This is a post about Gunsmith and the gentle loving of precision killing
The Rifleman’s creed was written during World War II, in either 1941 or 1942. The exact date of its origin is unknown. It was written by Major General William H. Rupertus, of the United States Marine Corps.
It’s meant to instill in marine recruits the idea that they are one with their rifle, that they are dependant on it, and it on them. It espouses the idea of lending affection to a weapon, and not just any weapon, but your weapon.
In the United States Marine Corps, it is still used in recruit training to this day. The full text of the creed is below:
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will…
My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, or the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit…
My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will…
Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until victory is America’s and there is no enemy, but peace!
If you’d like to watch a shorter version of the creed being performed in the movie Full Metal Jacket, there’s a clip below:
The Rifleman’s Creed represents a modern, but not a novel, exaltation of weaponry. For centuries warriors, rulers, and then general population, have associated weaponry with personal survival, and as a means of defending their society.
The invention of weapons as simple as the spear or the club catapulted early civilizations, first in hunting, then through the means of conducting warfare and conquest. The invention of weaponry involved ingenuity and science, while the most successful wielding of weapons involved coordination and physical prowess. The weapon maker and the warrior were afforded social status, but also faced with the reality that the results produced with weapons were often unattainable without them.
Considering this inexorable tying of man and weapon, it’s not surprising that weapons became symbols, not only of a person but of civilizations.
Although numerous weapons have been used prominently and symbolized, it’s the weapon that predated the firearm as the most often used weapon that has become such a significant symbol. The sword has become almost synonymous with the word weapon and moreover become a symbol of power not only for individuals, but especially for states and kingdoms.
Several nations still utilize swords as part of regalia today. The UK, France, Sweden, Poland, and Denmark are just a few that still use swords as symbols of power and authority, even if only ceremonially.
In the past the sword has symbolized the power of the monarch and his or her right to use force. This form of symbolism, the one surrounding the rights of the wielder to use their weapon (or otherwise, force in general), ties into the fervent and often affectionate view towards modern weapons.
Individuals seldom initiate force without trying to justify it morally. States are never violent without some attempt at justification (even if its ludicrous). The first part of that is validating one’s self, one’s morals and goals. Violence often has to be validated in the mind of the violent.
But what about the tool? What about the weapon? Can a weapon be moral? Can it be valid or invalid? Because, with few exceptions, those who are violent find ways to justify the violence to themselves, they find the weapon is being used correctly. Essentially everyone using the sword or the gun throughout history has found they are using it with moral authority. Thus the weapon is validated because the self is validated. All part of validating the violence.
This doesn’t make weapons invalid morally, or eliminate the right of defense, but it gives further clue to why society has found weapons to not only be acceptable, but important, and cherished.
Weapons have given individuals and nations the ability to defend their rights, and maintain their own lives and safety. Debate is constant about the scope of human rights, and their applications, but under the threat of tyranny it becomes clear simply knowing rights and espousing them is useless, unless able to defend said rights.
The ability to struggle for, and win, natural rights has then become tied to the rights themselves. The writers of the United States constitution acknowledged this when they wrote the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights, establishing the population’s right to keep and bear arms.
The Second Amendment is only faulty in that the right to own a gun is not inherently different than the right to own any other piece of property. But the framers of foundational United States law felt it imperative to highlight that above all other property, the property most widely used as a means of defense must not be constrained by the government. They understood the ability to struggle for, and win, natural rights is, in practice, as important as the rights themselves. They recognized bearing arms as a right itself.
And in essence they were correct about the need to actually secure rights against violent oppression, not simply speak of rights. Nevertheless, the same pattern continued of assuming that because the actor’s motivations are correct (or believed to be), the tool (weapon) is wholly valid itself.
Guns are portrayed to be dangerous in the hands of bad guys, and heroic in the hands of good guys. Robbers have guns, but so do policemen. But again, because most people justify their violence as having moral grounds, the vast majority of people see themselves as good guys (or anti-heroes, at least).
Guns are seen as the tool of the hero. Heroes are admired in every culture by the definition of the word. Sometimes they’re even lauded, and given great authority. We accept guns, even cherish them, because we’re convinced that in the right hands they can serve the greater good.
