Each time there is a mass shooting in this country, which is pretty frequently, the discussions online inevitably turn to how to prevent another tragedy like the last. This month, the discussion around the Buffalo Shooting had barely died down before the next tragedy in Uvalde, TX struck. Timelines have been flooded with insightful analysis and less insightful memes surrounding stricter gun laws, access to weapons, background checks and red flag laws, mental health, reinforced school, and failures of policing.
Just like the last time.
And just like the last time, I find myself silently, or not so silently, screaming.
“What about the men? It’s the fucking men.”
Mass shootings, and overall gun violence in the nation has made violent tragedies the growing trend, a trend that desperately needs to be halted. But among all the political posturing, corporate greed, and collective grief – it’s hard to know where to even start untangling this complex problem – of mass shootings, gun violence, and gun suicides – not to mention the other horrific and violent attacks plaguing the mental and physical health of our families and communties – domestic violence, sexual assault, and prison rape/assault.
There is the assault weapon ban or similar restrictions and buyback programs, which have yielded massive success in other western nations. That’s a good place to start.
There is the call for mental health reform. I’m a big advocate for cultural shifts like destigmatizing mental health and policy reforms that require health insurance to cover mental health treatments (I mean actually cover, not the paltry coverage many provide now). I also believe that violence can be an effect of mental illness, but I’m not convinced that mental health is the only, or event the primary factor in America’s violence problem.
There are calls for “hardening” schools, which seems like a great idea on its surface, but going just one or two levels deeper into what that would look like renders that idea not only insufficient to address anything other than mass shootings in school, but woefully ineffective at keeping our children safe during the school day.* (Fire safety concerns, one entrance creates a kill zone for fleeing victims, the logistical and fiscal requirements of outfitting every school with proper technology, etc etc). And I won’t even address the calls for arming teachers or posting veterans at schools. Just no.
But ultimately it’s hard to know what, specifically to advocate for. Gun reform seems obvious, but I wonder – is that enough? Does that curtail domestic violence or child abuse at the hands of husbands and fathers? Does that stop high school seniors and frat boys from taking what they think they are entitled to? What is the interaction between gun violence and misogyny and how do we tackle a culture that makes those two factors catastrophically lethal? Because mass shootings exist on a spectrum. Men who commit atrocious acts of violence against strangers nearly always display a pattern of violence against others – usually women.
In fact, I’m not convinced that anyone can accurately isolate a single variable, that if addressed, will “fix the problem,” because gun violence in America is not the result of a solitary factor, but rather a deadly confluence of multiple interacting variables that have produce a wicked (in every sense of the word) crisis that continues to destroy families and communities.
This isn’t a new concept. In human behavior, rarely does A=B, in which there is a singular cause and singular effect. It’s nearly always multiple, interacting and dynamic variables. In intelligence we define a threat as capability + intent (two factors with multiple subfactors). In economics and international relations we use the rational choice theory. In sociology (and marketing) we talk about the Theory of Planned Behavior. Regardless of what we call it, folks who study behavior and decision making all acknowledge that multiple, interacting variables contribute to an individual’s decision to buy a phone, or start a war, or shoot up a supermarket, making it very difficult to effectively combat gun violence by addressing just one component.
But one factor, one glaring similarity among nearly all cases of violent crime.
More than race, socioeconomic background, age, or education level. Somewhere around 90% of violent crime is committed by a man.
Why the hell are so few people talking about that?
Why is gender so often left out of the discussion around how to prevent mass shootings, gun violence, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence?
Maybe because it’s not politically correct. Maybe that’s not politically correct, but as an intel analyst, we’re expected to identify links and trends and report our assessments without political influence and anyone who doesn’t see the link between men and violence is either willfully ignorant or lying.
Maybe it’s because saying it runs the risk of isolating men, putting them on the defensive with the “not all men” retort. I get that, comms are important, but I have faith in men. I see men, every day, standing up and recognizing the link without immobilizing guilt or defensiveness but an activating responsibility to use their gender and position to advocate for real, lasting change.
Still, to be clear, I do not believe all men are bad, and I don’t hate men – my partner is a man. I gave birth to a son whom I adore. As we all keep saying, it’s not about hating men, it’s about identifying the structures and culture that leads men to commit violence – against their partners, strangers, their children, and the children of others.
When we speak about toxic masculinity or intersectional feminism we’re not trying to take away monster trucks or football. We’re desperately trying to stop our sons and brothers and fathers from turning to violence. From shooting up a grocery store, or mosque, or a fucking elementary school.
We’re not trying to make men into women, we’re trying to keep our daughters, our sisters, our mothers from being assaulted, beaten, or killed at the hands of men who are incapable or unwilling to recognize that violence isn’t a display of strength and masculinity, but of weakness, cowardice, and immorality. We’re advocating for a world that doesn’t tell our sons that force and power aren’t synonymous with manhood and violence isn’t the surest way to restore that manhood when threatened, lost, or “stolen” by women.
Because that’s what we teach young boys today. We teach them that the coolest and most popular boy in high school gets the girl – and gets her to “give it up.” We elect a president that brags that when you’re rich, women let you “grab them by the pussy.” We have gun manufacturers who blatantly promise to restore isolated and weak men’s “man cards” for the low low cost of an assault rifle and dozens of innocent children’s lives.
I’m a gun owner, a Marine trained on firearms, a feminist progressive and a scholar who knows enough about how the brain works to know that I’m subject to my own biases like anyone else. But still, no bias can create that strong of a link between men and mass shootings or violence in general. If we are going to ever actually get serious about saving lives then we need to be honest about all the factors that contribute to these horrific events. We must confront our own complacencies and contributions to the misogynistic, violent, and deadly way that we define and treat masculinity and men.