April 20, 1999 – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold enter their high school (Columbine) and shoot 12 classmates, 1 teacher, and themselves. 15 dead. 21 injured.
October 2002 – For 23 days John Allen Muhammad (adult) and Lee Boyd Malvo (minor) engage in a series of shootings in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. 11 dead – 10 murdered, 1 later executed. 3 injured.
April 16, 2007 – Student, Seung-Hui Cho, engages in the deadliest mass shooting in the United States after 2000 at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia) killing 32 people and then himself. 33 dead. 29 injured.
July 20, 2012 – James Eagan Holmes enters a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and opens fire on moviegoers at a showing of Batman “The Dark Knight Rises”. 12 dead. 59 injured.
December 14, 2012 – Adam Peter Lanza shoots and kills his mother, Nancy, then drives her car to an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and opens fire. 28 dead – 20 children, 8 adults. 1 injured.
. . . And the American public is up in arms – puzzled and bewildered as to how and why something like this could ever happen.
What in the world would possess someone to do this?
In effort to help the public make some sense of the chaos and not feel powerless, we pry into the personal lives of the shooters-who-are-also-victims, reignite stalemated political arguments, and encourage folks to run to their prayer closets.
We hope that the mental histories of the shooters-who-are-also-victims will reveal what went awry in their lives causing them to perform such atrocious acts. For those who don’t kill themselves we incarcerate them, try them in a court of law, and typically administer the harshest punishment of which we’ve conceived –
execution state-sanctioned murder – perpetuating the cycle of violence. Over 1,300 human beings murdered since 1976.
Persons on both ends of the gun debate double down on their convictions. Pro-Gun Groups defend the Second Amendment and explain why the shooters-who-are-also-victims are different than the other “reasonable” and “sane” persons who own and use guns. Anti-Gun Groups recall the American history of mass murder in effort to tighten restrictions on gun availability and ownership.
As to not be overcome with sadness, some appeal to their faiths to arouse hope. Facebook and Twitter ramp up with old religious adages – “If we ever needed the Lord before, we sure do need him now.” / “When there is nothing left to do, we can always pray!”Some people’s faiths take them so far as to ruthlessly claim that even in these acts of violence the will of The Divine is in some mysterious way being enacted.
Though we attempt to quickly turn the page, fooling ourselves into believing these mass shootings are exceptions to the norm and that it will not happen again, the truth lurks in the corners of our minds. No matter how much we discover about the lives of the shooters-who-are-also-victims, no matter how strict gun regulations become, and no matter how hard we pray the truth haunts us. And that truth is these shootings are not exceptions, but are extreme representations of the normative violence that has become the common currency of our world as a result of our infatuation with patriarchal masculinity.
But the truth is too hard to deal with. To acknowledge that there have been over thirty mass shootings in America since 1999, taking around 250 lives – at least seven of which have taken place in 2012 alone – would force us to surrender our illusion of peace and security. To see the shooters-who-are-also-victims, not as mentally unstable nutcases, but as our coworkers, our friends, our neighbors, our classmates, our students, our war veterans, our family members, our children would be to admit that we are all prone to such acts because of our schooling in the violent halls of patriarchal masculinity.
Until we deal with the fact that our society relies of rigid constructions of gender, wherein to be masculine means to be physically strong, powerful and domineering, unfeeling, unemotional, independent, detached, etc. such violence will continue. Until we start teaching people, particularly men people, healthy ways of coping with frustration and disappointment, giving them spaces to feel their pain and express their anguish – express their humanness – violence will continue to be seen as the only way to cope with problems.
Until we stop distracting ourselves with the red herring that is the gun control debate such violence will continue. We need deeper discussions about the conditions that lead some people to believe gun ownership is necessary in the first place. Even if we confiscated every gun in the world, locked them up in a safe and threw away the key, violence would still be pervasive in our culture. We’d soon find ourselves having debates around knife control, crowbar control, hayfork control, broken beer bottle control, etc. Because while limiting gun availability is a step in the right direction, it merely addresses a symptom of the problem and not the disease itself. In the words of one of my old Sunday School teachers, “You don’t go to the doctor to get treated for sniffles, you go to get treated for a cold!” Likewise, we must address the disease of violent patriarchal masculinity as opposed to the symptoms thereof.
Shall we continue steamrolling ahead, debating symptoms while disregarding the disease itself?
The disease is so subtle that many times we don’t even recognize the ways it seeps into our subconscious, shaping and forming us from the earliest moments of our childhood.
It forms us every time a young man cries and we tell him “Man up, punk! Real men don’t cry,” denying the reality of his hurt and pain.
It forms us every time we teach a young woman that her ultimate fulfillment will come in marrying a good patriarchal man – as if there is such a thing. It forms us every time we teach young women that their ultimate purpose of existence is to do the feeling that men won’t allow themselves to do.
It forms us every time we are divided – girls on one side, boys on the other – and taught to view ourselves in a binary fashion, as completely different than one another.
It forms us every time a mass shooting occurs and the media mantra of “if it bleeds it leads” controls the way the story is told. We broadcast trauma for the world to see as if it’s an action film with a twisted plot as opposed to a tragedy.
It forms us every time our tax dollars are used to continue blindly funding Israel in the Palestine-Israel conflict as a result of our un-interrogated “religious convictions.” It forms us when we don’t treat the killing of 1,477 Palestinian children by Israelis and 129 Israeli children by Palestinians (since September 29, 2000) just as seriously as the killing of 20 children in Newton, Connecticut.
It forms us every time we attempt to turn the page on trauma, not allowing ourselves to lament but forcing ourselves to move on in the name of maintaining the illusion of American patriarchal strength.
It’s been so deeply engrained into our psyches, and so well disguised as the foundation of our country and world that it’s difficult to conceive of as a problem. We’ve been taught we need it to survive. Ironically, it is this very assumed source of survival that is killing us daily, well before any mass shooting takes place.
As long as we refuse to see the shooters-who-are-also-victims as extensions of ourselves and byproducts of the violence we perpetuate daily in milder, but just as detrimental, ways we won’t have a serious discussion about patriarchal masculinity and the violence it fosters in our world. As long as we fail to see the killing of 28 people in Newtown, Connecticut, the acceptance of the “Stand Your Ground” Law as a reasonable defense against the murdering of black flesh, physical and emotional violence against women (who in many cases of mass shootings are directly targeted) as intricately connected our efforts will be in vain.
In addition to arguing about gun control and praying, we must shed the chains of patriarchal masculinity and the violence it perpetuates. We cannot continue giving patriarchal masculinity a pass and blaming violence on the symptomatic manifestations thereof.
We must allow these violent manifestations of patriarchal masculinity to lead us in the challenging and changing of the standard of patriarchy undergirding our society. No longer can we settle for just being bewildered or running to the closet and praying. No longer can we settle for only talking about the symptoms. Knowing the disease of violent patriarchal masculinity, and knowing it well, we must directly address it in truth, understanding that it is not an exception to the norm, but the standard that must be debunked if we are to continue living.