The Problem Isn’t Guns, It’s (White) Masculinity’s Violence

Ok calm down. What I mean is it isn’t just guns. Or maybe even mainly guns.

I am not your average anti-gun liberal. Half my family lives in rural Idaho and are hunting enthusiasts and even gun collectors. My own mother has guns. Plural. Members of my family whom I respect don’t want to register their guns because they don’t believe it’s good for the federal government to know where all the guns are.

Nevada is a particularly libertarian state, and both liberals and conservatives tend toward it. I mean prostitution is legal as well as gambling — some “live and let live” policies the rest of you puritans can’t seem to get on board with. But also when you live somewhere where help is several hours away — say in a rural ranching community — you *need* the means to protect yourself.

So, I’m the last person who would say that the right liberal response is to take away all the guns. As my honey — a navy medic to the marines who has seen combat and been part of Marine Corps special forces units — says, “guns are tools.”

Despite my work on agential objects, I don’t buy into the medieval rule of deodand, in which objects too are punished for the crimes they commit. A gun doesn’t choose to pull its own trigger. This, however, does not mean that I don’t support reasonable gun reforms like the rest of Americans (92 % of whom support universal background checks including 92% of gun owners and 86% of Republicans).

If guns want anything, they want to be shot. Triggers exist to be pulled, and arsenals exist to fight some kind of war, even if the one hoarding the guns is the only one who knows what war it is.

As a case in point, take suicides. For every homicide by gun, there is more than one suicide. A Harvard Public Health Study shows that gun ownership increases the likelihood of death by gun suicide. And if you think I’m taking this too lightly, my ex-husband and I bought the bullets for my father-in-law’s suicide by hand gun. Commenting on that study, Harvard School of Public Health Professor of Health Policy and director of the Injury Control Research Center David Hemenway comments: “Studies show that most attempters act on impulse, in moments of panic or despair. Once the acute feelings ease, 90 percent do not go on to die by suicide.” Thus reducing the impulse-feeler’s access to an immediate death (guns) actually reduces the likelihood they die at all.

Found unironically offered as wallpaper here.

But we aren’t talking about saving people from killing themselves in moments of despair. We are talking about gun violence, murder, and even mass murder, and how we as a country got to a point of accepting this as some kind of norm. To the point where every speech from a conservative politician is admonishing people not to “politicize” this tragedy. As if wanting to save the lives of Americans is somehow “playing politics.”

Nevertheless, I don’t think that more gun legislation is actually going to solve the problem. I think it is reasonable and necessary. But every time we go on about mental health when there’s a white shooter and ISIS when the shooter is Muslim, we miss the point.

As this article in The Nation points out, it is equating guns with freedom that is a major part of the problem. Author Walsh points out the connection between going to bed worried about Trump’s bluster toward North Korea and waking up to the news about Las Vegas. She states, “There is no connection between Trump’s threat and Paddock’s massacre, except a profound lack of empathy, a toxic male willingness to indulge grievances (we don’t yet know Paddock’s, but we soon will) with violence, and an obsession with the display of absolute power.”

Oh. Is that all.

I think it’s a problem that we have become ideologically invested in guns as symbols at all. A tool is a thing you use. As a symbol it is a point of propaganda, used to inspire devotion, fear, and rage. This is dangerous.

BUT can we also pause to note the other side of this headline — “The American Impulse to Equate Guns with Freedom and Masculinity with Violence” — that the author didn’t really pause to address at all? EQUATING MASCULINITY WITH VIOLENCE.

The Guardian

Let’s talk about this violence in terms of numbers. Today we are worried about mass shootings, a particularly American problem that no other industrialized countries share. Not even in European gun countries, whose per capita gun ownership comes closest to ours (34.2 guns per 100 people in Finland, 31.6 in Sweden, 31.3 in Norway, 31.2 in France, 30.4 in Austria, 30.3 in Iceland and Germany, and 24.45 in Switzerland — and btw, our homicide rates are twenty-five times that in all these countries).

According to this article in the Guardian, with helpful visualizations, there have been 1,516 mass shootings (where 4 or more people are shot) in the last 1,735 days. Days since Sandy Hook. This means that in the last five-ish years, fewer than 220 days have been mass-shooting death free in America. There have been 273 days in 2017. And 273 mass shootings. Scroll through some of those graphics. We certainly didn’t hear about all of these.

Moreover, the vast majority of mass murder and domestic terrorism in the U.S. is carried out by white men.

In 2017 thus far there have been 46,696 incidents involving gun violence; 11,689 deaths; 23,719 injuries. (Gun Violence Archive) Only a 274 of these deaths are from mass shootings. So, go ahead and tell me again about how limiting assault weapons and improving mental health resources are going to help this problem (though the mental health resources will help suicides).

No. We legit need to grapple with the problem that there is something about US, about who we are as a people, and in particular about our enactments of masculinity.

YES. The problem is MASCULINITY, and our version of it. In the United States, 90.5% of homicides are committed by MEN. And there is more of it here than anywhere else in the industrialized world.

