The Sandy Hook Shooting, like all mass killings has sparked debates on
gun control, popular culture and accessible mental health care.
Saner gun laws and better mental health services would no doubt help
our country. But the unifying problem—the one that is wholly missing
from this discourse is gender, the fact that nearly without exception
violent crimes and mass murders are committed by men.
Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman has called for a national
commission on mass violence saying we need to better understand the
causes in order to prevent it and President Obama has promised to lead
a national effort bringing together police, parents and educators.
But the starting point in any real investigation of extreme violence
needs to begin with the Y chromosome, with an examination of how
aberrant behavior in men can become lethal. It needs to begin with an
understanding of how we cultivate and even glorify this behavior when
it suits our needs.
If change is to occur, the problem of anti-social masculinity must at
last be taken seriously. What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School
was a horror but as we well know it was far from an isolated event.
Men have entered schools and killed children before. Shooting them,
stabbing them, and in the case of the Beslen school siege in Russia
taking them as political hostages before murdering one hundred and
fifty-six of them. In July of this year a Norwegian man killed
ninety-two teenagers and young adults at a youth camp in Utoya.
Mass murder is not strictly an American problem. But the numbers are
Every year in this country three thousand women are murdered by their
intimate partners. By the end of this year another one million
physical assaults, rapes, and murders will have been committed by men
against other men, against women and against children. These are
simply facts and we must face them.
If we are genuine in our desires to find solutions for the problem of
violence we need to look closely at common causes. We need to
understand that boys and men are uniquely at a risk for committing
acts of extreme brutality. And we need to thoroughly examine the link
between gender and violence instead of seeing it as an inevitable,
unsolvable, mystery, or a problem that might be fixed if we took away
a particular kind of weapon.
If we are genuine in our desires to find solutions we need to develop
a system of screening that will identify potential problems in boys
early enough to help them and to save the lives of others. We need to
teach empathy in our schools. We need to use common sense when it
comes to exposing children to attitudes and images that equate power
and masculinity with violence and killing.
These are clearly long term solutions and it may take generations to
see a change. But there is no worthier fight. We need to help men
transcend the cultural and biological burdens of their gender or
resign ourselves to paying in children’s blood.