CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In 1977, more than half of U.S. households had guns -- but by 2010, the ratio had dropped to less than one-third. Fewer Americans want guns, according to researchers at the University of Chicago's General Social Survey.
Yet gun sales are sky-high. How can that be? The explanation apparently is that the minority who are gun owners buy ever-more weapons, creating arsenals.
Strangely, some owners think the firepower makes them more manly.
The manufacturer of Bushmaster assault rifles -- the weapon used to kill 20 grade-school tots and six teachers in Connecticut -- created a Web site praising the manliness of its buyers. Perhaps spoofingly, it offered a "man card" to buyers.
"In a world of rapidly depleting testosterone, the Bushmaster Man Card declares and confirms that you are a man's man," the site said.
The site offered quizzes to test men's virility. One page asked viewers to choose between a kitten, a candle and a military-style assault gun. Another said cards could be revoked if the holder is a "crybaby, cupcake, coward or just unmanly." The site reported that one man's card was revoked because he "avoids eye contact with tough-looking fifth-graders."
After the Connecticut school massacre, the Bushmaster Web site was revised.
Magazine editor Paul Waldman wrote that the message is clear: "If you're anxious about your masculinity, if you aren't quite sure whether those around you find you sufficiently strong and potent," buying guns will make you a he-man. He added:
"You don't have to be a Freudian analyst to grasp the hidden meaning. It's not even subtext -- it's text. As we begin a long-overdue examination of where gun culture in America has gone, we can't avoid the way guns have become so entwined with masculine anxiety, as so many men seek to find their identity in instruments of destruction."
Even if the former Bushmaster site was a joke, it presumably touched a personality trait: Some men think guns affirm their virility. Evidently they don't feel male enough if they lack firepower.
Incidentally, it should be noted that all of America's mass shootings have been committed by males.
As Vice President Joe Biden leads hasty research into U.S. gun danger, we wonder if he will consider the testosterone factor?