opinion   |   oped

Toxic masculinity has an effect on gun culture

Nikolas Cruz is the suspect for the recent massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Stephen Paddock carried out last year’s Las Vegas Strip massacre. 

Omar Mateen was the gunman who was responsible for Pulse nightclub shooting. Dylann Roof was the Charleston church shooter. Adam Lanza was the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter. 

James Holmes was responsible for a shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012. Nidal Hasan was the Army psychiatrist behind the Fort Hood massacre. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were the teenagers who terrorized Columbine High School in 1999.

What do these American mass shooters have in common?

They range in age from 17 to 64. Some of their motivations were sometimes political, sometimes religious, sometimes racist, sometimes personal or are unknown. They came from diverse backgrounds. 

There is one trait they all share, though. They’re all men.

In fact, a tally of all the mass shootings in the United States since 1982 found only two were committed by women acting alone, with a third shooting — the 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California — committed by a husband and wife working in tandem.

When such a pattern emerges from decades of data, it’s time to have a conversation about masculinity and male violence. 

Mass shootings in particular can be linked to gender violence.  Data collected by the organization Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that lobbies for gun control, from the FBI found 54 percent of mass shooters had a history of domestic violence or killed an intimate partner or family member. 

Men are far more likely than women to commit not only mass shootings, but almost any kind of violence, from murder to forcible rape. In 2012, the FBI found 88.7 percent of reported murders and nonnegligent manslaughters were caused by men.  

Why is this the case? There is some evidence for biological factors playing a role, such as a slight association between testosterone an inclination toward violence. But the notion testosterone causes people to be violent is in doubt. Research has shown violent situations can trigger a rise in testosterone, rather than the other way around.

Social and historical factors can probably explain much of the disparity between sexes when it comes to violence. Thousands of years of patriarchy have led to a world in which males are conditioned to have a need for dominance.

Contrary to popular claims about men and boys being unable to express their emotions, they express anger much more overtly than women and girls. Women tend to internalize their anger, while men externalize it, taking it out on the people around them.

The anger that drives school shooters often relates to masculinity. A recent study by Portland State University scholar Kathryn Farr identified a pattern of school shooters who oftentimes were avenging actions that they perceived were a slight on their masculinity.

This suggests part of the solution to our country’s gun violence epidemic is a cultural shift. We need to make comprehensive efforts to avoid reproducing the same masculinity in the next generation of boys that increases the likelihood of these atrocities.

Boys need to be taught how to express their anger appropriately and healthily. Additionally, boys shouldn’t be socialized to pursue dominance over others as a way of affirming their masculinity.

The role masculinity plays in mass shootings must not be overlooked.

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