With manual labor but a memory for most Americans, we have even fewer opportunities to enact rituals of manhood in the way our ancestors did. The strongest caveman may have led the tribe, but who are the masters of today’s universe? A bunch of skinny, pasty kids who spend their days staring at computer screens. Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg may not be able to best you at arm-wrestling, but they could buy and sell you a thousand times over.
We have to find reassurance where we can, so even if we can’t prove our masculinity on the job and our kids won’t listen to us, there is a way to feel that testosterone surge through our bodies. Whatever else you think about guns, no one who has ever held one can deny that they make you feel potent and strong. You don’t even need to fire it to appreciate its power — just holding it is enough. So if watching your fantasies play out on TV doesn’t quite scratch that itch, you can enact them yourself down at the range — or get a concealed carry permit, and convince yourself that the only reason you’re not Jack Bauer is that the right opportunity hasn’t yet presented itself.