Let’s Talk About Revising Gun Laws—Let’s Also Talk About Gender-Based Violence

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In the wake of the horrifying Las Vegas shooting two Sundays ago, there has been a lot of talk about revising gun control legislation—and why wouldn’t there be? There have been countless shootings within the last five years, but this one was the most lethal. Fifty-eight people were killed, five hundred were injured (with a portion of those injured in critical condition). On October 1, 2017 a man decided that he was going to dig into his cornucopia of military-grade assault rifles, pack them up in his luggage, and hash out a plan for mass murder atop one of the most popular hotels on the Las Vegas strip. If that isn’t an impetus for impactful action, then what is? Shortly after the events in Las Vegas, ol’ reliable Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced that Congress would not vote on the new gun silencer bill. This bill, backed by the NRA, would make it easier for Americans to buy gun silencers. Many GOP congressmen have also decided to rethink legislation that would restrict Americans’ ability to purchase semi-automatic weapons. FINALLY. Since January, there have been 273 mass shootings alone—a statistic that should make your hair stand on end and boil your blood simultaneously. The need for gun control legislation reform is urgent and, frankly, a no-brainer. However, gun control legislation reform alone is not going to put an end to these kinds of violent crimes. In order to reduce the rate of these incidences, our society collectively needs to understand and address the elephant in the room: gender-based violence.

The scenario in Las Vegas, like countless others, is an occurrence that is becoming familiar to most of us. A white male like Stephen Paddock digs into his arsenal (that he has legally acquired) and decides he is going to open fire on a crowd of innocent people. The perpetrators of these unspeakable acts of terrorism always fit the same profile—white men. That is not to say that women are not or cannot be violent, but there seems to be a disproportionate amount of white men committing mass murder on a yearly basis. What causes these men to act in this way?

“Our history of coercive acts has bred a culture of entitlement amongst white men, and this culture has remained pervasive in the present day.”

In her incredibly perceptive book, Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit writes about the ways in which violence is an inherently gendered part of our culture in the United States. She notes that men who commit these acts of violence feel as though they are owed the right to power over other human lives. This kind of culture stems from our country’s exploitative treatment of African slaves, Native Americans, women, and many other minorities. Our country was founded by white, wealthy men who believed they had a God-given right to get whatever they wanted when they wanted it. If there was something standing in between a white man and his fortune, there was no time for bargaining or reasonable conversation. The obstacle blocking the road to instant gratification was forcibly, and often brutally, removed. Our history of coercive acts has bred a culture of entitlement amongst white men, and this culture has remained pervasive in the present day. Men who commit these horrific crimes today think they possess an exclusive privilege to decide on a whim whether or not they are going to act violently on their rage, and the repercussions are inconsequential to them.

After the initial shock of the Las Vegas shooting, an ABC News article headline read, “1000 Leads Later, Authorities are Still Stumped by Vegas Gunman.” The article went on to explain that the police had been looking for a disturbing motivation to publicize. As if only an irrational, mentally ill person who was not in his right mind could have committed such an atrocity. Every news outlet that covered the case was concerned that Paddock had no motivation. However, the authorities and the media outlets were searching for a scapegoat. Why does there have to be a Law and Order SVU-like cryptic motivation? The answer is, there doesn’t have to be. Proof of a mental illness would give authorities and the media an out so that they could avoid talking about a white man’s proclivity towards violence. (The issue of mental health and how we handle mental illness in this country is also highly problematic and deserves it’s own conversation.)

“How do we change the way we shape the consciousness of white men so that they understand that they do not have the right to a person’s body or life and so that they can express their emotions in a healthy way without being perceived as weak?”

Our society is one that breeds a culture of violence, racism, misogyny, and toxic masculinity. Those who still hold the majority of power in this country exhibit these same cultural values. Sometimes a terrorist doesn’t need a thriller movie-like motivation. Sometimes a terrorist is an angry white man who felt the need to take out his pent up aggression on a group of people because he felt he had the right to do so.  Sometimes a terrorist is just another angry white man who has been taught that the only way to express his emotions is through anger and violence.  And so, our first thought should not be to ask about motivation and hope for a scapegoat. Our first thought should be to hold ourselves accountable as a society. How do we change the way we shape the consciousness of white men so that they understand that they do not have the right to a person’s body or life and so that they can express their emotions in a healthy way without being perceived as weak? How can we reverse this culture of entitlement and subsequent violence that follows each time a white man is denied sex, wealth, or power? These answers are difficult to articulate, systemic, intersectional, and multifaceted, but, in addition to common-sense gun control legislation, eradicating gender-based violence is the next problem we need to solve in order to create a safer America.