By Quinlyn Manfull
There’s a reason no one asks the gender of a mass shooter after the tragedy occurs; it’s because everyone already knows. Mass shooters are not a uniquely American problem, but an American men problem.
The day after Stephen Paddock took to a hotel room in Las Vegas with 23 firearms and killed 50 people this past October, Trump told reporters that Paddock was “sick” and “demented.” Trump, along with media outlets and politicians across the country, are quick to blame mental illness on each and every mass shooting perpetrated by a white body. Gun violence is only an issue of mental illness if we consider masculinity a mental health problem.
Mass shooters in the past 35 years have vastly been found to not have any serious, recorded mental illness. However, what most mass shooters also have in common is their gender. Of the 96 mass shootings committed since 1982, men committed 94 of them. Men are responsible for the vast majority of all gun-associated deaths in the country. Being a man is often cited as one of the top two predictive risk factors for committing serious violence, far more than a mental health diagnosis. Hegemonic masculinity is at the core of gun violence in our country today.
White men own a disproportionate share of guns in this country and make up the vast majority, or at least the most enthusiastic, of defenders of gun rights. White men cannot claim a desire to self-defense as a group that walks around the world more likely to be a killer than to be killed.
Guns in America represent disparity in power and domination; guns allowed white men long ago to colonize lands, to destroy culture and to massacre entire continents. Guns today continue to allow male domination over innocent bodies.
Hegemonic masculinity relies on imagery that bolsters manhood, guns are an example of that imagery. Manhood is framed as domination, control, power – guns can provide that for men. Shooting things in rapid fire props up a fragile and pathetic masculinity.
Men’s passion for control, to be loud, to be aggressive – these ideas that are bred into men as normal and desired are coming at the cost of our children’s safety, of women’s safety and of human dignity.
The slaughtering of children at school, of people at church and of women at home will never change the minds of men who hold their guns so close to their personhood because they are not the ones getting shot at most often.
Gun violence threatens the livelihood of vastly women – having a gun at home in cases of domestic violence increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent according to the American Journal of Public Health. There are endless stories of women who are shot and killed because they refused to give their number or sleep with men.
We have an American identity that worships men with guns: from the heroism of our soldiers, to the valor with cowboy films and the obsession with a militaristic state, men with guns are men with power. Men with guns are sexual icons.
When an entire culture fetishizes guns, sees them as an extension of one’s manhood, men who feel they are owed something can utilize that manhood to a fatal extent. Mass shootings and gun violence as a whole are a calamitous impact of male entitlement.
When you tell your young son that he can take up space, that he should demand rewards, that he should always take every opportunity, that he is special in and of himself, you breed entitlement – entitlement than can far too often be fatal. Entitlement that brutalizes blameless bodies.
Nearly 30 percent of mass shootings have taken place in the workplace, committed by resentful and dissatisfied male employees. The majority of gunmen who terrorize the public have histories of domestic violence. Men are taught they are owed women’s bodies, owed respect and owed power just by merely existing. When those are not provided to them, they take up arms.
Elliot Rodger who killed six people near the campus of UC Santa Barbara made a statement before his killings making himself the epitome of a “nice guy.” “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it,” Rodger claims, positing the idea that not wanting to sleep with a man is a crime.
Violence against women and the men who perpetrate it have never gotten the same attention as other violent crime, it isn’t taken as seriously.
Cedric Larry Ford killed three people in Kansas after feeling disgruntled by a restraining order from a former partner.
John Russell Houser killed two people in Louisiana after his wife asked for a temporary protective order against him.
Cho Seung-Huim killed 32 people at Virginia Tech after leaving a manifesto that can only be described as a rampage against women.
The fact of the matter is that saying no to men is nearly impossible when it so often leads to harassment, violence or death. Those problems are so widespread because we show men that they are innately and immutably powerful. We then paint guns as masculinity, we embed it into the culture of boyhood: boys go to the shooting range with their fathers, they hunt with their dads, the boy scouts learn how to load rifles together as a bonding tool. Normalizing guns and even gun safety does not remove inherent violence and it doesn’t make men any less entitled.
Guns are a manifestation of masculinity and a vehicle by which to exert power and control. When emboldened by a gun – when you can see and feel your masculinity – you are able to slay bodies that have denied you because you have been told that you are deserving simply because you exist.