Last week, children across 12 schools in Colorado were ordered to hunker down in their classrooms. For hours, some hid in locked closets. Others hid under desks. This time, it wasn’t a drill; there was an active shooter alert.
Authorities later learned that the threats were part of a coordinated “swatting” attack, leading some to describe the event as a hoax or a prank. But to the children and teachers who feared for their lives, the event was anything but fake or fun.
Gun violence in America is not a new topic. But why waste time arguing the data of why gun control is effective when right-wing politicians have ignored it for years? It feels like no matter how hard we try or how much we know, calls for action fall on deaf ears — especially when it comes to those who need to hear it most: American men.
This leads us to perhaps the most important yet overlooked gun violence fact: In America, men are the perpetrators of nearly all gun violence and deaths. In suicides, men make up 80% of all deaths, with over half involving a gun. In homicides, more than 80% are committed by men, 80% of which are carried out with guns.
In public mass shootings, 98% of shooters are men, with assault weapons being the weapon of choice in 52% of the most deadly events. Even shootings by law enforcement are majority men.
Opponents of gun safety legislation will often argue that mental health is more to blame for gun violence than access to guns, despite that every other developed nation has mental health issues and nowhere near the number of gun deaths per year as in America.
The data show that easy access to a large number of guns is the most pressing part of the problem, but opponents of gun safety legislation are correct in that mental health is at least part of the equation. The caveat is that it’s not mental health for everyone; it’s mental health issues for men.
Considering that America offers everyone equal access to guns regardless of gender, it’s clearly not a coincidence that women aren’t the ones repeatedly shooting up elementary schools. Overall, women are taught from an early age not to be violent and to openly express their feelings. Young girls are also encouraged to engage in close friendships and to maintain family relationships.
In many ways, this disproportionately burdens women with emotional labor as men aren’t taught to do the same.
Yet developing these emotional support systems also benefits women by improving our ability to manage negative emotions, such as frustration, loneliness and anger. Extreme violence, for example, becomes much less necessary when you have access to tools such as using one’s words, hugging or crying; and while some people like to poke fun at women for using these tools and being “too emotional,” there’s absolutely nothing more emotional than a man who doesn’t use them and who later guns down a dozen strangers with an AR-15 at the local grocery store instead.
Unfortunately, many men in America do not feel comfortable accessing their fundamental human right to express one’s emotions safely. Instead, men are often taught to bottle up their emotions, leading to unnecessary health problems and, sometimes, extreme acts of violence.
Arguments that men are biologically driven to violence toward themselves or others are not grounded in fact. Most men are inherently capable of learning how to safely express their emotions; we simply need to teach and encourage them to do so. And if you refuse to accept that this is possible, then that in and of itself is a pretty damning argument in support of gun control, at least when it comes to men.
Gun violence continues to stoke fear and threaten lives in America, and there’s no doubt that more robust gun safety policies are part of the solution. But if we’re serious about tackling the whole issue of gun violence, then we must also ask ourselves why so many men turn to guns instead of words to deal with their emotions.
Unfortunately, the answer is often all too simple: that’s what we’ve taught them to do.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
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