On Feb. 14, 2018, 17 people were killed and 14 more were injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. They were mowed down by a lone gunman with an AR-15 Assault Rifle. This shooter, Nikolas Cruz, purchased his weapon, along with his ammunition and large capacity magazines, legally. There are many appalling aspects to consider about Cruz’s rampage. Perhaps one of the most disturbing is that his act was not an aberration. This was not the first mass school shooting (defined, in this circumstance, as a shooting where three or more people are killed) in America, and it will not be the last. Since the Columbine High School massacre occurred in 1999, and 15 students were slaughtered, there have been 122 people killed in mass school shootings. The crimes committed at Columbine High School were the first of their kind, but today they are far from unique. Further, if the danger of guns is considered beyond the scope of mass school shootings, the numbers are far more daunting. Since 1968, when these records started being kept, there have been 1,516,863 gun deaths on American soil (this statistic is from October 5th, 2017. Today the number is higher). This figure is especially staggering when taken into consideration that in its entire history, the U.S. has seen 1,396,733 soldiers die in war. This number accounts for approximately every American soldier’s death since the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Therefore, as of Oct. 5, 2017, an estimated 120,130 more American lives have ended due to both accidental and intentional domestic gun violence since 1968 than have died defending the country at war since the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1775. These numbers suggest that gun violence is an American public health issue. Clearly, it is. But more specifically, it is a problem exacerbated by American men.
In a column for USA Today, Alia E. Dastagir points out that “many disturbing details are known about Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who killed 17 people … at his former high school in Parkland, Fla. Many questions remain about Stephen Paddock, still largely a mystery months after he gunned down 58 in Las Vegas. But the piece of their identities that are alike are also the ones that were almost a given: they are men.” She then explains that while there have been 97 mass shootings since 1982, only three have been committed by women, and one of these attacks was the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack which was committed by a husband and wife. Therefore, men have been involved in 95 of the last 97 mass shootings. Further, she notes that American men are three times more likely to own a gun than women, according to recent survey data collected by the Pew Research Center in 2017. Men are also killed by guns more often than women. Consider data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation. According to their statistics, Alaska is the state that sees the highest number of women killed by guns, at 9.8 for every 100 thousand people. Conversely, Massachusetts has the fewest number of men killed by guns, at 6.7 for every 100 thousand. Only five states on the list can boast having fewer men killed by guns for every 100,000 than Alaska’s 9.8 figure for women. This disparity is astonishing.
Perhaps these disproportionate statistics are the result of a corrupted culture of hyper-masculinity in America. Men feel a need to assert dominance. Sometimes this expression becomes deadly. An obvious example of deadly masculinity can be seen in Elliot Roger’s vicious attack in Isla Vista, a gorgeous Southern California beach community home to UC Santa Barbra (UCSB), where Roger was enrolled as an undergraduate. Roger left a manifesto before he went on his shooting spree. In the opening, he wrote, “All of my suffering on this world has been at the hands of humanity, particularly women…All I ever wanted was to fit in and live a happy life amongst humanity, but I was cast out and rejected…all because females of the human species were incapable of seeing the value in me.”
After writing the rest of his 141-page manifesto about how he has been constantly rejected by women and therefore deserves revenge, he proceeded to stab or shoot seven people to death, and injure 14 others. The main target of his attack was a sorority house at UCSB. A culture of hyper-masculinity taught Roger that he needed to assert dominance over the women who had eluded him for so many years, so he murdered them. Three of his weapons were fully legal handguns.
Certainly, while guns adversely affect men and women, the exploitation of their deadly force is uniquely masculine. Before the Parkland shooting, I had long thought it curious that feminists have never embraced guns en masse. It seems that these weapons serve as the ultimate symbol of power. After all, when people use the phrase “you brought a gun to a knife fight” it means that whoever has the gun has the ultimate upper hand. Generally, feminists want to equip women with the proverbial gun at knife fights. So why not arm them with the real thing too?
This perspective of mine was half-baked and naive. After more deeply considering the implications of the American gun problem, I realize that it would be an obvious misstep for feminists to arm themselves. The intent of feminism is to raise the status of women so that it is equal to that of men. I am not suggesting that it should be considered some major point of pride amongst feminists that women don’t shoot random clusters of people with guns because of pent-up rage the way men do. We should expect our citizens to never commit such heinous crimes, and when these crimes are committed, we ought to be ashamed. If feminists decided to arm themselves at higher rates, they would be recognizing a disturbing reality that the behavior of villains like Stephen Paddock and Elliot Rodger is normal. Instead, fighting to quell the proliferation of guns is an assertion by the movement that male gun violence is unacceptable and will be eradicated.
A solution to this major public health crisis is not greater proliferation of arms, whether they be in the hands of feminists, school teachers, or anyone else who suddenly feels unsafe due to the normalcy of these heinous crimes. I am no expert on the matter, but it seems to me that banning certain types of firearms makes perfect sense, both from a constitutional and pragmatic perspective. In fact, if we want to continue to call our government a democracy, we have an obligation to pass comprehensive gun reform, as this reform is supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans.
While gun reform is important and necessary, so is the cultural battle that comes with creating this reform. In one of my classes, “Women, Gender and Politics” we discussed the gendered nature of ordering coffee at Starbucks. In North Carolina, it seems that there is an unwritten rule that men cannot order anything but black coffee at Starbucks, for fear of being cast aside as feminine. In Los Angeles, where I am from, I suppose this feeling sort of exists, but to a much smaller degree. Generally speaking, you are much more likely to see men ordering lattes in Southern California than you are in the Piedmont Triad. Similarly, you are much more likely to meet gun-owning men in Winston-Salem than you are in Los Angeles. At a minimum, men in this area tend have a far greater understanding of guns than do men in Los Angeles. In fact, I have had many conversations with my mostly conservative fraternity brothers about gun culture and gun ownership. Early in these conversations, my masculinity has been questioned because my only knowledge of guns can be traced back to experiences on the BB gun range at summer camp. My friends, on the other hand, were raised with guns and taught to handle them properly. Most of their sisters weren’t.
This leads me to the conclusion that perhaps the best way to reduce mass, seemingly unprovoked gun violence is to demasculinize gun culture without allowing feminism to embrace this very same culture. Admittedly, I have no idea how to go about doing so. However, I am confident about one thing. Greater proliferation of guns is a horrible response to repeated gun atrocities.