And in the right hands, they can. But even still, it’s an attempt to validate the object based on the result or the user.
So many people, worldwide, associate this category of objects, guns, with themselves, their lives, their freedoms, and even their countries. It’s no wonder that within our narratives, and our pastimes, we treat these objects with such glamor and honor.
Guns are fetishized in gaming. It’s a mainstay of shooters, and now the emerging genre of action RPG’s, to have weapon customization. The more extensively we can modify, and personalize, our weapons the more praise the game gets.
The Gunsmith feature in Ghost Recon: Future Solider was heavily promoted by Ubisoft as a key feature in the game. It allows players a bevy of options to customize 52 different weapons. Of those 52 weapons, all of them can have the following options customized: trigger, magazine, optics, under-barrel, side rail, gas systems, paint, barrel, muzzle, stock, and grip. Sometimes there are dozens of options in a category.
It’s not enough to offer players lots of realistic guns to choose from. It’s becoming a demanded feature that players have options to control the minutia of their weapon. Precisely how it fires, handles, and delivers death is now apparently of importance, competitively but also cosmetically.
You can change the paint of the gun, the design on the grip. A 45T handgun (based on on the FNP-45 Tactical, but not licensed from FNP), for example, in Future Soldier can be changed in so many ways, just cosmetically, that it may no longer resemble its real life counterpart, but instead represent exactly what the individual players wants it to look like. It’s no longer a gun, it’s your gun.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 has been praised extensively for its weapon customization system. In multiplayer you can go so far as to select a custom reticle. That’s a feature not even visible externally to other players, but fans of the series seem to enjoy it as an unlock and an add-on. In addition to all the weapons mods that are seen — and thus enviable to other players — it adds to the idea that the gun is really yours.
This isn’t a feature exclusive to action games, either. Role playing games are also offering more options for personalizing weapons, making the weapon as tied into the personal experience of role playing as possible.
In the first Mass Effect, you can add at least two attachments to each weapon, choosing from dozens of attachments. You add a custom ammo type, choosing from several different ammos, some of which add visible effects when fired.
After a lot of that functionality was taken out in Mass Effect 2, in order to simplify the experience for newer players, the community uproared and demanded the weapon add-ons be put back in for Mass Effect 3. Fans didn’t state their demands as being anything related to fetishizing guns, they simply stated the obvious: we like to customize things.
And that’s true. Gamers of all kinds love customization. Forza 3 and 4 include unprecedented vehicle customization. Spore, Sim City, and Animal Crossing allow customization of communities, planets, and species.
Gun customization is popular in large part because customization is generally popular in games. But the level of hyper details paid to guns in games like Future Solider is similar to the jewel encrusted hilts of regalia swords. Society has an affection for weapons, and it’s only more recently being met with a similarly emotional opposition.
Advocates and opponents of guns use the same brand of argument, that the result, either positive or negative, is reason enough to exalt or condemn an object. But an object, any object, doesn’t create a result. It can facilitate the actions of the user. Users create results.
Condemning guns (the object) based on the result of mass shootings or other prolific acts of gun violence (actions of the user) is no more valid than praising guns because of their use in self defense or that they’ve been essential in people winning and defending their liberty. Both sentiments (and they are precisely that, sentiment) are wrong. Objects are neither valid or invalid, neither moral or immoral. They shouldn’t be condemned or praised wholesale.
It’s natural that people would value useful objects like housing, weapons and transports, but it’s strange that evaluations of their merit — instead of being limited to whether the objects are well designed and functional — are tied into matters of identity.
Although every part of the Rifleman’s Creed is twisted somehow to instill the idea that a gun is person, and a person is a gun, one can extract a useful piece of advice about understanding how all pieces of a gun work, and keeping it well maintained. Understanding an object and its proper use, especially a weapon, is responsible and beneficial for everyone.
But people are not guns, and guns are not people.
There’s a striking contrast in the pre-mission screens of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. There’s a vast array of options for customizing the performance and appearance of your guns, but not a single option for customizing your character. There’s no way to make that soldier, that human being, unique or tailored in the least. It’s as if they don’t matter; they’re only the necessary flesh and bone needed to pull the custom trigger.
In that game, the gun is the character. You really are just a gun.