Author’s note: Below includes some minor spoilers for The Punisher. Read at your own risk.
There’s a scene in the very first episode of The Punisher where the titular character, Frank Castle, asks Karen Page, a journalist, if she still carries a weapon.
Punisher: Still got that handcannon?
Karen Page: You better believe it.
It’s a key scene in the show, setting the tone The Punisher isn’t going to shy away from discussing how individuals should have the ability to protect themselves. The show tackles this issue throughout its 13 episodes, bringing multiple viewpoints to the table. It’s almost impossible not to do because Castle is a gun-toting vigilante, who will use these weapons to go after those who deserve punishment.
Yet, for some reason, the pro-gun control mob has decided to use The Punisher as some sort of champion for more gun laws or mewl the show didn’t do enough to promote gun restrictions. The Verge’s Laura Hudson complained the show is just a, “common and exploitative form of the revenge story, one that imagines horrible crimes and injustices in order to justify the violence fans want to see on screen, and to absolve their consciences for wanting to see it. Each cruelty and mustache-twist of the villain stokes is calculated to enrage and horrify, until knives or bullets sliding into bodies is finally experienced as pleasure and relief.”
Hudson also whines, “he is very much like the weapons he carries, constructed for a singular and terrible purpose: death. It’s no surprise that he delivers on the promise, or that viewers might find something exciting and even heroic about a working-class man wielding these tools of terror on behalf of underdogs and little guys. It’s hard to think of a Marvel character that better channels the mentality at the heart of the American gun epidemic; it’s too bad The Punisher has so little to say about it.”
The Daily Beast’s Ira Madison the Third differed in his assessment, proclaiming the Marvel and Netflix-produced action drama damned Second Amendment pushers, and rendered, “how these deadly weapons cripple us emotionally, and also physically.”
Madison is misguided in this thesis, much like most gun control advocates. The Punisher does show how people are crippled “emotionally, and also physically,” but the focus is on how violence impacts others. That’s a humongous difference. One character is missing part of a leg in an IED blast, and later gets beaten with his prosthetic leg. Another character uses a bomb to kill people, not a gun. Violence is violence, whether the perpetrator uses a gun, a knife, a bomb, or a prosthetic leg.
Even conservativish websites are falling into the idea The Punisher is somehow in favor of gun control. Nick Givas at The Daily Caller suggested Frank Castle is a construct for control because, “by arming this character to the teeth, and giving him a death wish, the show creators…they scare the audience to death. They put fear in the hearts of the audience. So when they hear of a gun control bill in a month or two, they’re gonna think back to Frank Castle. Even subconsciously.”
He also cites an interview with The Punisher star Jon Bernthal, who told USA Today, “we have to start realizing there’s a serious problem here and we have to start opening dialogue on it and we have to stop being completely rigorous and steadfast in our political positions here.”
But Bernthal also made this comment.
Art, at its absolute best, can hold a mirror to society and can make society look at and question itself,” he says. “I don’t think it’s our job to answer those questions, but I do think it’s our job to make us ask the questions. If this show does that in some way, I think that’s a really positive thing.
The show actually does a great job at showing both sides, and being more than fair to Second Amendment activists. There is radio debate between Page and Senator Stan Orri, which goes like this:
Senator Stan Orri: That (2A) was almost 300 years ago. Miss Page, wouldn’t you agree that in this day and age, no ordinary citizen needs to carry a gun.
Karen Page: Have you ever been scared, Senator? Genuinely afraid for your life, in a situation where a gun, and a willingness to use it, might be the only difference between living or dying?
The fact the show has a single, young, white female advocating the Second Amendment, shows it’s not just old, white men who believe in Americans ability to own guns. That’s a key distinction, and something The Punisher writers and producers should be praised for.
