Staff Columnist

If you can carry a gun, you can wear a mask

Tough guys and freedom fighters wear masks. You should, too.

A cardboard John Wayne - wearing a bandanna and a cowboy hat while pointing a pistol - protects his birthplace in Winter
A cardboard John Wayne - wearing a bandanna and a cowboy hat while pointing a pistol - protects his birthplace in Winterset, Iowa. (Tom Uhlenbrock/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)

A gun, a cowboy hat and a bandanna. John Wayne, who Iowa claims as a son, often is seen with these three things in his classic western movies.

It’s an iconic look, but those aren’t just fashion accessories. Each one has a practical purpose.

The gun is for administering lethal force against bad guys; the hat protects your eyes and neck from the sun; and the bandanna can be pulled up to act as a barrier against particles, between your face and the rest of the world.

As part of the cowboy mystique, the bandanna is a symbol of preparedness, self-reliance and strength. Carry the right tools for the job, or you’re going to have a bad time.

In a pandemic, masks are the new bandannas. Instead of blocking dust on the cattle drive, they help block droplets that might contain the novel coronavirus.

Unfortunately, masks have become a divisive culture war issue. Polls show a partisan split on mask wearing. To some of my allies in the defiant right wing, masks are seen as a sign of weakness or subordination to the government.

I’m not interested in government mandates or wagging fingers in the name of public health. But I’m here to tell my friends they’ve got it wrong — masks, actually, are cool.

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Cowboys wear bandannas. Football players have face masks built into their helmets. Laborers have goggles and shields. They are tough people, using practical tools to keep themselves and others safe.

Back to guns for a moment. Many of my fellow Second Amendment enthusiasts alter their lifestyles significantly to accommodate weapons — their budgets, their wardrobes, the public places they are willing to visit. They carry multiple firearms and even tourniquets, all for the small chance they will encounter a bad guy with a gun on any given day.

But wearing a face mask at the grocery store, some of the gun guys tell me, is just too uncomfortable.

I have a close friend who regularly carries a concealed handgun and works in the firearms industry. During the pandemic, he’s become an avid mask wearer, and a rare evangelist for the cause to his right-wing Facebook friends.

My friend likens wearing a face mask to carrying a gun: “I carry and am trained in the use of a pistol. When I am alone, or best yet, with others like me, any place I’m near has some level of herd immunity from indiscriminate violence, or so I hope. Get it?”

I get it, but we don’t like doing stuff just because “experts” or some politician told us to. So let’s remember that masks historically have been handy tools for government dissidents.

Masks have been illegal more often than they have been mandatory. Governments here and abroad have used mask bans to erode privacy in the name of public safety — making critics of the state more easily identifiable to the authorities. Headwear prohibitions have also been used to stifle religious and cultural expression.

As an added bonus to slowing the spread of the virus, face coverings might hinder facial recognition technology, helping to block the peering eyes of big government and Big Tech from tracking our activities.

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According to legend, bandannas were popularized in America when Martha Washington commissioned a bandanna honoring her husband, in defiance of a British order against textile printing.

The George Washington bandanna was a physical manifestation of American subversion against the British Empire, and it might have been used as a handkerchief — to keep the nasty stuff from an American rebel’s nose away from other people. In that way, it’s kind of like a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Be a patriotic American. Wear a mask.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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