The Other Question.

Our Prime Minster is in the United States this week, apparently meeting with various people, including President Obama. Most of us here are under no illusions that an Australian Prime Minister has anything to say which will be of much importance to the US, but our country did recently get a mention when Obama was speaking about the recent shooting(s). He spoke about Australia’s laws with respect to gun control:

“A couple of decades ago Australia had a mass shooting similar to Columbine or Newtown.” […] “And Australia just said, ‘well, that’s it … we’re not seeing that again’ and basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws and they haven’t had a mass shooting since.”

The massacre to which he was referring is Port Arthur, in Tasmania. It was appalling, traumatising. Nobody could believe it. It remains one of the worst mass shootings in modern history. And the reaction was swift. Bipartisan support–despite some resistance from sectors of the community–enabled sweeping changes to gun laws, making ours some of the strictest in the world.

After the Newtown massacre, I fully expected something similar to happen in the US. I thought, this must be the tipping point. This will be the one event which motivates the public and politicians alike to band together and say, ‘Enough! Our children are dying!’

But of course, that didn’t happen. And that broke me, a little. Because First Offspring was the same age as those children. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like, for some other parent in Newtown to send her son off to school, a little boy who looked and acted just like First Offspring, only to get a call later that day to say that he had been shot, along with so many of his classmates and teachers. And so for essentially nothing to have changed, despite such a desperately terrible tragedy, I had to stop worrying about it. I had to give up on hoping that gun laws might change.

Still, here we are. Years later, and still with all the shooting. And despite wanting to not care, I do care. I have relatives and friends who live in the US, whose children go to school. I want them to be safe. I want it to be one less worry they have. I want there to be some semblance of sanity in gun laws. I want to dispense with all the rhetoric, with all the ‘only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ type… rubbish.

There needs to be a conversation about why certain groups and organisations are so influential, and why, in a country so powerful and so proud of its democracy as the United States, even the idea of background checks or minor restrictions on gun ownership cannot seem to be entertained.

One of the sticking points in such a conversation seems to be that it’s people, not guns, which are the problem. Some who are against tighter gun controls argue that in other countries where gun laws are stricter, people still manage to kill each other with knives, for example. Obviously, as far as arguments go, that’s a poor one: it ignores that someone with a gun is likely to be able to kill more people than with a knife, and that guns are a killing machine, removing the killer from the victim–stabbing is a lot more difficult and a lot more personal. But grisly mechanics aside, it’s an attempt to deflect discussion of the real issue, which is that comparing apples and oranges is poor logic and only highlights their lack of a proper defence.

However, buried within that poor argument is something which doesn’t often get discussed, because of the gun control debate. Of course, after each shooting, there is the question of ‘why’ the shooter did this, and an array of explanations arise, with mental illness usually coming out as a top contender. That’s understandable, because most of us don’t like to think that everyday, average people would go out and kill en masse. Yet the anti-gun-control lobby has a point. If guns weren’t available, then these would-be killers would just choose another weapon, right?


Overwhelmingly, these killers are young men. In the US, it’s more often young white men. But this should really make no sense at all. Young white men in a developed nation are in a position of privilege. Essentially, white men are in charge of practically everything. The world is their oyster, their future dazzling. You would think they have it made.

But if they’re taking guns to kill and injure as many as they can, then perhaps it’s not as peachy as we’re imagining it. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t want to simply excuse away this behaviour. There are many people in various groups who feel disaffected and disillusioned, and most of them don’t go around killing others when life gets difficult–many of them are certainly in a position which would justify anger or a sense of unfairness. So there is something else which triggers certain individuals to lash out, often with disastrous consequences.

Indeed, as a broad group, men fare poorly. They might enjoy positions of power, they might be able to hold influence over others, they are often the perpetrators of violent offences and abuse. But none of this is good for them–or any of us. Men’s suicide rates in Australia, for example, are between double and four times that of women’s between the ages of 20 and 79.

Because we have become used to identifying racism, sexism, or ableism, and are getting better at attempting to eradicate that kind of discrimination, we ignore that our society–built by white men for other white men–is not really healthy for anyone. Least of all those men. We assume that because it’s ‘their world’, they will thrive in it, but obviously that’s not the case. It’s easy to dismiss their issues as first world problems or argue that they don’t know what it’s like to suffer discrimination, but that’s not very helpful. Their despair is real, and it’s valid.

It’s easy to make the killers into monsters, to think of them as animals or aberrations. But perhaps they’re just one point on a spectrum, and unless we can rebuild the very foundation of our society to create one which promotes emotional maturity, which promotes honest relationships and discussions and refutes the idea that violence is a means to any end, then all of this–the mass shootings, the stabbings, the suicides–will continue.

Oh, and the gun control thing? Yeah, that still needs to happen now, regardless. Because we simply can’t wait for the wheels of social change to turn before those in government decide to address that kind of legislation. People are dying.



10 thoughts on “The Other Question.

  1. That almost every mass shooter is male is a big issue we need to deal with. And as you note, dismissing men’s feelings is not helpful: telling men to be strong and silent makes it worse.

