Las Vegas and Orlando were two of the deadliest shootings in United States history, with over 45 people killed in each of them. And yet, in the year that elapsed between the two, America added another 519 mass shootings to its bloody and bullet-filled history. In fact, according to The Guardian, there’s a mass shooting—defined as any incident in which four or more people are shot—nine out of every 10 days.
So what’s the cause of this problem? In the face of countless massacres, many are quick to blame lax gun control laws, insufficient mental health resources, or “radical Islamic” terrorism.
But when looking at the numbers, they betray another, more systemic cause—a culture of toxic masculinity. In fact, according to NBC, 98 percent of mass shootings are committed by men, and 90 percent of all murders writ large are male-perpetrated, as well.
This are a number of reasons why toxic masculinity breeds gun violence. The first is that gun companies in the United States specifically market guns as an accompaniment to and enhancement of masculinity (i.e., “macho” or “alpha” men own guns; effeminate ones are too “scared”). And that narrative is working. According to TIME, many gun owners tie their sense of self-identity and culture to their guns—they befriend other gun owners, watch gun-related TV shows, go on hunting trips for vacation, relax at the shooting range and tie their sense of freedom to their guns.
Second, over half of all mass shootings occur in the context of a man attempting to shoot his partner (or ex-partner) and murdering other people in the process. Often, the perpetrator is frustrated with his partner’s independence or romantic life post-relationship. These feelings often escalate to a lashing-out with a gun (or multiple guns) because society has taught men that women should be subservient to them, not have independent love lives and seek only to please them.
So what’s the answer? It’s actually not what most people might think—stricter gun control laws. While those can help reduce the problem, they often aren’t enforced properly or can be easily circumvented. For example, most existing gun control laws can’t regulate guns that have already sold or that were bought outside of the country, nor can they regulate gun parts that could be privately assembled into a deadly weapon. And perhaps more importantly, the kind of strict gun control laws that would be necessary to actually curb violent crime always face far too much political backlash to ever become reality. An alternative answer, then, might be to challenge the root cause of gun violence—the patriarchy that underscores American culture.
And while no single person could ever destroy this violent patriarchy (the very fact we’ve had three waves of feminism prove it’s a particularly hard monster to beat), there are small things each of us can do that might help dismantle the system piece-by-piece. For example, we could stop idolizing masculinity and brute strength, stop perpetuating stereotypes that men should be “strong” while women should be “weak,” and start teaching boys that women aren’t objects to be used for their pleasure. And while this might seem like something we’re already doing doing (who isn’t a feminist these days?), we’re still far from reaching our goals, largely because we actions differently in theory and in practice. After all, it’s much easier to say that we support equal pay for women than to stop making fun of our friends for acting effeminately. And while small actions like these might seem incapable of challenging a system as large and monolithic as patriarchy, it’s important to remember that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.