A gubernatorial candidate in Georgia has come under fire for a political ad that shows him threatening a daughter’s prospective date with a shotgun. The television station that aired the spot has been fielding complaints and taking heat from commentators. This is as it should be. Threatening young men with gun violence is despicable, illegal, and incredibly stupid. It’s not a fun meme. It’s not cute. It’s not remotely okay.
Brian Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate behind the ad is certainly playing to type. The shotgun-toting conservative dad is a well-worn cliche. As recently as 2008, country singer Rodney Atkins had a chart-topping hit with “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In, Boy)” that featured the refrain “Hey, y’all, run along and have some fun / I’ll see you when you get back / Bet I’ll be up all night / Still cleanin’ this gun.” Atkins, whose first marriage broke up after his wife called the police on him, has two sons. What he was doing, presumably, was conjuring a down-home image.
Perhaps Atkins can be forgiven. He was clear that “ain’t nobody gonna hurt” and the dude is a country singer. He was likely being facetious and, more to the point, being facetious in 2008, back when the urge to protect teen girls felt somehow noble or, barring that, a lot more defensible. None of that can be said of Kemp, who appears to be a doofus.
Because I’m not raising daughters, I can’t speak to the specific fears that fathers of young women feel. But I do know the worry of losing my boys to gun violence. I feel it sharply every time they come home after a lockdown drill. My chest tightens with every story of an active shooter. And barring major changes in American gun policy, my boys will live knowing they occupy a country where their lives could end at the end of a barrel. They certainly don’t need to feel that fear when attempting to do something as innocuous and normal as taking a girl out on a date.
Frankly, they don’t need to feel it even if they are trying to have sex. That’s absurd, so long as they’re being respectful.
There’s also this: Brian Kemp is putting on a macho kabuki show predicated on the fear that a “daddy’s girl” can no longer be controlled once she steps foot out the door. Basically, he’s parading around his own locked-and-loaded insecurities in the hopes that people might mistake them for virility or manliness or, I don’t know, small-town values. But threatening people with guns isn’t a small town value. It’s a crime.
In states across America, the act of intimidating or threatening a person or their family with the prospect of violence is called “criminal menacing” or “criminal threatening,” and carries a range of punishment from fines to jail time, depending on the severity. And that makes sense because threatening to shoot somebody in order to gain their compliance is criminal behavior, not a joke. Even Rodney Atkins’ acknowledges this in his song. “Hey, believe me, it works,” he croons.
That’s likely true. So does talking to teenage boys (and girls!!!) like they’re human beings.
When it’s time, I hope the fathers of my sons’ future dates trust my kids or tell them to piss off, which is also an option. I sincerely hope that they will not threaten them — and I hope this for everyone’s sake. Why? Because I’m not just teaching the boys about the birds and the bees. I’m teaching them about Ohio Criminal Code 2903.22, which states that “no person shall knowingly cause another to believe that the offender will cause physical harm to the person or property of the other person, the other person’s unborn, or a member of the other person’s immediate family.”
Yup. That’s right. I’ll be sitting on the porch polishing a law book.