GOP challenger slams Owens' "real men know how to use guns" comment

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

I’m not sure there was anything said by speakers at last weekend’s Turning Point USA conference that would make a lefty nod in approval and murmur their assent. But the remarks by Utah congressman and former NFL star Burgess Owens appear to have even riled up some of his fellow Republicans, including one who’s challenging Owens in next year’s primary.

Did Owens actually say anything particularly controversial? You be the judge.

“I’m going to tell you how to recognize real men, OK, young ladies? Young men, listen up, gotta man up, here we go,” he said Sunday at Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest in Phoenix.

Founded by conservative activist and radio show host Charlie Kirk, Turning Point USA advocates for conservative values on high school and college campuses. Other speakers at the conference included Donald Trump Jr., Tucker Carlson and Kyle Rittenhouse.

Owens suggested men should be ready to use a gun, stand against transgender athletes and not stay silent about COVID-19 vaccine trials for children and infants.

“Real men when evil steps up to the doorstep do not get on their knees and beg for mercy for the wife and kids. He’s prepared himself. Just like he knows how to use an iPhone he knows how to use a gun, and he shows up and takes care of business,” Owens said, drawing applause and cheers from the crowd.

“He’s determined to never, never allow his wife and kids to look at him as a whiner, weenie and wimp.”

Now, Burgess went on to talk about “real men” in the context of transgender athletes, critical race theory, and even border security, but we’ll focus specifically on the comments above. Do all “real men” know how to use a firearm? Is it possible to be a real man without being comfortable with a gun in your hand? And what about “real women”? Should they know how to use a gun too?

Maybe it’s just because of all the incredible and badass women I’ve met in the 2A community over the years, but I’ve never really considered gun ownership an exclusively masculine or manly virtue (the fact that one of the first NRA members who reached out to me when I first started hosting Cam & Co on NRA News back in 2004 was a lesbian from the Bay Area might have influenced me as well). It’s a right of the people that we’re talking about, not a right for “penised individuals” (to borrow a phrase from J.K. Rowling) to keep and bear arms.

I would never say that you can’t consider yourself a real man unless you’ve got a gun, but I do agree with Owens that, regardless of your gun ownership status you should have the mindset of fighting for your life or the lives of those you love if necessary. I’d say that real adults understand that the world is not a utopian playground, that real threats exist, and that you should be prepared to face those threats to the best of your ability. For me and tens of millions of my fellow Americans, that means protecting ourselves and our families with firearms.

I don’t think that makes me more of a man, necessarily, but me knowing how to comfortably and responsibly use my guns absolutely a part of me being a responsible husband, father, and grown up. So no, I don’t agree 100% with what Burgess Owens said, but I get the point that he was trying to make and I don’t think it’s a particularly controversial position.

One of the Republicans trying to unseat Owens, however, has a very different take.

Owens faces reelection in 2022. So far, Republicans Jake Hunsaker and Nick Huey have launched campaigns to unseat him. Huey challenged Owens to a lie detector test earlier this year. Owens did not respond to the invitation.

Hunsaker called Owens’ remarks “embarrassing” in a tweet, adding “and so much of why I decided to challenge” him in the 4th Congressional District.

“Real conservative leadership doesn’t rely on fear mongering, gratuitous extremism, and calls for violence. These are tactics used only by those who don’t have anything substantive or useful to offer their constituents,” Hunsaker tweeted Tuesday.

I’m not sure how touting the need for self-defense and a mindset of fighting for your life rather than cowering in fear is a “call for violence” or “fear mongering,” but Hunsaker has a vested interest in making a mountain out of this molehill. He’s also running to “recenter the GOP” around “conservative principles, not on personalities,” and yet I noticed that his campaign website is utterly devoid on the principled issue of protecting and strengthening our Second Amendment rights.

Owning a gun doesn’t automatically make you a “real man,” but I’d suggest that you can’t be a real congressman from a red state like Utah without really respecting and fighting for the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Burgess Owens delivered some 2A red meat to his conservative audience at the Turning Point USA conference, and Hunsaker’s going to have to offer more than his marshmallow fluff of a response if he wants to represent the gun-owning voters of Utah’s Fourth District.