To state it simply: America has a gun violence problem. According to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks every incidence of gun-related violence, including deaths, injuries and crimes, this year to date there have been 35,936 violent gun episodes, resulting in 9,467 deaths.
These numbers are increasing as we speak.
In particular, there have been 263 mass shootings, which are categorized as any occurrence in which at least four people are shot. An amount outpacing the number of days thus far this year, we’re on track for an average of more than one mass shooting a day.
The two most recent mass shootings have garnered massive media attention, including those in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. In Texas, after writing a racist manifesto condemning the increasingly Hispanic population and their U.S. “invasion,” Patrick Crusius walked into a Walmart and opened fire. An action consequently taking the lives of 22 individuals and injuring more than 24 others, it’s been the deadliest shooting this year.
Within fewer than 24 hours of the massacre at El Paso, Connor Betts opened fire on a crowd in Dayton, killing nine and wounding 27. Police have stated they knew of no motivations behind the attack; however, six of the victims were black and another was the shooter’s own transgender brother — although Betts was unaware of his brother’s identity, according to his friends and investigative sources. While the circumstances of every mass shooting might be unique, these recent shootings further expose an increasingly blatant pattern. Predominantly white, young men with the ability to obtain guns are opening fire on the innocent populace in the name of their perceived grievances, or for factors really only clear to themselves. More than a simply stated gun violence problem, specifically, America has a problem with white men’s gun violence.
Like any other brutal displays of danger to universal safety and to humanity, the public response to these events has been tremendous. The phrase “do something” has been a desperate call to public officials in the hopes of increasing background checks, gun licensing and assault weapon bans.
However, the response to gun violence has been unsurprisingly divided in regards to both its remedy and its cause. Besides the ever-apparent split between gun rights and gun control advocates, there also exists a disconnect surrounding what could be coercing these young men to take such extreme measures.
Following the shootings at El Paso and Dayton, President Trump used a public address along with social media to point the blame at both mental illness and “gruesome” video games. By saying mental illness is what actually pulls the trigger, this sentiment treats all mental illnesses like a volatile ticking time bomb poised to harm the masses. Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, was one of the first to put the groundless dysphoria aimed at mental illness to rest, stating its blame for gun violence is not only inaccurate but goes against basic scientific evidence. Stressing that an overwhelming majority of those with mental illnesses are nonviolent, many fail to grasp the concept that much of mental illness is aimed more so at self-destruction rather than at others. The fact that a designated ‘’loner” would go out and murder multiple guiltless people clearly shows the state of an unhealthy mind, but not necessarily one plagued by an existing mental illness.
Additionally, the link between prior mass shooters and their histories of mental illness is fairly nonexistent, similar to the link between shooting civilians and playing violent video games. The amount of gun violence in other countries within Europe and Asia with similar and higher rates of video game use, even playing the same exact games as Americans, don’t compare to America’s gun violence rates in the slightest. Although there’s a clear divide within the discussion of gun violence causes, a psychological and statistical understanding of possible contributing factors provides much greater insight than playing a superficial blame game.
The real source of the problem is rooted in American culture and history, overflowing with the defense of armaments, white supremacy and violence as a means to solve conflicts. Today, social media networks are vehicles to connect and radicalize like-minded individuals, grieving about their “newfound” place in the world, their loss of power, control and rights. They are exposed to subtle racist, homophobic and sexist ideas through memes, tweets or statuses, and when repeating and sharing them, they’re largely called out and shamed by those they are attacking through these “jokes.” Embarrassment and humiliation are powerful tools for shaping an individual’s beliefs, even more so for men suffering from toxic masculinity, a mutant form of masculinity influenced by “traditional” masculine stereotypes and societal norms that are greatly harmful to all. Young men seek to find blame for their circumstances, consequently narrowly targeting their anger at marginalized groups.
Fueling often undetectable communities of white, nationalistic and alt-right social media amplifies and provides support for shared sentiments of general unhappiness and greater anger. Determined to do anything in their capacity to remedy such feelings and standing in the world, the ease of obtaining a gun in this country aids the white gunmen’s plight along with support from a hateful online community. Online anger amounting to its most extreme produces violence in its most brutal form, especially in the name of a cause, even one as revolting as uniform white dominance and the obliteration of anyone who disagrees.
Miranda Jackson-Nudelman is a junior majoring in political science.