In Search of an Explanation for Mass Shootings.

The Real Underlying Cause of Mass Shootings in America

The answer lies deep in American society and culture.

Written by Natalia Packwood and published in 4/6/2022

Originally posted in An Injustice!

A crowd of people with their palms up that say “never again” and holding a sign that says protect kids not guns

I want to first preface this article by saying I am not anti-gun control. In fact, I think it’s a great idea and will allow us to take one step closer to a future where mass shootings are a thing of the past. However, I also believe that the best way to solve a problem is by cutting it off at the root. And the source of mass shootings, or the reason behind them, is American culture.

No, not patties on the grill American culture, I’m talking about American masculinity, homophobia, gun culture, gendered stereotypes, and racism. These things are obviously not unique to the United States, but they are important in understanding why it is that mass shootings happen in the U.S. more than in any other country in the world.

“Since 1982, an astonishing 121 mass shootings have been carried out in the United States by male shooters. In contrast, only three mass shootings have been carried out by women”¹

The connection between masculinity and shootings

The theory of social identity threat is a great place to start in understanding the relationship between men’s gender identity and violence and how it affects mass shootings. Okay, big sentence. Sorry.

Let me rephrase.

Basically, a social identity threat is when a person, or more accurately a man, feels that a part of their identity that they care about is threatened or questioned.² This theory also explains that these persons respond in a patterned way, or in other words, by overcompensating with violence.

You might be thinking I’ve never heard of this theory, who are you to say that this is an accurate representation or explanation of American masculinity?

Two relevant studies support this theory’s claim. Though many others on the topic provide evidence to “prove” this theory, these two do so directly. Christin Munsch and Robb Willer conducted a sexual coercion study. The results showed that men whose masculinity had been threatened at some point were more likely to identify with rape culture ideologies. For example, these men were less likely to identify sexual coercion as sexually coercive and more likely to blame the women.³

I digress. I don’t want to waste valuable word count explaining the depths of social identity threat. Point is, that this threatening, questioning and bullying is a common experience in almost all male shooters.

The second study I mentioned, conducted by Kimmel, discovered in a review of school shootings between 1982 and 2001 that nearly all of the incidents were boys who perceived themselves as being targeted and bullied. And the most common type of bullying they discovered was gay-baiting.⁴

Kimmel even provided a simple basic-level example of this theory in work in the real world.

“I have a standing bet with a friend that I can walk onto any playground in America whee 6-year-old boys are happily playing and by asking one question, I can provoke a fight. That question is simple: ‘Who’s a sissy around here?’”

This deeply rooted homophobia in America is not only affecting the lgbtq+ community but straight men as well. I mean, in a way, I get it. I was a kid once too, I didn’t like to be teased or judged. It’s hard to be surrounded by people who picked on you for being a bit different, for acting a bit different, for being “gay.”

So, what sets these shooters apart?

I was bullied Natalia, didn’t shoot up a school.”

Fair point. And to explain this, we have to dive deep into American culture.

As we all know, white men have reaped the benefits of privilege in America for centuries. However, Kimmel from the above study forms an argument that essentially claims that modern America has created a new emotional framework for these privileged men. He calls it aggrieved entitlement.

Essentially, aggrieved entitlement is a “gendered sense of entitlement thwarted by larger economic and political shifts.”⁵

This entitlement leads these men to build racist and sexist mentalities which then steers them down the path to becoming an “angry white man.” This group is more susceptible to turn to violence and when they do so they are able to easily access guns, and thus, are able to kill.

In other studies, a surprising amount of male gun owners spoke of a “nostalgic longing for a particular version of America.”⁶ This could be contributed to the shift in gun culture as well as the shift in society as America began to grow into a more inclusive and diverse country.

Yamane’s study argues that the start of the 21st century was approximately when gun culture turned from recreation to self-defense.⁶ This is important to consider when we look at the demographic of gun ownership applicants. Surprise surprise, it’s mostly white men.

But what is even more interesting is the motivation behind these men. Stroud found that racial anxiety, or this idea of aggrieved entitlement and threatening, was the driving force of these applications.⁷

The actual solution?

There isn’t one straightforward answer. I’ve talked your ear off about social theories, masculinity, and statistics but what you need to take away from this article is an understanding of why mass shootings are predominately conducted by men.

You need to remember the next time you see a gun control ad or watch another report of a school shooting on the news, that the reason behind these actions lies in how we raise our men.

Again, I am not anti-gun control. I’m actually pro-gun control, but something that a lot of gun supporters argue is that criminals will always find a way to access a gun. And they have a point. There will always be guns in the world. There will always be an outlet for violence.

But if we raise our boys differently? If we teach white men that violence is not a solution? If we create a society that limits racial anxiety and homophobia? That is the real sure-fire way to ensure that mass shootings become a thing of the past.

Maybe that isn’t what you wanted to hear. You wanted an easy solution — a law to be passed that will put a stop to mass shootings. But I don’t think it’s that simple. I think the problem is American culture and society.