The statistics are staggering. 93 people a DAY are killed by gun violence, 33,880 a YEAR and another 81,114 survive gun injuries.

But let’s talk for a minute about WHO IS REALLY DYING.

Of the homicides in the U.S. mostly men kill other men. 77.8% of the people who die by homicide are men. Of the remaining 22.2%, that’s women. And 55% of the women who are murdered die because of domestic violence. Of those women killed, 93% of these homicidal domestic violence incidents are perpetrated by male intimate partners.

Let’s go ahead and do the math.

Of the 15,872 homicides in 2014 (11,008 or 69.4% of which were by gun), 22.2% would be against women in general. That’s 3,424. At least 55% of those would have been women killed by domestic violence: 1,938. Of those, 93% were murdered by intimate (male) partners: 1,802 (1,250 by gun).

That’s just for 2014, and only counting specifically women who were murdered by husbands, boyfriends, or lovers. More broadly, this CDC study of homicides in 2015 highlights that “Homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women aged ≤44 years.* In 2015, homicide caused the death of 3,519 girls and women in the United States.” Homicide rates are considerably higher for black and indigenous women, who are killed at three times the rate of white women.

No matter how you count it, MORE WOMEN AND GIRLS are dying at the hands of male intimate partners than any other pattern of intentional death in the US.

3,519. In one year alone. Let me remind us that this number is considerably higher than the TOTAL death toll of the deadliest incident in US history: the 9/11 attacks in 2001, that killed 2,996 people.

You want to talk about violence, and gun violence in particular in America? Fine. But don’t kid yourself that better legislation or mental health care is actually going to solve the problem we have of dying by gun violence at 25 times the rate of other industrialized populations.

Our problem isn’t guns. It’s toxic white masculinity in which entitlement — to power over the bodies of women and black and brown people — and aggression are the enactments of what it means to be “real men.”

Consider Elliot Rodger’s twisted justification for his slaughter of students near UC Santa Barbara, based on his sense that the women he wanted (/was entitled to) wouldn’t sleep with him (as they should have) because alpha males were hogging all the women and women don’t give good men (like himself) their due (i.e. their vaginas). Indeed, even something as seemingly benign as the idea of the “FRIEND ZONE” implies a sense that men are entitled to be considered as romantic and sexual partners for women, and when they are not (i.e. when women like them, but not that way) they have somehow been denied something vital that should belong to them (i.e. a woman’s love/affection/body).

And this isn’t strictly an American problem. As Sian Norris writes of the sex robot being badly damaged at the Linz Ars Electronica festival, our culture normalizes male aggression (especially sexual aggression). The robot itself, Norris argues, idealize a woman who never says “no” or never has desires other than the owner’s (Samantha likes what you like), “eroticiz[es] non-consent” (even when Samantha, the robot, says “no,” she can be overruled, and she has rape and torture settings in which one can even break her fingers or cause her pain), and the normalization of male aggression (the toy is literally made to allow men to enact fantasies that would be inappropriate with real women, but to do so on the pliable plastic body that looks like a “pornified ideal” of an actual woman).

Freud himself implied that male sexuality was inherently linked to violence and aggression, and that part of sexual satisfaction was “overcoming” the resistance of the partner, even to the point of sadism. He implies that of course there is “a sadistic component in the sexual instinct,” which “takes on…the function of overpowering the sexual object to the extent necessary for carrying out the sexual act” (47–48). The fact that Freud’s vision of female sexuality as inherently passive and male sexuality as inherently active (a binary distinction going back to the Middle Ages and beyond) has been debunked doesn’t mean that we have rooted out all of the assumptions about gender and sexuality that have been built on this age-old falsehood.

In this sense, male sexuality can be collapsed onto aggression. Sex equals rape. And because female sexuality doesn’t really exist (i.e. women don’t have desires independent of the phallus or the desire to reproduce), their opposition is merely one inconvenience that needs overcome. Every Romantic Comedy playing upon the trope of the loveable persistence of a suitor in the face of a woman’s initial denial reinforces this ideology.

When we marry this normalized male aggression, that may be hypermasculinized in American media and culture, to our gun culture, we have a toxic and even deadly mix — particularly for women.

As a Nevadan since 1996, growing up in Vegas and now living in rural Northern Nevada, me and my people live in this space where gun law loopholes make it easier to buy guns than almost anywhere in the country, and toxic white masculinity nurses its perceived wounds such that protestors get run over by angry white kids in pick up trucks, and separatist militia men stage armed revolts against the federal government, and students in MY INSTITUTION wield torches at white supremacist rallies. I have skin in this game. My queer female body is literally on the line. And I, for one, do not believe that closing loopholes or instituting universal background checks is going to save me unless we also address our other ailment.

We should be treating toxic white masculinity as a public health crisis.

[Edit for clarity: I am not arguing that we shouldn’t do all of the above — institute common place gun legislation and improve mental health services — we absolutely should just because those are good ideas. But I am saying that doing those things alone will not solve the problem that so many people, especially women and women of color, are dying by gun violence in our country. ]