In the wake of the Texas Church mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, the media has spiraled into a frenzy, profiling the shooter, speculating about his motives, delving into his record of criminal behavior, whether or not he has a medical history of mental illness, and investigating how he acquired the murder weapons in the first place.
It seems as though we witness the same pattern every time one of these mass shootings occur. Which, unfortunately, feels all too often these days. And just as predictable as this pattern of reporting is, we can also often predict the pattern of something else-- a history of domestic violence.
Amidst the investigation into the most recent shooting in Texas, the shooter’s previous run-ins with the law have been uncovered and reported. And they fit the mass shooter profile: the shooter had committed domestic abuse against his wife and child, a conviction that led to a 12 month prison sentence and a bad conduct discharge from the military.
And while being convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor is supposed to trigger the federal ban on gun ownership, domestic violence remains a common theme in mass shooters’ backgrounds. In fact, 1 in 6 mass killers have a history of domestic violence, and those are just the reports that we know we about...so that number could be much greater.
The Las Vegas shooter? Verbally abused his girlfriend in public. The Pulse nightclub shooter? Abusive and beat his first wife repeatedly and threatened to kill his second wife, after physically abusing her as well. The shooter who opened fire on Republican members of Congress at a baseball practice? Physically abused his daughter and other women. The Planned Parenthood shooter? Accused of physical abuse by 2 of his ex-wives and previously arrested on a count of sexual violence and rape.
And this trend is not limited to incidents of gun violence… The man who drove his car into protestors at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville? Hit and beat his mother. The eldest Boston Marathon bomber? Accused of domestic violence too. The Virginia Tech shooter had harassed female students and the UC Santa Barbara shooter wrote an entire manifesto detailing his plan for a “War on Women,” writing that he wished he could kill every female on earth.
When it comes to violence, specifically gun violence, research suggests how we can mitigate some of these tragic losses. We can impose universal background checks, we can close gun show and private seller loopholes, we can criminalize the procurement of AR-15s and other military-style assault weapons—we can even reduce the number of guns in circulation, which has been proven to be the most effective method of reducing gun violence.
But it seems like there is a bigger, more pernicious issue at play here. When you look at the pattern among many of the men who have committed some of the most heinous acts of violence in our nation’s recent history, they frequently share a common trait of hating, and perpetrating violence against, women.
And while I fervently believe we need stricter and more comprehensive gun safety legislation, we also need to take a look at the bigger issue here. We have created a culture of toxic masculinity wherein some men come to view violence as an acceptable means to exert control over the women in their lives.
Since 1966, only 3 women have been responsible for a mass shooting, compared to the hundreds men have carried out over the same time period. Gun violence is a men’s problem.
And I’m not blaming men for that. Our society conflates masculinity with toughness, weaponry, lack of empathy or emotion, and yes, disregard for women. We give little boys toy guns to play with and tell them that if they like pink or dolls or talking about their feelings, they are weak and less of a man. We tell teenage boys that it’s cool to call girls sluts and whores, but that as a “man” you should sleep with as many of them as you can, without emotion attachment. In fact, we even tell men that showing affection towards a partner makes you “whipped.” And we tell men that their wives must be subservient to their husbands, as if women have no human agency, and that if they “act out” then men have permission to slap ‘em around a little...because no one believes the woman.
And when that same boy, who was handed a toy gun to play with and told it was manly at age 5, who learned to call women “bitches” at age 15, and who beat his wife at age 25, obtains a gun and commits a senseless act of violence...we are the ones who are being senseless if we do not target this issue at its inception--in how we teach young boys about what it means to be “man,” how to treat and respect women, and frankly, that their male privilege does not exempt them from being moral and ethical humans.
Do we need a cultural shift around gun control and the second amendment? Yes, we do. But that's merely attacking a symptom of the problem. Gun rights defenders like to say "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." But it's not "people." Overwhelmingly, when it comes to mass shootings, it's men-- 98%, in fact. So while stricter gun laws seem like a no brainer, we can't just focus on symptoms. We also need to attack this problem at its source, which is toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity hurts women, it hurts men, and it is responsible for the deaths of innocent children, women, and men in these mass shootings.