Monday, December 17, 2012

Nine Facts About Guns And Mass Shootings in the United States. What's Missing?

This is a good list, these nine facts about guns and mass shootings.  But, as usual, it omits the most obvious fact.  David Sirota addresses some of what was omitted  in his Salon piece, titled "Time To Profile White Men?"
Yesterday, during a cable news discussion of gun violence and the Newtown school shooting, I dared mention a taboo truism. During a conversation on MSNBC’s “Up With Chris Hayes,” I said that because most of the mass shootings in America come at the hands of white men, there would likely be political opposition to initiatives that propose to use those facts to profile the demographic group to which these killers belong. I suggested that’s the case because as opposed to people of color or, say, Muslims, white men as a subgroup are in such a privileged position in our society that they are the one group that our political system avoids demographically profiling or analytically aggregating in any real way. Indeed, unlike other demographic, white guys as a group are never thought to be an acceptable topic for any kind of critical discussion whatsoever, even when there is ample reason to open up such a discussion.

All interesting. concerning that "white" part of the group "white men."  But Sirota never got around to writing about the "men" part.  In fact, there's some evidence which suggests that some Asian men also carry out similar massacres, or try to, in places where it's hard to get hold of a gun.

The remaining invisible elephant is naturally the gender of those who carry out mass shootings.  It's overwhelmingly male. 

This does NOT mean that all men are somehow likely to run amok or that no women ever do.  Very, very few individuals do.   And there have been at least two cases of mass shootings by women in the United States,  though I had to search for those.  The cases by men are much more common, and because of the roughly equal numbers of men and women in the population, this difference deserves our attention, however uncomfortable looking at it might be.

Why is it not getting real attention?  I think the answer is probably the fact that men are regarded as the default when it comes to human beings.  It's hard for us to see men as part of some amorphous mass of maleness, the way we more easily have learned to regard individual women as such morsels of femaleness.  The latter is because women are not the default setting of "a human individual" in quite the same way.  Women almost always carry a small taint of their group membership, just as minorities always carry a small taint of their group membership, even when the individuals are men.

That's just the way "the default" is constructed in societies.  Thus, we talk about "black violence" (while actually meaning black male violence) but rarely about "white violence" or about "male violence."   Certain groups are invisible because they are regarded as the overall picture.  Paradoxically, the individuals belonging to the default group get to be treated mostly only as individuals.

That should be the goal for all of us, of course.  But in this particular example, it makes us look for only some possible solutions:  How did Adam Lanza differ from other young men of his race and social class?  What happened to him that didn't happen to them?  Did he shoot all those children because of an illness?

Those are not inappropriate questions.  But the invisible elephant about the most common gender of mass shooters turns other questions invisible.  Is there something about masculinity in the cultures which pushes men with certain problems to this direction but not women with the same problems?   Is the answer in our genes?  Some mutation which the xx protects women from?  Or does this have to do with who plays violent video games and why?  And what is the relation of these massacres to the generally higher rates of gun violence committed by men?

An obvious response to my arguments would be that everybody knows mass shooters are mostly men.  The fact is just obvious.  But ignoring the questions coming from that obvious fact, and the answers they may elicit, are lost if we simply skip over "what is obvious."