Colussi: What is causing America’s gun problem?

(Creative Commons)

On Jan. 23, 2018 in Kentucky, America had its 11th school shooting of the year. Among the 20 casualties were two 15-year-old students who died. The day before that, a pickup truck pulled up to a school in New Orleans and fired into a crowd of students; thankfully, only one had minor injuries. On the same day at a school in Texas, a 16-year-old shot a 15-year-old with a semi-automatic handgun. On Jan. 13, a man shot three people, killing one of them, at a party in a Springfield apartment complex with a semi-automatic weapon.

A common suggested solution to all of this violence is stricter gun control laws, but we need to look closer at other factors that contribute to gun violence. Three possible solutions to the problem of gun violence come to light: increasing access to mental health services, working to dismantle the patriarchy and passing legislation that bans people with a history of domestic violence from owning weapons.

Strictly from a numbers perspective, suicide and domestic abuse are a much larger problem than mass shootings. Access to mental health services is a problem in this country — 56.5 percent of US adults with a mental health condition didn’t receive mental health services in 2017 — and easy access to firearms increases the severity of the issue. In 2014, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States; for people aged 10-34, it was the second. Firearms increase the likelihood of suicide because they’re easy to use; suicides account for two-thirds of all gun deaths. Studies suggest that suicides are not usually planned out over a long period of time but rather occur when people are most vulnerable. A study in Houston of people aged 13-34 who attempted suicide found that 24 percent of them spent less than five minutes between deciding to attempt suicide and making the attempt. Easy access to guns and quick decision-making are a bad combination. Evidence shows that people with mental illnesses are not likely to be violent toward other people, but since suicide rates are high, increasing access to mental health services is an important way to reduce the overall amount of gun violence in America.

The majority of mass shooters are white men. Psychiatrist James Gilligan, who researches and has direct experience with violent perpetrators explains that “masculinity. … is literally defined as involving the expectation, even the requirement, of violence” in instances such as wartime, all-male combat sports or in response to personal insult. This toxic masculinity that permeates society is dangerous when mixed with easy access to guns. If the patriarchy is dismantled, toxic masculinity will eventually die out. Three ways to put an end to the patriarchy are to hold the media accountable for victim blaming and male-dominated journalism/movies; teach men and boys that it’s okay to express their feelings and emotions and get rid of the “strong and silent” expectation that prevents men from showing vulnerability.

Another important part of examining gun violence is occurences of domestic abuse. If one party owns a firearm in a situation of domestic violence, the risk of homicide increases by 500 percent. Perpetrators of over 54 percent of mass shootings had previously shot a relative or partner. For example, in November 2017, Devin Kelley shot 25 people and an unborn child with a semi-automatic rifle. Not only did he have a history of domestic violence, he had been accused of sexual assault, animal cruelty and threats via text message. He had even escaped from a mental health facility. After he hit his infant step-son, threatened his wife with a firearm and beat and choked her, he was court-martialed on multiple domestic assault charges; but none of this prevented him from purchasing guns. The current gun system failed to protect her, her son and every single person wounded or killed by Kelley. If there were laws preventing people with a history of domestic violence from owning weapons, this tragic incident would never have happened.

While gun control laws such as universal background checks or a ban on bump stocks are a good idea, these laws should be combined with an intense, further examination of social circumstances that create an atmosphere of violence. Providing more access to mental health services and dismantling the patriarchy will help reduce the amount of gun violence in America.

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