The show is also willing to show the hypocrisy of gun control advocates, with Orri noting how it would look if a gun control pushing senator was found to have armed security. One character quips he’ll be sure to tell his men to “shoot safely,” or something like that, also highlighting Orri’s hypocrisy. There’s also an excellent commentary on the ridiculousness of gun free zones where Page goes to her purse for her weapon, then swears, when she remembers it was taken from her by a security guard. Page was in a situation where she could have saved someone and herself, but had to hunker down and hope police got there quickly, because she didn’t have access to the weapon.
Anti-gun, right? Not quite.
The Punisher is also a promotion of gun safety, which is completely different than gun control.
Microchip: This is for show. Never used it.
Punisher: Where I’m from, with that weapon that’s the difference between life or death. You pull that you’d better be ready to use it. It’s not for show.
Anyone who has ever taken a gun class knows this is one of the first things taught by instructors. Guns should always be treated like they’re loaded, and you don’t point it at anything you’re not willing to destroy. It put a smile on my own face to see Frank Castle make this point because it’s sorely lacking in the debate over guns in America.
The biggest criticism from the pro-gun folks I’ve seen has to do with a character who is mostly outspoken about gun rights, including wearing NRA caps and shirts, who leads a character down a wrong path. Several friends of mine have commented all this character shows is that NRA activists are crazy, and can lead anyone to become terrorists.
I have a different theory, and this is one with, admittedly, little evidence. The NRA, for all the good work it has done to protect the Second Amendment, has been criticized by some gun supporters as being too wishy-washy at times. The NRA opposes the “bump stock” ban, which was considered in Congress, but Reason’s Jacob Sullum noted they do support the ATF rewriting regulations on their legality. That’s not exactly a pro-Second Amendment stance.
Here’s how it pertains to The Punisher. The NRA advocate talks a good game about guns being needed to protect others. Yet, when he’s confronted by a police officer on a completely legal protest, he backs down and walks away. Then he declines to help another character, who ended up being arrested for no reason. It’s possible, and, again, I’ve no evidence to support my theory, it shows how the NRA isn’t always as Second Amendment loving as it likes to be portrayed in the media. Damon Root wrote in Overruled: The Battle for the Supreme Court, how the NRA was a little late to the party with the McDonald lawsuit over Chicago’s handgun ban, which was championed by Second Amendment Foundation. The show could be trying to show the distinction between the NRA and Second Amendment Foundation. This is not meant to take away from the pro-gun work the NRA has done, but a theory into why the character was presented this way. No one from The Punisher crew has commented on the issue, so who knows.
There is also a very strong pro-individualism strain within The Punisher, and the consequences of those actions, especially with those dealing with PTSD. There’s a group of veterans who meet every week to discuss their struggles, with one of them being led astray by the platitudes of a blowhard, who doesn’t believe in hugging things out. This character is given every opportunity to get help, from his father to his employer to the head of the PTSD discussion group, yet makes the choice to go astray. Frank Castle is also a character who discusses his choices, the struggles he’s had with PTSD, and the issues he’s had with returning to civilian life after his time in the military.
I had two families. I had Maria, I had the kids, but I had my unit. I was a father, and I was a husband, but I was also a Marine, and I loved being a Marine. I loved that [crap]. There are times, whether I want to admit it or not, that I would have rather been neck deep in blood and bullets and [crap], and be with my unit, than be with my kids. That’s something I gotta make peace with.
Castle chose to use his support system for help, and later chooses to form a new support system. That’s a pretty important thing, and shows no government program, or being forced to do something, will trump individualism. Yes, people will make the wrong decision, but the pro-freedom message of individualism is something which cannot be ignored.
There’s a lot to unpack in The Punisher, but it’s well worth your time to sit through the 13 episodes. Yes, it’s violent, and that might turn off some people. But it also presents a very balanced message on guns, leaning very much towards being pro-Second Amendment. There are certainly quibbles on how the relationship between the CIA and the military is presented, and some of the tactics and equipment used in the series. But it’s not anti-gun. It’s pro-freedom. Which is certainly enjoyable.