Ed Fallon does an excellent job in this article of taking the gun violence discussion out of the either-or (guns v. mental health) and moving it to a comprehensive examination of many factors at play in the U.S. that contribute to our epidemic of gun violence. Ed highlights something so obvious, we don’t even think about it – 97.7% of perpetrators of gun violence are men. In a misogynistic culture, we tend to accept that as natural, but it is decidedly unnatural.
After you read Ed’s great post find a Students Demand Action event here. studentsdemandaction.org/
Stopping mass shootings is about more than gun control
by Ed Fallon
Des Moines, Iowa
May 10, 2023
Gun violence in the U.S. has gotten so bad it’s hard to keep up with all the senseless killings. Already this year, we’ve had over 200 mass shootings (defined as more than four people injured or killed). Some say the answer is gun control. Others insist we need better mental health services.
My contention? We need both, and so much more. A 2022 report on mass shootings by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is a helpful guidepost. It analyzes 53 years of gun violence, from 1966 through 2019.
Quoting the report: “In public discourse, mass shootings are often blamed on mental illness. But the research indicates the role of mental illness in mass shootings is complicated, not clear-cut. … [P]sychosis play[ed] a minor role in nearly one-third of the cases, but a primary role 10% of the time.”
So, to those who are against gun control and instead try to blame gun violence strictly on mental health problems — nope, you’re wrong.
The report also points out that most individuals who engaged in mass shootings used handguns (77.2%). Just 25% used assault rifles.
Think about that. If you want more gun control and your focus is banning assault weapons, you’re missing the biggest part of the problem. Don’t get me wrong. I support an assault weapons ban. But as indicated in the NIJ report, simply banning assault weapons won’t substantially reduce the number of mass shooting victims.
If you believe the perpetrators of gun violence are mostly angry White men, well, you’re largely correct. The report found that 97.7% were male. Also, 52.3% were White, 20.9% Black, 8.1% Latino, 6.4% Asian, 4.2% Middle Eastern, and 1.8% Native American. Most killers had a criminal record (64.5%) and a history of violence (62.8%). Thirty percent were or had previously been suicidal.
It’s significant that just over half the perpetrators were White. But let that first number sink in: 97.7% were men!
Given the ongoing horror of gun violence, and given the data that tells us so much about the problem, why can’t we find a solution? Ask the NRA. They’re the biggest part of the problem. There’s lots of money to be made selling guns. And like Big Oil’s insistence on expanding fossil fuel production in the face of climate change, Big Gun will keep making more and more weapons as long as our government lets them.
So yeah, we need tougher regs. Permits? Heck, you need a permit to perform music on a street corner. Background checks? TSA won’t let a suspicious person on a plane. Yet we think nothing of selling all kinds of guns to someone with a questionable history.
Better mental health services? Sure, that too. But it’s more than a gun problem, more than a mental health problem.
It’s an American male problem, especially White males. To solve America’s gun violence epidemic, we have to dig deep into the very fabric of the world we’ve created and embrace bold, systemic changes.
RACE AND GENDER. Whites, men in particular, feel threatened. That’s not surprising, given the world’s rapid momentum toward greater equality. When a class of people who’ve enjoyed power and privilege feel that their dominance is in decline, some in that class will inevitably push back, often violently.
Solution: If you’re unhappy with the growing power of non-White, non-male humans, seek counseling.
THE MEDIA. There used to be some degree of fairness and balance in the media. We lost that long ago. On some platforms, hosts spew whatever lies they want. Hatred, division, and fear-mongering are good for business. Right-wing talk radio’s audience is almost exclusively White, male, and angry. Check out Jen Senko’s excellent film and book, The Brainwashing of My Dad, and her appearance on my talk show, the Fallon Forum, last year.
Solution: Bring back the Fairness Doctrine and repeal the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
SOCIETY. The very structure of our homes, neighborhoods, and cities disconnects us from each other and from nature. No society has ever seen such deep, systemic isolation. To share a quote from my memoir, Marcher, Walker, Pilgrim: “[W]hen we’re isolated, we’re more easily duped by propaganda. When we’re confined in subdivisions, when our main source of information and ideas comes through a screen, not through direct dialogue with people facing similar life challenges, then the collective ‘we’ is weak, easily exploited, eager to scapegoat those who are ‘different.'”
Solution: Our entire built environment needs an overhaul. We need more festivals, more music, front porches, block parties. If you don’t know your neighbors, consider organizing a block party this summer.
ECONOMY. The endless growth paradigm is America’s national religion, a core tenant of which is “all growth is good.” Bigger hospitals? More divorce attorneys? More subdivisions and malls on prime farmland? More workers cleaning up toxic Superfund sites (246,000 are employed in that task)? All good for the economy. No wonder only 20% of Americans love their jobs. Recalling the words of Robert Kennedy, “[GDP] measures everything … except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Solution: Call out the failure of both capitalism and communism. Instead of measuring economic health using GDP, let’s employ a model that factors in health, happiness, and the environment. Prototypes exist, e.g., Index of Human Development, Genuine Progress Indicator, and Happy Planet Index.
SCREEN VIOLENCE. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “While multiple factors can lead to violent actions, a growing body of literature shows a strong association between the perpetration of violence and exposure to violence in media, digital media, and entertainment.”
Solution: Regulate violent imagery. Given the demonstrable connection between screen violence and violent behavior, guidelines and restrictions are essential. (Note: I strongly support the First Amendment. I also oppose yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater.)
When it comes to mass shootings, the bottom line is we need a societal overhaul to address the problem at the deepest level. Sure, pass gun control legislation. Sure, do more to address people’s mental health challenges. Those will make a difference. But unless we make drastic changes to the very fabric of our world, the problems of mass shootings and gun violence will persist.
[Ed Fallon is a former Iowa lawmaker who hosts the Fallon Forum, a talk show that has aired continuously for the past 13 years. Ed also writes a weekly blog, directs Bold Iowa, and runs Birds & Bees Urban Farm with his wife, Kathy Byrnes. He can be reached at 515-238-6404 or firstname.lastname@example.org.]