This article was originally published after the Las Vegas shooting. It has been updated to reflect the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Many horrifying details are known about Devin Kelley, the gunman who killed 26 people last Sunday in a Texas church. Many questions remain about Stephen Paddock, still largely a mystery a month after he gunned down 58 in Las Vegas. But the piece of their identities that are alike are also the ones that were almost a given: they are men.
Data shows gun violence is disproportionately a male problem. Of the 94 mass shootings in which three or more victims died since 1982, only three were committed by women (one of those being the San Bernardino attack in which a man also participated), according to a database from the liberal-leaning news outlet Mother Jones. Men also accounted for 86% of gun deaths in the United States, according to an analysis by the non-partisan non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation.
Men are more likely to own a gun — three times more, according to a 2017 survey from the Pew Research Center. This, despite marketing from gun manufacturers and groups such as the National Rifle Association to lure women. So why the discrepancy? Why are men so drawn to guns and so much more likely to live and die — and kill — by them?
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Working out the grim puzzle, experts say, means examining cultural forces that equate being a man with violence.
"We often talk about gender in terms of women ... getting the short end of the stick. ... Well, masculinity isn't easy either," said Jennifer Carlson, a sociology professor at the University of Arizona who studies gun politics and gender. "That's not your ticket to the good life. It isn't easy to be a man in the United States. Demands put on men — whether it's to be the protector, to be the provider, to respond to situations in certain ways, to prove yourself as a man — end up being not just outwardly destructive but also inwardly destructive."
Why we don't have gunwomen
Mass shootings and police killings may capture the nation's attention, but the problem of gun violence goes far beyond both. Here are some statistics on guns in America:
Men as perpetrators
- Men murdered more than 1,600 women in 2013 and the most common weapon used was a gun, according to a 2015 Violence Policy Center study.
- Over the past 25 years, more intimate partner homicides in the U.S. have been committed with guns than with all other weapons combined, according to the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
- Having a gun in the home increases the risk of intimate partner homicide by at least 500%; in households with a history of domestic violence, the risk increases 2,000%, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Before Kelley fired at children and their caregivers in pews, he had been accused of animal cruelty, stalking, sexual assault and beating his wife and 1-year-old stepson, leaving the boy with a fractured skull.
“Everything we know about domestic violence predicted this could happen,” said Lori Post, a researcher at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who studies domestic violence.
READ MORE: Texas shooter left a series of red flags
Men as victims
- White men, who are especially likely to be gun owners, are 79% of firearm suicide victims, according to the gun control advocacy group Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
- Black men make up more than half of all firearm homicide deaths, according to 2014 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the book Gun Violence and Public Life, Michael Kimmel and Cliff Leek, both experts on masculinity, contributed a chapter titled, "There is a GunMAN on Campus," referencing the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people. They wrote:
"We believe that focusing on the guns is, of course, essential, but we also believe it is not a sufficient explanation. After all, even though Virginia has the largest number of single sex colleges for females in the United States, it is difficult to imagine an emergency broadcast warning at, say, Mary Baldwin College, warning of a 'gunwoman' on campus."
The two suggest that given the data, the NRA slogan — "guns don't kill people, people kill people" is not as close to the truth as "guns don't kill people; men and boys kill people."
Men aren't getting help
"Not only do traditional notions of masculinity prevent men from seeking counseling or other forms of help they need, help which may prevent these mass shootings, but violence is also inculcated as a more masculine alternative than help seeking," Kimmel and Leek wrote.
Men are forced to be tough and unemotional. It's an example of "toxic masculinity," the stereotypical and historically harmful definition of what it means to be a man.
"Masculinity runs through all of this," Carlson said.
Men are losing dominance
As women have gained greater power and opportunity in the last century, men have lost some of what they were taught made them “real men," including, in many cases, being the breadwinner. In a record 40% of households with children, mothers are either the sole or primary source of income, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data.
Men who think they're falling short of traditional gender norms are more likely to engage in "stereotypically masculine behaviors," like violence, according to a 2015 paper in the journal Injury Prevention. Likewise, when a man's masculinity and status is threatened, they express more support for war, male superiority and homophobic attitudes, summarized studies showed in the 2013 paper "Overdoing Gender: A Test of the Masculine Overcompensation Thesis," published in the American Journal of Sociology.
Carlson said that in her research, which focused on concealed carriers in the Detroit metro area, this has resulted in a shift in how men see their role in the family.
"What is a man's relevance in the home?" She asked. "One of the ways I saw it being reworked was by really embracing this protector role."
According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of gun owners say protection is a major reason they own a firearm, despite a 2016 review in the journal Epidemiologic Reviews of 130 studies that found firearm restrictions are associated with fewer deaths. And an analysis of Gallup polls from 2007 to 2012 found that marriage is a strong predictor of gun ownership.
The message is everywhere
While protection is a major reason people say they own a gun, it isn't the only one. Some say they have guns for hunting. Others say they own guns because the Second Amendment says they can. Still others say guns are what keep them safe from a government that doesn't deserve their trust.
Saying that owning a gun "makes me a man" won't ever be listed among these reasons, but it's clear gun makers know that for many people, it subconsciously is.
Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the assault rifle Adam Lanza used in the Sandy Hook massacre which left 20 children and 6 adults dead, ran a now infamous “man card” advertising campaign which quizzed men on their "manliness."
"They're playing with the stereotype," Carlson said.
You don't have to be an academic to draw the line between feelings of masculinity and gun ownership. On Saturday Night Live after the Las Vegas shooting, comedian Michael Che said "for every gun you trade in, we give you one-half inch of penis enlargement."
It's an overt example, but subtle language used by people on both sides of the gun debate can make a similar point, as when conservative commentator Tomi Lahren said after that gun-free zones are "neutering" people.
Men carrying guns have long been seen as more sexually virile, from the days of Westerns to the latest James Bond. Even popular images of women with guns are clearly intended to appeal to men.
After a mass shooting, it's easier for us to identify with the victims. But the shooters are part of us, too. Not every man with a gun is violent, but we cannot ignore how gender is a part of this story.
"If the gun debate was simple," Carlson said, "we would have already solved it by now."
Contributing: Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY