Photo Credit: John Locher/AP Images.
For decades, the number of mass shootings in the U.S. has steadily increased. From 1966 to 1975, the U.S. experienced a total of 12 mass shootings; during the time frame of 2006 to 2016, the U.S. has witnessed 183 mass shootings.[i] Many argue that easy access to firearms is to blame for the rise in mass shootings.[ii] This statement does seem to hold some truth, considering that the U.S. is the most armed country in the world.[iii] However, there remains a bigger problem that is often overlooked by U.S. policy-makers when it comes to how to effectively address the issue of mass shootings in America. A major factor that seems to be relevant in explaining why mass shootings are so prevalent in the U.S is gender.
According to Asma, the last 129 mass shootings have all been carried out by men with the exception of three cases.[iv] Although masculinity is not a new phenomena, its traditional position in American culture has become less secure as gender norms continue to shift.[v] Men in the U.S. traditionally held positions of power that enabled them to control women and limit their influence in society.[vi] The rapid increase in mass shootings over the past half a century could potentially be the result of masculinity’s displacement from power. Furthermore, what connects all of these perpetrators is not just that they possess masculine traits, but that they feel emasculated by society and need to re-establish themselves as men.[vii]
Another major commonality found among mass shooters is their tendency to struggle to meet the stereotypical definition of manliness.[viii] As they seem unable to cope with this frustration, they lash out at society for rejecting them by conducting a mass shooting. Doing so allows mass shooters to put any doubts about their masculinity to rest. Nearly a third of mass shooters were found to have a history of stalking, targeting, harassing, and abusing women.[ix] These results could indicate that a large portion of mass shooters hold resentments towards women.[x] However, the evidence could also point to the influence of gender hierarchies. If mass shooters fail to meet the rigid standards of masculinity, then attacking women who traditionally have been designated as weaker could help them counteract their feelings of humiliation.
What tends to happen when news of a mass shooting emerges is that policy-makers and the American public label mental health as the culprit.[xi] This poses a serious issue because it leads to an increase in the stigmatization of mental health problems that impacts a broad range of people and oversimplifies links between violence and mental illness.[xii] While mental health can be a contributing factor in certain cases, it is not the primary reason that mass shootings occur.[xiii] U.S. policy-makers need to consider the role that gender plays in mass shootings when looking for policy solutions. Otherwise, efforts like background checks, reducing access to firearms, mandating training and licenses for owners, and requirements for storing guns will fail to significantly reduce the number of mass shootings in the U.S.[xiv]
The following solutions can help U.S. policy-makers address mass shootings in a more coherent manner. First, policy-makers should establish school programs that require both female and male students to see school counselors regularly.This will help de-stigmatize mental health issues at an early age and make it less likely that they will be reluctant to ask for help later on. Second, public schools should mandate anger management courses to all male students in an effort to teach them healthy ways to cope with stress, anger, and depression. This will help men establish alternative solutions to address their problems and minimize the likelihood that they will resort to violence. If U.S. policy-makers are serious about addressing the issue of mass shootings, they need to consider how gender is impacting the motivations of these individuals. While instituting stricter gun control laws may help lower the overall number of mass shootings, it will not eliminate them entirely. The U.S. government must go beyond gun restrictions if it wants to solve the issue of mass shootings once and for all.
[i] “Mass Shootings Fact Sheet,” Rockefeller Institute of Government, https://rockinst.org/gun-violence/mass-shooting-factsheet/
[ii] Josh Gauntt, “Why Does the U.S. have so many mass shootings,” WBRC News, April 14, 2021. https://www.wbrc.com/2021/04/15/why-does-us-have-so-many-mass-shootings/.
[iii] Laura MacInnis, “U.S. most armed country with 90 guns per 100 people,” Reuters, August 28, 2007. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-world-firearms/u-s-most-armed-country-with-90-guns-per-100-people-idUSL2834893820070828.
[iv] Stephen T. Asma, “The weaponized loser,” Aeon, June 27, 2016. https://aeon.co/essays/humiliation-and-rage-how-toxic-masculinity-fuels-mass-shootings.
[v] Pankaj Mishra, “The Crisis in modern masculinity,” The Guardian, March 17, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/mar/17/the-crisis-in-modern-masculinity.
[vii] Laura Kiesel, “Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings; Blame Men,” Politico Magazine, Jan. 17, 2018. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/01/17/gun-violence-masculinity-216321/.
[viii] Clara Ure, “Mass Shootings: The Result of Toxic Masculinity,” https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/998/2018/04/ClaraUre-MassShootings.pdf.
[ix] Mark Follman, “Armed and Misogynist: How Toxic Masculinity Fuels Mass Shootings,” Mother Jones, Summer, 2019. https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2019/06/domestic-violence-misogyny-incels-mass-shootings/.
[xi] Jonathon M. Metzel and Kenneth T. MacLeish, “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms,” American Journal of Public Health, Feb. 2015, doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302242.
[xiii] Meg Kissinger, “Why Its Wrong to blame mass killings on mental illness,” Columbia Journalism Review, Aug. 16, 2019. https://www.cjr.org/analysis/mass-killings-mental-illness.php.
[xiv] “Gun Violence Must Stop. Here’s What We Can Do to Prevent More Deaths,” Prevention Institute, https://www.preventioninstitute.org/focus-areas/preventing-violence-and-reducing-injury/preventing-violence-advocacy.