The Borderline Bar and Grill: A Tale of Men and Masculinity

The Borderline Bar and Grill: A Tale of Men and Masculinity

November 5, 2019 27 By Stanley Isaacs


The mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and
Grill in Southern California on November 7, 2018 is a tale of men and masculinity. Lost in the carnage is a lesson we would all
be advised to heed. That lesson has little to do with the monster
who took lives and everything to do with the men who saved lives. The killer was 28 years old, lost, lonely
and living with mom. He had been a regular at the Borderline Bar
and Grill. He knew that on Wednesdays—college country
night—the place would be packed with kids laughing and dancing. He entered tossing smoke grenades, then unloaded
his handgun—fitted with an illegal extended magazine—into the crowd. But there were other young men there, too. One of them was 20-year-old Matt Wennerstrom. In interviews, Wennerstrom looks like a typical
college student—backward baseball cap, gray T-shirt, jaw scruffy with a few days’ growth. On camera, he seems laconic, humble, willing
to answer questions; neither eager for the limelight nor afraid of it. As soon as he heard the shots, Wennerstrom
told ABC News, he knew “exactly what was going on.” He and some friends grabbed everyone they
could and pushed them down behind the pool table, placing their own bodies on top of
the girls. One woman, who was celebrating her 21st birthday,
told Good Morning America: “There were multiple men who got on their knees and pretty much
blocked all of us with their back toward the shooter, ready to take a bullet for every
single one of us.” When the shooter paused to reload, Wennerstrom
grabbed a bar stool and tossed it through a window. He and his buddies pulled 30 to 35 people
to safety. After getting each group safely to the parking
lot, Wennerstrom and his buddies went back for more. A reporter asked Wennerstrom how he knew immediately what was going on in the loud, crowded bar. “Instinct, I guess,” he said. “I’m here to protect my friends, my family,
my fellow humans, and I know where I’m going if I die, so I was not worried to sacrifice. All I wanted to do is get as many people out
of there as possible.” This is the masculinity we so often hear denigrated. It takes as its duty the physical protection
of others, especially women. This masculinity doesn’t wait for verbal
consent or invitation to push a person out of harm’s way. It sends hundreds of firefighters racing up
the Twin Towers to save people they’ve never met. And it sent Sgt. Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office rushing into Borderline Bar and Grill, where the shooter was waiting for him. “I gotta go handle a call,” Helus had
just told his wife over the phone. “I love you.” The 54-year-old husband and father died at
the hospital from the wounds he suffered as he tried to stop the rampaging gunman. The way so many women have a natural ease
with caring for children, so many men have the instinct to protect and serve. It is a refined sort of masculinity that must
be developed and praised. The military has done this for years. Police academies and fire departments do it,
too. Only the educated classes have learned to
sneer at it. Would that they never need it. There will always be young men like the Thousand
Oaks shooter—full of rage, mentally unstable, failing to launch. We can work to eliminate the threat they pose
or treat whatever mental disease hobbles them. But we will never stop every evil-doer from
obtaining weapons. The extended magazine that enabled the shooter
to fire so many rounds is already illegal in California. As many laws as we pass, we will never eradicate
evil. So here’s the lesson: Masculinity is a style
of behavior, not a code of conduct. It can be used for great good and it can be
perverted into evil. One of the most important tasks of a moral
society must be to make boys into good men. If we continue to disparage the male impulse
to act heroically—if we mock those who want to protect women—we will fail in our task. Yet many seem bent on doing just that, especially
in our institutions of higher education. Fortunately, Matt Wennerstrom and his friends
missed the lecture that young women don’t require male protection. Thank God they did. I’m Abigail Shrier for Prager University.