What the Media Fails to Point Out: Men With Guns Kill People

In the wake of each mass shooting in the U.S. reporters tend to point out certain patterns typical these attacks: the weapons used, characterizations of perpetrators as “lone wolves,” Congressional inaction, and so on. However, what never seems to hold as many Americans’ attention more broadly is the fact that these perpetrators are almost always men. And while a few sources have pointed out the glaring continuity of men as perpetrators of violence, the conversation seems to be consistently subverted by other, more negligible, contributing factors.

Of the roughly 100 mass shootings carried out in the U.S. since 1982, less than 5 have been perpetrated by women. Not to mention that, of those, more than half were perpetrated by white men, making white men between 3 and 10 times more likely than any other racial group to become a mass shooter.

Yet, instead of confronting pervasive gun violence, many male conservative pundits love to invoke the fallacy that mental illness is always the root cause of mass shootings. The myth follows that guns are only dangerous in the hands of the mentally ill, and that more effort should be concentrated on addressing mental illness nationally rather than gun reform.

Donald Trump has suggested that mass shooter Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 of his classmates in Parkland, Florida in February, was “mentally disturbed” as the sole cause of the incident. Senator Ted Cruz repeatedly attempted to divert the conversation to preventative measures regarding mental illness.

However, serious mental illness is conclusively present in a minority of mass shootings—only 14.8 percent of all of the mass shootings committed in the U.S. in the last 50 years or so. Other studies have corroborated this trend, where those with serious mental illness are found to be responsible for 23 percent of “mass murders,” and just four percent of incidences of “interpersonal violence.”

Mental health is certainly a factor which contributes to mass shootings, but it is wildly oversimplified by many pro-gun reporters. Mental health is purported to be the prevailing cause while so many fail to identify maleness as the underlying cause.

Men own guns at roughly triple the rate of women in the U.S., where about 62 percent of men report owning a firearm as compared to 22 percent of women, according to Pew Research Center. In more constrained environments, some researchers have found similar causalities between men who commit mass killings and men who commit domestic violence in the home. And various studies have found that just simply being a man is often listed as one of the top two “predictive risk factors for committing serious violence.”

When considering the factor of mental health, a recent study by Oxford University found that women are up to 40 percent more likely than men to develop mental health conditions. The study goes on to explain that women are in fact nearly 75 percent more likely than men to have depression, and about 60 percent more likely to have an anxiety disorder, two mental health conditions so often falsely associated with mass shooters.

So if the propensity to commit gun violence and execute mass shootings were based largely on mental health, you would expect women to commit these atrocities at rates similar to if not higher than men. However, this seems to be a consistently disregarded point in mainstream media.

Generally speaking, ample research agrees that individuals with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence, and especially firearm violence, than they are to commit it. And moreover that men without mental illness are far more likely to commit violent acts than women with mental illness. So why is so much credence placed in these fallacies?

It becomes imperative to consider who is controlling the conversation both in print and on network television news. Those pundits who are controlling both sides of the debate on gun culture in the U.S. are diverting the conversation away from the importance of gender in the larger issue of gun violence.

Pew has found that white men oppose control gun control policy more than any other demographic or intersection of race and gender, and are most likely to be gun owners themselves.

Conversely, newsrooms have been historically dominated by white men. In fact, in recent years, newsrooms have steadily been about two-thirds male, with only about 12 percent racial “minorities.” And it seems even more fishy that the overwhelming majority of media moguls that dominate the most popular media conglomerates are white men.

Perhaps these men are just hoping that their audiences won’t connect these dots, that white male media executives and pundits are deliberately obscuring the culpability of white male mass murderers as a means to avoid confronting their own complacency in this nationwide epidemic.  And surely, journalists might be more able or inclined to more directly address the linkage between white maleness and gun violence were newsrooms more diverse by race and gender identity.

Maybe the most costly byproduct of this deferral of responsibility is that it squanders conversation about distorted perceptions and expectations about masculinity that bleeds into so many areas of American life, especially the media.

According to sociologist Eric Madfis, “male gender-mass shooter connection” is likely caused by cultural standards of how men are expected to behave, in particular, how they are supposed to react to stress and perceived victimization.

Madfis explains that where women tend to internalize blame and frustration, men tend to externalize these feelings through acts of aggression as modeled in representations of men in the media, popular culture, the military, and so on. Furthermore, even those men who may be suffering from mental illness are all the more unlikely to seek out help for fear of admitting vulnerability and being perceived as “weak.”

So while gun policy can be an effective avenue to limit the senseless violence enacted by irresponsible gun owners, it’s a worthwhile and undervalued question to ask why so many men see violence as a first resort to solving their sense of inadequacy, and why even more men in positions of power seem to ignore it.

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