At which mass shooting will your loved ones be killed?

November 8, 2018

Cozy and I were at the zoo this week and she was really excited to see the fruit bats. To get to the Oregon Zoo’s bat cave we had to pass the giraffe enclosure. She was so focused on the bats she could have cared less about the giant giraffes. “But Cozy, there are two huge giraffes right there! Let’s stop and look at them.”  She looked back at me, like “meh. I’ve seen those giraffes before.”

Her blasé attitude about giraffes is how America feels about mass shootings. So what?

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When I went to school in the UK in 1980s, people would often be amazed that, as an American, I didn’t live in constant fear of being killed by a mad gunman. “Aren’t you terrified you’ll be in a McDonalds and some guy will walk in and just start shooting?” This is the world’s picture of the United States. It’s a shoot out at OK Corral every day as boys and men unload their sacred weapons into soft targets at schools, synagogues, and college bars. “Meh,” we say, as the bodies stack up. Some of the victims of last night’s shooting in Thousand Oaks were also at last year’s shooting on the Las Vegas strip. How many mass shootings will you survive? Or not?

It’s more than disgusting that this is the hallmark of American culture. We are a nation of boys and men who see homicidal violence as an appropriate way of expressing pain and anger. Most of these boys and men are suicidal so the “good guy with a gun” myth only fits into their plan. Another day, another mass shooting in America. I have written about this too many times and the need to focus on the masculinity-gun violence connection. There will be so many more shootings, so many more grieving family members on TV. And then the next shooting will happen. This is America.

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Pioneering sociologist Georg Simmel (1858-1918) foresaw the “Meh Effect” in his 1903 essay, The Metropolis and Mental Life. He wrote of a relatively new phenomenon he called the blasé attitude. Life in the city had so much stimuli that we become overwhelmed and just tune everything out as sort of a coping mechanism. I remember the first time I saw a homeless person laying on a sidewalk, I jumped out of friend’s car to help. I thought they were having a medical emergency. My friend grabbed me and told me, “That’s just a homeless person. You see it all the time in the city.” Meh.

Nothing is shocking anymore. We see so much carnage from random gun violence in this country, it’s barely worth looking up from our phones. It must be how kids in Aleppo respond when they hear another bomb drop on their neighborhood. We are immune. Until it happens to us. Until the deep trauma has dropped on our doorstep.

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Because I do this work, I pay attention to the exit signs. Especially when I am out with my kid. When Cozy and I were wandering around Times Square last month, I made mental notes about where to go if a bomb went off or some guy just opened fire on the crowds. I did not, however, make a plan of how to respond if my daughter had been killed and perhaps I should.

The good news is violent crime in America has been dropping since 1993. The bad news is boys and men who shoot innocent people in orgies of violence has not. You are not safe anywhere. Not the movie theater. Not the mall. Not a yoga class. Not a church. Not a kindergarten class. So you better prepare yourself. If you are not willing to work to change the culture of boys and men who do this, you better be ready for when they do and kill someone you love.

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It’s time to tax men: Shutting down gun violence

November 7, 2017

I’m so sick of this. I’m so sick of another mass shooting. I’m sick of the gut-wrenching stories of survivors. I’m sick of “thoughts and prayers.” I’m sick of writing another blog about it. I’m sick of doing interviews about it and saying the same damn thing every time. If America wasn’t sick of it after Sandy Hook, it never will be. But I’m sick of it. Feel free to call the shooters “deranged individuals” (if they are white) or “terrorists” (if they are not). But don’t talk to me unless you are willing to say what all these shooters are.

Men.

Boys and men. I’m not saying all boys are men are bad. Certainly the majority of boys and men aren’t opening fire on innocent people. And many men and boys are actively trying to stop the violence (including a few with guns!). This is about masculinity. The toxic masculinity that has been created in our culture that defines gun violence as an appropriate way for men in crisis to express their rage. Men in extreme crisis in Japan hang themselves. The same men in the United States use guns and many decide to take as many people with them as they check out. “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” American masculinity does not allow you to fall to your knees. Not when there is amble firepower available to guarantee a dramatic exit.

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Male violence plagues us. The violence of Devin Kelley shooting five-year-olds in the head in a church in Sutherland, Texas or the violence of Harvey Weinstein’s low-grade war on women. It all has a cost. From coroners to lost work hours, every aspect of violence by boys and men sucks resources out of our society. What is the financial impact of having a family member killed? How about the emotional impact? The makers of pain killers and pain numb-ers might profit, but the rest of us are paying for it in tax-dollars, insurance premiums, and the erosion of the quality of life. What if the evening news reported on a great new work of art at the top of the hour instead of the daily body count? We are less human because we have normalized male violence.

One study in Minnesota found that gun violence in the state came in at a about $2.2 billion dollars in direct costs due to the 900 gun deaths that year. This doesn’t include indirect costs like lost property value and lost business. The famous 2015 Mother Jones study put the cost at $229 billion a year when you factor in the cost of prisons and lost wages. Each gun homicide costs the country $400,000 and we average about 32 gun murders a day.  Just as a point of comparison, the 2018 budget for Trump’s Department of Education is only $68.2 billion.

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In the late 1990s, I began assigning June Stephenson’s book, Men Are Not Cost Effective: Male Crime in America to my criminology students at Portland State University. She forwards the case that, because of the high cost of mostly male crime on our society, it makes sense that all men pay a “sin” tax to cover the cost of policing, prosecuting, and incarcerating male criminals. When we look at the research on female violent crimes, it’s typically the case that women are brought in to criminal enterprises with their male counterparts (“I was just attracted to bad boys, I guess.”) or are responding violently to their male abusers (“Goodbye, Earl!”). Some of the men in my classes balked at the assertion, but the women generally thought it was a smashing idea. And there are more women than men in this country (because men keep killing each other off).

Maybe it’s time to revisit Stephenson’s “man tax.” If shooting kids in a kindergarten class or church at point blank range doesn’t wake men up to the toll of “going out like a man,” maybe grabbing their wallets will. America is prevented from being a more perfect union because of all the economic and emotional resources devoted to dealing with male violence. If we want to make America great, I say let’s hit ‘em where it hurts. Maybe then men will care about how they do maleness.

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We could start simple, perhaps a sales tax on dumb men things, like bullets, Call of Duty video games, and UFC pay-per-view matches. Then we can expand it to anyone with a Y chromosome. And the earlier the better. In the 1998 school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas that killed five and wounded ten (all female victims), the shooters were 11 and 13 years-old. As soon as a tween boy walks into a 7-11 to buy a Big Gulp, hit him in the nuts with the man tax.

Then, as boys and men start to get it and gun violence starts to decline, there can be subsequent reductions in the tax. Hey, nobody went postal this month, the tax on camouflage pajama pants is temporarily suspended! How else are we going get men to stop killing us? What politician that isn’t busy licking the NRA’s ass will be bold enough to propose this approach? I’m guessing it won’t be a man.

Other posts on this endless topic:

How to talk rationally about gun control (October 4, 2017)

Owning My White Privilege: Stories I won’t (have to) tell my children (September 21, 2016)

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting in America (October 2, 2015)

White Boys to Terrorist Men: Pointless Male Violence and Charleston (June 19, 2015)