Fighting Founder: A Perspective on Guns and Masculinity

Reported by Jen Wright

On Oct. 17, writer, researcher and professor Nathan R. Kozukanich gave a talk at George Fox University (GFU) on John Dickinson, an American founding father.

The talk titled “Fighting Founder: John Dickinson and the Right to (Not) Bear Arms in the Early Republic” focused on John Dickinson’s legal and political career. The talk was the second in a lineup of three to four talks planned throughout the 2018-19 school year.

Mark Hall, GFU’s professor of Politics and director of the John Dickinson Forum for the Study of America's Founding Principles, has organized the talks to honor GFU’s Quaker roots by helping students learn about the founders of America.

Kozukanich has written a book about Benjamin Franklin and is currently working on an eight-book series on John Dickinson’s previously unpublished papers. The project is expected to take ten years to develop and release.

The series is an answer to the 2007 book “Sex and the 18th Century Man,” by Thomas A. Foster. The book is about the historical misconceptions surrounding male representation of sexuality in the 18th century.

The project is the fifth attempt to publish Dickinson’s writings, Kozukanich said, with the four previous attempts falling victim to the “Dickinson Curse.” One editor trying to release the papers was reportedly murdered by his own brother, Kozukanich said.

“We are trying to buck the curse this time, and actually get these published for the first time,” he said.

Kozukanich was very engaged throughout the talk, making jokes and referring to modern portrayals of John Dickinson in HBO’s “John Adams” and the TV show “South Park.”

The talk started with background about Dickinson and the early colonies, giving a picture of the political and military climate at the time. Kozukanich talked about the military service requirements imposed on men and the issue of concessions being made for religious and other reasons.

Kozukanich focused on the reactions of the pacifist Quakers to the mandatory bearing of arms and the resulting political conflicts. He said he calls himself a pacifist.

“It means to me doing no harm to others,” Kozukanich said. “I don’t agree with war.  In that sense, I’m sort of a very traditional pacifist. Negotiation is the better route, and I won’t participate in violence myself.”

While Kozukanich explored the arguments surrounding the second amendment and the “right to bear arms” today, he spotlighted the social connection between military service and traditional portrayals of masculinity.

“Every American action movie is like ‘guy with gun taking law into own hands and kicking ass’. That’s sort of one portrayal of American manhood, anyways,” he said.

“There’s a connection of some sort between toxic masculinity and guns,” Kozukanich said. “I hope we’re starting to see a change in gender norms and gender dynamics.”

Kozukanich mentioned the #MeToo movement and the controversy surrounding the recent Kavanaugh hearing and said he doesn’t know if they will meld with the gun safety issue, but he hopes to see change for the better.

Kozukanich condemned modern interpretations of the second amendment that try to apply it literally.

“That debate—it’s been a crappy debate—has largely been grabbing snippets from original documents, snippets from the past, to support some modern political agenda, being it gun regulation or being it gun rights,” Kozukanich said.

“I think we’re still sorting out what military service means, in an era where military service is voluntary. No one’s compelled to serve in the military,” he said.

About 25 people attended the talk, and Kozukanich stayed behind after he finished to answer questions.

The next talk in the series is scheduled for April 3, with University of California, Los Angeles History professor Craig Yirush talking about indigenous rights and the American Revolution.

Jessica DaughertyComment