Post-tragedy, the internet is a tough place to be. Behind the safety of their screens, people feel at liberty to accuse and condemn at will, to make statements with broad strokes that seem reasonable on the surface but are proof of nothing but fear, and I don’t blame them. I’m scared, too. There is true evil in the world, and at times it seems bigger than we can handle.
Everyone has an opinion on solving the problem of school shootings, and it’s a dialogue worth having. It’s clear that something must be done. I only wish that there was a way to have these discussions without fear-mongering, without the demonization and othering of those with mental illness, and without categorical hatred of one political party or the other.
I’m a mentally ill millennial who loves to shoot. According to a lot of you on the internet, I shouldn’t be allowed to have access to a gun. Of course, those of you who know me personally would probably not categorize me that way. You know I would never hurt another human being, that the desire has never so much as crossed my mind. You know that I enjoy target shooting and that knowing how to handle a gun makes me feel capable and less afraid of encountering one in real life. You know that Marshall and I used to live somewhere that was difficult for police to access and that having a gun in the house made me feel more secure.
I saw a tweet yesterday that said, “If you feel like you need an AR-15 you are not mentally fit to own an AR-15.” Marshall and I own an AR-15. Sure, we don’t feel like we need it. We’d be fine without it, but we also enjoy our right to own one — it’s fun to shoot, it’s easy to handle, and for me, it’s a lot more accessible than a traditional rifle due to a lack of recoil. Should I be considered mentally unfit because of this? Should Marshall?
My point in sharing this is that it’s important to remember that these horrific events are because of the choices of individuals. Owning an AR doesn’t make you a killer. It’s not a demon-possessed object that infects you with bloodlust the moment you touch it. Guns are just things, and when we start reacting with emotion and quick fixes (i.e., banning all firearms), it fails to get to the heart of the problem.
But Claire, you might say, if guns didn’t exist, shootings wouldn’t occur. That’s an inarguable fact that some see as a trump card. But the truth is that guns do exist. Not only do they exist, but they’ve been a part of American culture for a very long time. They’re part of our strong sense of individualism, our hunting and trapping background, and a necessity of our tendency toward rural spread. “The UK banned guns and they haven’t had a mass shooting since.” I applaud that, but this isn’t the UK, and even if it was, banning guns hasn’t had an effect on the recent rash of terrorist activity there or decreased the amount of crime and murder. People still kill people — evil still exists.
The next logical step for many people is this: it’s not a gun problem, it’s a mental illness problem. A high percentage of people who committed mass murder were on antidepressants. It’s not the guns, it’s the drugs. This is another circular argument. What about all the people on antidepressants who don’t go on murderous rampages? What about every other country in the world that contains mentally ill people and yet has a lower incidence rate of mass killings?
There’s another factor to consider, and it’s a lot more difficult to tackle than gun sales or monitoring the mentally ill. Regardless, I think it’s time we start talking about it — America’s problem isn’t in its liberal gun laws or its mentally ill citizens, it’s in the culture.
According to the CDC, as of 2014, suicide was the 7th most common cause of death for males of all races and ethnicities in the United States. It’s the 4th most common males over 45, while for females of any age, suicide doesn’t even make the top ten. 97% of mass murders between 1982 and 2017 have been committed by males, 56% of them by white males. These are statistically significant concerns, and yet I still don’t see campaigns for men’s mental health.
America’s male population is being underserved. This is a controversial thing to say because statistically and in popular opinion, it’s females who are considered the oppressed party. We make less money, we’re more likely to be victims of violence, and we’re held to societal expectations that require us to spend and do more to be considered acceptable. And yet, in spite of all this, we’re not the ones murdering people, and we’re not the ones killing ourselves.
Please note before you read any further that I am not saying that the people who have committed these horrific crimes ought to be painted as sympathetic characters. Whatever demons were tormenting them, whatever bullying they endured, whatever suffering they were experiencing, they chose to commit evil. For every one of them, there are innumerable others who suffered the same things but remain kind and compassionate.
I am also not saying that men as a group are oppressed or underprivileged. Here’s what I am saying: We as a country are failing our men. By allowing them to act out in violence without consequence, by saying “boys will be boys,” by maintaining a culture that lets them believe they are entitled to a certain amount of success, we are failing them. By expecting them to adhere to a standard of manliness that doesn’t allow for open expression of weakness, emotion, or affection, we are failing them. By encouraging them to look up to men who are violent and emotionless. What else could result from this but disappointment, frustration, and anger?
I’m open to talking about increased gun control measures. I’m not comfortable with the idea that only police and military should be armed — it goes against our identity as a country and it also contributes to the already troublesome system of power between law enforcement and citizens. I’m not comfortable with the idea of limiting citizens’ rights based on diagnoses, but I am comfortable with limiting the sale of firearms to people with a history of violence. Let’s talk about it. Let’s try something — inaction clearly doesn’t work. All that I ask is that we not ignore the elephant in the room: something is wrong with our boys. If they only feel heard through acts of violence, there is something wrong with us, and by us, I don’t mean victims, I mean the society that produced them: our schools, our families, our resources. It’s time we start taking some responsibility. We cannot keep expecting the government to fix our problems when the source of the trouble is in our very own homes and communities. It starts with us.
For a great read on how one teacher is trying to make a difference, click here.
This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that all violence begins with disconnection. All outward violence begins as inner loneliness. Who are our next mass shooters and how do we stop them? She watched that tragedy knowing that children who aren’t being noticed may eventually resort to being noticed by any means necessary.