and ethical citizenry.


Dr. Lauro Amezcua-Patino is the clinical voice of The Only You (Solo Tú), a podcast dedicated to simplifying the complex issues of the mind and mental illness. Originally from Mexico, Dr. Amezcua-Patino has been practicing in the metropolitan Phoenix area for over 30 years. Twitter: @SuSaludMental