I Am So Tired of Shouting into the Void About America's Young Men and Their Guns

As the country begins to reverse pandemic-related restrictions, America is returning to its horrific “normal,” a state that includes frequent acts of totally unregulated gun violence. A reported seven mass shootings have occurred in the past seven days, including a string of shootings carried out at three Asian-owned massage parlors in Atlanta that left eight dead, and a mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Col. where 10 people were killed.

Even as investigations continue and the shooters’ motives are publicly debated, we can’t deny that systemic issues like racism, misogyny, and toxic masculinity all work to radicalize young men to carry out massive acts of violence and that politicians turn a blind eye to these factors in order to preserve the American gun culture they so cherish.

In Atlanta, the 21-year-old white shooter claimed to have a “sex addiction” at odds with his Christian faith, and as a result, he targeted the Asian-owned businesses because they were what he perceived to be a “source of temptation.” He reportedly purchased an AR-15 style weapon the day before the killings and wielded it with reckless abandon in some sick, twisted Call of Duty fantasy. That action? Yeah, that’s gun culture and toxic masculinity hard at work, emboldening young men to use violence to solve their problems, whether those problems are perceived or real.

At this point in our country’s sordid history, this kind of violent act doesn’t even require much imagination.

The same can be said of the 21-year-old shooter in Boulder, who walked into a King Sooper’s grocery store and murdered 10 people; the victims ranged in age from 20 to 65 years old. While there is no known motive at this time, former classmates of the shooter say he was violent and ill-tempered. The shooter’s 34-year-old brother says he was also paranoid, and believes his brother to be mentally ill. (It should be noted that one in five Americans have a mental health issue, and being mentally ill actually puts you at a higher risk of being a victim of gun violence, not a perpetrator.)

Whatever his reason, the young man decided to shoot strangers with a high-powered weapon as they were buying milk and waiting for COVD-19 vaccinations. At this point in our country’s sordid history, this kind of violent act doesn’t even require much imagination. It’s an almost mundane outcome in a society that worships at the altar of guns and toxic masculinity.

The term “gun culture” was first coined in 1970 as the “notion that people’s right to bear arms is the greatest protection of their individual rights and a firm safeguard of democracy.” Since then, it has embodied so much more than outdated politics. Now, half of all gun owners say gun ownership is an important part of their identity, and guns are often made synonymous with manhood, strength, and the ability to dominate others. Firearms are de facto status symbols—something to pry from one’s “cold dead hands”—and owning one sends a message to others, akin to a man peacocking his way around a bar: I’m strong. I’m bad. I’m man.

For those in power, there is a vested interest in upholding gun culture, even if it means the continued deaths of Americans trying to run errands, go to work, and attend school.

The fangs of gun culture and its ties to toxic masculinity and misogyny impact every young person.

In 2018, 307 members of both the House and the Senate received either “direct campaign contributions from the NRA and its affiliates or benefited from independent NRA spending like advertising supporting their campaigns,” according to CNN.

Despite 94 percent of Americans supporting universal background checks for all gun purchases, Congress hasn’t passed significant gun control legislation in over a quarter of a century.

And again, this is nothing new. Dylan Klebold was 17. Eric Harris was 18. Adam Lanza was 20. Elliot Rodger was 22. Nikolas Cruz was 19. The NRA and those that profit off the association’s lobbying efforts know they can also make money off young men who think they can John Wick their way out of any issues they’re facing. Look at the facts: One in five teens have at least one mental health issue, one in five teens are bullied, and the unemployment rate for young workers in the spring of 2020 was over 24 percent. And yet instead of getting mental health referrals or books on pervasive sexism, young men are often met with another “fix”—a gun. While white supremacy and racist motivations cannot be overlooked, the fangs of gun culture and its ties to toxic masculinity and misogyny impact every young person, regardless of race.

All of this is to say that in the aftermath of yet another act of gun violence wielded by a young man, there is a push by government officials hellbent on keeping a white-knuckle hold on toxic gun culture to frame the shooting as an unavoidable disaster, like a hurricane or earthquake. But it is avoidable, if only those in power could muster the courage to tear down the systemic issues that permeate every single aspect of our lives and actively harm the most marginalized among us.

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