Like millions I am filled with profound sadness and will have to talk to children about others just like them who should be alive and are not. We will all now know Sandy Hook Elementary School for the most tragic reasons. Tragic because these children are dead and their families shattered forever. Tragic because a mentally ill young man killed them, their teachers and his mother. Tragic because it is easier in our country for him to get guns than help for his mental health problems.
Into this safe place 20 -year old Adam Lanza took a 22-calibre rifle shotgun and killed at least 28 people, most of them young children. He then shot himself. This mass shooting becomes part of the too-long list of mass-shootings that we are all familiar with and the 12 murder-suicides that we have per week in this country. Mother Jones, in a piece called A Guide to Mass Shootings, reports that of 61 cases of mass shootings, 11 have been in schools.
By truly awful coincidence, yesterday, Michigan changed its concealed weapons law to allow trained gun owners to carry their weapons in formerly forbidden places, such as schools, day care centers, stadiums and churches.
I’ve heard at least six media commentators in the past 30 minutes explain how extremely rare this scenario is. I’ve heard others talk about the particular psychological make-up of mass shooters. There is a man right now, on the radio, saying how we need to find ways to make sure people with mental illness don’t have access to guns. They are all saying how “this situation” is unique. People are asking, again, “Why did this happen?”
I think it really depends on how you look at “this situation.” Yes, mass killers, one can only hope, have serious mental illnesses that lead them to do what they do. It’s beyond shocking that armed young men enter spaces filled with innocent people with the catastrophic intent to kill them all. Mass killers, who tend to be young, mentally unstable white men, plan what they are going to do, systematically, with malice of forethought. I don’t think young white men are uniquely, genetically, suited to being mass killers.
Many people might have propensities that are not unlike those that lead Adam Lanza to kill so many people today. They don’t do it. Adam Lanza’s “makeup” meant that he experienced some part of the culture in a way that took his propensity and pitched it over into actuality.
Although we are not unique, young men here are subject to unrelenting definitions of masculinity as integrally informed by violence. We have no shortage of violence-enforcing ideas in our culture. We also have no shortage of male, particularly white male entitlement. While perhaps not so methodical in execution, and as truly awful as this shooting is, the truth is that in the next 24 hours least three women in the US will die at the hands of violent men, many of them with guns. In 10 days, the aggregated number will exceed the number of people, children and women, Lanza himself, killed today.
Today 28 people died. We aren’t even sure yet how many were children. According to the Children’s Defense Fund:
- In 2008, 88 preschool children were shoot to death.
- In 2009, 85.
- The number of children and teenagers killed by guns in 2008 and 2009 would fill “more than 299 public school classrooms of 25 kids each.”
- This is twice the number of law enforcement people killed by guns in the same period.
- Fully 87% of children killed in this way, in the industrialized world, are killed in the United States.
- This is 42.7 times greater than the rate for all the other nations combined.
This isn’t a “crime problem.” It’s a GUN PROBLEM. It isn’t a psychosis problem. It’s an entitlement problem. Our gun problem is a symptom of a much deeper, cultural one. One in which our national identity is tied to violent masculinity.
Although more men die of gun violence than women, the fact is, that this is overwhelmingly a male perpetrated crime – whether the victims are male or female. Ninety one (91%) of domestic murders are committed by men, 88 percent of these murders involve guns. And, I know, even though this year marks the 25th anniversary of The Montreal Massacre and six years since the Amish school shooting, most mass shooters do not set out to kill by gender. They do however, kill as a gender. These deaths happen because guns are readily available when they should not be in a culture that is optimized for their tragic use. The same culture that results in so many unplanned, domestic, gun-enabled murders, part of 15,000 single victim homicides a year, is the one that produces mass killers like Lanza. They aren’t separate places.
We’ve tolerated too many of these deaths. How many bodies do we have to count? What will it take for the same people grieving deeply today, silent with disbelief, to realize that people are being hunted and to stop electing legislators opposed to gun control?
GUNS ACTUALLY DO KILL PEOPLE. And we have 270,000,000 guns in this country. Although we are not a militarized zone in technical terms, the US ranks No. 1 in the world for guns/per capita, with 88 guns/100 people — far exceeding the second on the list, Serbia, at 58.2/100
Less than 24 hours before this shooting the National Rifle Association tweeted the following victories and news excitedly:
“#Florida nears 1 million permits for concealed weapons
“Did you hear? Our #facebook page reached 1.7 million “likes” today! Thanks for being a friend!”
”#ArmedCitizen: A gunman retreated from a #Wyoming nail salon after realizing one of its customers was packing heat
“Victory for self-defense and the #SecondAmendment! #Illinois’ ban on carrying hanguns ruled unconstitutional”
“#NRA prevails in Shepard v. Madigan, striking down #Illinois’ ban on carrying handguns! More details to follow.”
But, this one from December 8th this one was special. It was a warning to gun owners: “Anti-Hunters Want You Labeled as a Domestic Terrorist”
I’m not labeling Adam Lanza a domestic terrorist. Adam Lanza was a domestic terrorist. These children and their families, this country have been terrorized by his actions and the actions of others like him – whether they dramatically fire into movie theatres full of strangers or shoot their wives in the head in the kitchen.
We don’t know for sure yet if the shooter at Sandy Hook knew his victims. Chances are he did – the speculation is that his mother was at the school and may be dead. Access to firearms increases the chance of deadly domestic violence five-fold in the U.S. I just researched an extensive list of facts about this type of violence. Domestic violence was my first thought when I heard about this shooting. Especially in the wake of the Kasandra M. Perkins/Jovan Belcher murder/suicide. Gun proponents suggested that Belcher’s gun wasn’t important – he would have killed her anyway. This is a lie. Gun possession exponentially increases the chances of violent homocide. It increases the rate of accidental gun-related deaths of children. It increases the opportunities for mentally unstable men, living in a society that glorifies violence, to walk into schools in the middle of the day and kill 26 people.
Every year, since 1991, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers, coordinates 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. This year’s theme, From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World, is focused on how the worldwide proliferation of small arms exponentially increases the threats that women and children face. In the past few years, 6,614 troops have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the same period, 11,766 American women died at the hands of men they knew intimately. Many of them shot to death. Many others, so many children, shot accidentally, “collateral damage.”
What does it mean that Republicans in Congress have degraded and continue to hold up passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)? What does it mean that “no major gun control legislation” has made it out of committee during the 112th Congress? Why would anyone persist in thinking that these facts and today’s tragedy are not dimensions of the same problem?