Staff Columnist

On gun violence: It's the men, stupid

The gun department in a Dick's Sporting Goods store in Arlington, Va. on March 1, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
The gun department in a Dick's Sporting Goods store in Arlington, Va. on March 1, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Each time gun violence captures national attention, Americans are ready to respond with premade lists of their preferred social and cultural ills to blame.

Racism. Fascism. Antifascism. Religion. Atheism. Poverty. Privilege. Mental illness. Video games. Family structure.

Some of these are legitimate concerns, but there is a glaring factor that too often is ignored, especially by the people who most need to discuss it — the shooters are almost always men.

'Gun violence is an especially frustrating discussion, partly because both sides are prolific peddlers of statistical misrepresentations and bad faith arguments.'

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There have been more than 160 mass shootings in modern American history, according to a Washington Post tally that counts incidents where four or more people besides the shooter were killed. Only three of those cases involved women as aggressors.

On the broader and much more pervasive issue of all gun deaths, not just mass shootings, there are varying estimates on the portion of male perpetrators. It’s safe to say men are the overwhelming culprits, likely responsible for more than 75 percent of gun violence.

This is an unsatisfying observation, because it does not entail a particular public policy agenda. Any proposal to restrict freedom of movement or withhold Second Amendment rights on the basis of gender would be swiftly rejected, and rightly so.

Americans seem to be hungry for simple solutions — laws and regulations that would end suffering, without any real effort from most people. Unfortunately, the persistent scourge of interpersonal violence does not lend itself to such a solution.

Even if state and federal governments adopted whatever policy prescription you favor — gun control or video game censorship — men acting violently would persist, as it does in all countries.

Gun violence is an especially frustrating discussion, partly because both sides are prolific peddlers of statistical misrepresentations and bad faith arguments. Through all that noise, the problem of men should be clear.

Many of my fellow conservatives dismiss the gender disparity as an inevitable consequence of biology. Human males play an evolutionary role as protectors, my dismissive friends point out, so it’s only natural that we tend to be more aggressive and violent than women.

That is not good enough.

I acknowledge genetics is one factor, but it’s absurd to suppose society and culture have no impact on human behavior. Indeed, modern life has successfully educated and socialized men to be less brutish than our long-ago ancestors. Our world is becoming less violent at a quicker pace than biology could explain.

Maybe men will always be more violent than women, but surely we can do better. There’s no reason to think 2019 is the pinnacle of social evolution.

I mentioned above that the overrepresentation of men in the ranks of killers is too often ignored. The truth is, women have been telling us this for many years.

That’s what this whole “toxic masculinity” thing is about. It’s the same set of pressures that lead men to higher rates of untreated mental illness and suicide. Even if you don’t subscribe to the social justice agenda, these disparities are real.

It’s on us, guys. Our rights depend on our ability to be better.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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