We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us –Pogo
Every time there’s a shooting, we relive the film Groundhog Day. We debate if it’s the guns that kill people or the people who fire the guns. Isn’t it both? Some argue that it’s not the guns but the bullets. Ok. But can we agree that using guns accelerates them into a deadly force? Throwing bullets seldom causes fatalities.
Continuing the Groundhog analogy, we move on to the mental health debate. While certainly a factor, we’re not having a serious debate about mental health and killing. Both sides agree on doing virtually nothing. Conservatives oppose “Red Flag” laws to take guns from violent and unbalanced people. Liberals oppose involuntary commitments and forced medications for violent and unbalanced people. Besides, we have neither the money, the therapists, nor the facilities to treat the violent and unbalanced people in our communities and on our streets.
We’re not having a serious conversation about the major factor in gun violence. Every day 321 people, on average, are shot in America. On average, 65 die from gun suicide (this makes the mental health and gun availability arguments). Forty-two are murdered. That amounts to 15,330 gun murders a year, plus 23,725 suicides.
So, is it guns or mental health? Wrong question. The elephant in the room (Not the Republican symbol) and the ass in the room (Not the Democratic symbol) are easy to see. The shooters are overwhelmingly male. Most murderers are young men (16-24 is the peak of the bell curve). While older men also commit gun murders, they are the exception. Though the age distribution is more even with suicide by gun, the gender distinction remains disproportionate. Of all gun murders, 98% are committed by males!
Why is this gender inequality not central to our debates about gun violence? If 98% of gun deaths came from Jews, don’t you think we’d be talking about it? If 98% came from African Americans, Asians, or Hispanics, you know the media would be obsessing. You can count on the fact that if women were doing 98% of the shooting, the studies, editorials, and political posturing would fill our media.
The facts are clear; the elephant and the ass have been identified. However, as in Hamlet’s last words, “The rest is silence.” We don’t discuss this overwhelming imbalance. Is this out of embarrassment or the male control of both media and academia? Could it be despair that there’s nothing to be done, so let’s look at something else? Maybe gender politics won’t let us admit anything that even hints that biology might play a part in destiny.
Is it just a coincidence that not only in America but around the world, men do the vast majority of the killing, not including war? Yet, war too is clearly related to male violence and our way of “problem-solving.”
On rare occasions, we’ll get into a conversation about nature versus nurture and wonder if we train boys to be violent. After all, we give them cap pistols, BB guns, and action figures. Maybe action figures, where the word action means violence, are the critical difference. After all, we give girls Barbie Dolls with clothing that promotes sex, not violence. Could that be it? I don’t think so.
As a survivor of child-raising in Berkeley in the 60s, we had no toy guns. There were no violent video games. No one played Cowboys and Indians (or, in Berkeley, Colonizers, and Indigenous People). Yet, in our peace-loving homes, our boys made guns out of their fingers and shouted, “Bang! Bang!” They built forts and destroyed them. They acted like stereotypic boys from ages past. Our girls never pretended to shoot, yell “Bang! Bang!” or destroy the forts they hadn’t built. Instead, much to the chagrin of many of us, they acted like stereotypic girls.
Certainly, females get angry and depressed. They, too, may act out but tend to do it differently. Girls and adult women have more suicidal thoughts than boys and men. However, they represent “only” one-third of suicides. Males shoot themselves or paint themselves into deadly corners and commit “suicide by cop.” Female suicides don’t shoot themselves and tend not to jump out of windows. Their attempts are neater and don’t leave as much of a physical mess.
Can we discuss gender differences? I don’t know. We have an opportunity, scientifically, to explore hormonal differences and the role they play in our violence. With much of the Trans Community taking hormones and hormone blockers and many cancer patients also taking hormone blockers, we might be able to measure changes in aggression linked to the presence or absence of testosterone and estrogen. Results might not be dispositive, but they could add to this important conversation.
Yes, sexual politics get in the way. Yet, how can we continue to ignore the terrible fact that 98% of shooters are male? Maybe we should be willing to admit that however tragic, the differences in male/female violence may have played a part in our human evolution, that men, by dint of strength and stupidity, went after Mammoths for food and fought wars, while women gathered crops and raised children. This biological strategy yielded survival benefits. Today, these differences may not have survival benefits, and we (males) are now maladapted to survive a great deal longer. We should be talking about the Bull Elephant and the Jack Ass in the room. They’re packing heat and inclined to shoot.