    However, I disagree that there’s any racial element here. I recently wrote a post about this. The US is three-quarters white, therefore most shooters are white. Being white would only be an issue if whites were over-represented among shooters – but whites are actually slightly under-represented.

    • I think men are certainly getting mixed messages, too–be strong and ‘be a man’ on the one hand, but also completely emotionally available on the other.

      I would still argue that white men are over-represented in these shootings, though… if in the 70 mass shootings that Mother Jones looks at, 44 are white, that’s around 63%. Assuming that the US has a similar male/female split to most other Western countries of 50/50, in a population that’s three-quarters white, wouldn’t that mean only around 33% of the nation’s people are white men? Maths is certainly not my strong suit, though, so I welcome any more light you can shed on that!

      • You’re absolutely right about mixed messages sent to men. I think we’re in a transition period from traditional masculinity to a more flexible masculinity, and at the moment men are caught in no man’s land. But I’m optimistic that it’ll work itself out.

        For a scientifically valid approach, we cannot confound factors. Race is one factor, sex is another. So, the argument that 33% of the US population is white male while 66% of gunmen are white male confuses the issue.

        I could use this faulty logic to claim that mentally ill whites are over-represented, and then ask why whites are more likely than other racial groups to be mentally ill. Whites are not, but confounding factors like this can create a false impression.

        Examining race and sex separately, if 66% of shooters are white while 72% of the US population is white, means whites are under-represented. But, 98.5% of shooters being male while males are only half the population means men are double over-represented.

  2. I don’t know that I agree with everything you have said, but I appreciate that your bring discussion to an important issue. I think we need to take a lot more time to look at, discuss and change how young white boys/men are portrayed, treated and are connecting in society. I remember reading Nikki Giovanni in college and I hated it. I was so hurt by the anti white message in the works I read. I remember thinking my relatives haven’t even been here that long. How can you hate me? How can you lump people together? I, who am more often quiet when working through something was glad our professor made us write a response to her writing. I needed his guidance. I didn’t like feeling like an other; being told I was privileged, I wronged or hurt others. I who was so sensitive wouldn’t take from another I’d rather hurt myself. I think of the messages we send boys about only showing strength,not being emotional. I think back on those feelings I had when an angry stranger accused me of being privileged, of wronging them.I think of the lack of connection I see in my experience of the American society, about boys who don’t often have a healthy group they belong to and I know there is something very wrong. Not just with these shooting tragedies, but with the way this group is feeling, acting, and treated. There is pain far more places than we stop to heal. There is hate, violence and loneliness. It isn’t that absolve anyone from responsibility. It’s quiet the opposite, we are all responsible, more than we may care to believe. In other words I completely agree:
    “…. unless we can rebuild the very foundation of our society to create one which promotes emotional maturity, which promotes honest relationships and discussions and refutes the idea that violence is a means to any end, then all of this–the mass shootings, the stabbings, the suicides–will continue.”

    • We are certainly all responsible for the kind of society in which we live, and how we’re judging others, and how we expect them to act and react. I don’t believe that our current society is healthy… young Australian men and boys are often given very mixed messages as to what society expects of them. I want my own sons to grow up being able to express emotion and not to have to rely on violence to show others how they feel.

      • I have to think with your thoughtfulness you will be able to raise the well adjusted sons you hope to. I’m hoping that we can make that well adjusted society so they can be safer and thrive. I know you are trying. I know I’ll try too.

  3. ITA with all of the above. It totally baffles me why the US still thinks it’s OK for everyone to possess a gun. There have been so many mass killings over the last few years. Some of them very close to LJ friends. Gun laws need to be changed and NOW. Innocent people are getting killed and nothing is being done. The USA is one of the most powerful countries in the world. Why are people still allowed to carry guns?

    • As I said, I was hoping that the Newtown shooting would be the one to push that through, but more and more, I just don’t think it will happen. I think there would be too much panic, and so many people would push back that it wouldn’t be possible.

      Some measures to introduce some restrictions is probably the best we can hope for. It would obviously help somewhat if lobby groups and money weren’t such powerful influences in politics, but let’s face it, the US is not the only place where that happens!

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more, my friend. I can’t imagine what it will take for my fellow US citizens to wake up. It’s sad. It’s discouraging. You might even say it’s criminal.

    Sorry to have been absent from the blogosphere recently. We were without internet for two weeks, and then I was in the US for nearly another two. Gosh, I’m glad to be home in Cuenca.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  5. I often joke that gun activists are a bunch of pussies. Down in Australia and NZ they settle things with fists like men.

    I mean, considering the kind of “macho” people constantly protesting gun control that would make an impact, but they are -obsessed- with their weapons.

    They honestly believe that it will make no difference. I know because my cousins have said it time and time again. They say it’s not even worth trying because it won’t make a difference. Well what’s the harm in TRYING?

    The thing is, they’re not going to learn. There have been over 40 school shootings in America since Newtown and still nothing. If a bunch of kids getting shot didn’t convince them, nothing will.

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