Every time a carnage like this happens, they say: “Now is not the time to talk about the politics of the gun debate.”
Not only is now the time to talk about the gun debate, it is also the time to hold this issue to the light with our blood-stained hands and examine it like a multi-edged shard of glass, move our hands over its many contours and ask some hard questions.
Because we know that once the cycle (and it is a cycle) of shock, outrage, rage and grief dies out, we will not be able to ask these questions. While these images, these raw videos still have the capacity to bring many of us to tears by just looking at our TV screens, we remain capable of some soul-searching.
Of course it’s the guns! We know that from the history of mass shootings in other countries. But there is more to it than that. Of all the factors we analyze and discuss and base our political opinions on ― gun control, race, religion, mental illness ― there is one that we hold up to scrutiny least of all.
If masculinity was a country, we would have gone to war with it long ago.
98 percent of all mass shooters in the U.S. have been male. Is that mere chance? Women make about 51 percent of the population and only 2 percent of mass shooters. In addition, 90 percent of all murders in the U.S. are committed by men. Does the biology of our gender predispose us to being mass murderers? Something on the Y chromosome that we will identify 50 years from now and go - Ah, so that’s what it was?
Or is it not the biology of our gender, but gender itself?
Is there something about being a man, about performing the ruthlessly unending rituals of masculinity, that makes us men more likely to point a loaded gun at another human being?
Is there something about being a man that makes us want to own more guns, hence making it more probable ― inevitable really ― that one day, one of us will use it for a bloodbath?
Does modern masculinity, inherently fragile and perpetually in need of defence (from what?), need a gun so badly? And is that need for protection so high that we, as a nation, will stand back and watch the senseless slaughter of hundreds upon hundreds of innocents, and do nothing?
If masculinity was a country, we would have gone to war with it long ago. Or built a yuge wall.
We let our children, especially and mostly boys, play with guns. An innocuous expression of child’s play? Perhaps we think that it will make them braver, more fearless. Or is this also the NRA’s marketing finesse ― get ’em while they’re young?
Boys will be boys, we shrug. Yes, they will be. Until they end up on CNN for the worst possible reason.
One doesn’t need to have any familiarity with gender theory to realize that guns are one of the main symbols of masculinity. Power, aggression, dominance, the image of the alpha male ― the subtler links abound. It is the more overt connections that give the sinister symbolism more power. When staging masculinity in film, from a western to the relatively more recent Bourne franchise, you give a man a gun and he’s a man’s man. He can also protect ― the “good” guy in these films usually does. (Source of the NRA’s fantastical claim after every carnage perhaps? If the good guys had more guns, this could be prevented).
Is it also that in performing masculinity, men have their emotional outlets ― their pressure valves ― taken away from them. Boys don’t cry. Yes, they don’t. They just buy an AR-15 and gun scores of people down. In the end, of course.
What if we worked on making guns less sexy, less “masculine”, than they are in America today? But first, we will need to accept that the deadly problem of gun violence is fundamentally gendered.
We scuttle to find meaning in these tragedies. We are hungry for answers to the big Why? And in many cases, we might find them. Given our desperate need for answers and narrative, we drift numbly towards a simpler, less nuanced answer. We don’t need a multi-faceted shard of glass, we’ve seen enough of those smashing on TV. We need a clean white sheet of paper and someone to write on it: “He was mentally ill” “He was a jihadi” “He was a lone wolf with a troubled childhood.”
But there are other pieces of paper. One of which has this written on it in almost every case —
“He was a man.”
Let that sink in.