Why is there another man killing in mass?

Why is there another man feeding on online hatred? Why is there another man with easy access to weapons designed for the sole purpose of killing fellow humans? Why men? Because the mass shootings in the US, and most homicides everywhere, are nearly always carried out by men. It’s time to stop asking why and affirm that we know what is going on.

I face these questions with deep sadness and with deep anger from my own personal experience. I was a witness of a school shooting in my high school in Houston, Texas, some 4 decades ago. Then, as now, it was a young man with easy access to weapons taking the life of others. As a student journalist at my university in Texas I wrote articles about gun control and faced physical threats from male students for daring to suggest, in the gun-obsessed heart of Texas, that fewer lethal weapons was a moral necessity.

Those events were pivotal in my life. They were part of the motivation to work in ending violence and to partner with colleagues to foster healthy masculinity and gender equity.

I could not have imagined that decades later we would see mass shootings by men as normal. Because we do.  For years we have listened to the interviews with parents and those who knew the men who killed, saying that he seemed “normal.” That they were withdrawn and kept to themselves, but they could never imagine that “he” could do that.

For four decades I have seen the cowardice of politicians who not only refuse to pass gun control legislation, but also reiterate and encourage the hateful, false, and hypermasculine narratives that help get them re-elected.

We re-traumatize students through “active shooter” drills that include training them how to hide in silence and use what they have at hand to defend themselves. It is shameful that we talk to children and youth – and adults for that matter – about how to defend themselves in their schools, workplaces and houses of worship from men armed with lethal, military-grade weapons.

We see it as normal that it is men who do this because we are so used to men’s violence in all its forms. Because we fall for the facile and false argument that boys and men are wired to be violent. Because it is easier to think it is a few bad men, or a few evil men, than it is to look at the heart of the problem and see that all of us are implicated.

We are all part of repeating the harmful ideas of manhood that we raise our sons in. We are all part of accepting a health system that does not provide adequate mental health services in non-stigmatizing ways. We all contribute to dismantling social welfare services, and after-school and job programs that create community, connection and a source of worth – including the young men particularly in need of connection.

We are all part of the hatred that is getting amplified – on social media, in the streets, in MAGA rallies, in our daily interactions. There is something deeply awry in the way manhood is discussed in the US, about how a “tough guy” version of it has seeped into our conversations.

Manhood in the US does not have to be this way. We asked boys ages 9-13, from families who voted Republican and Democrat, about their definitions of manhood just before the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. In both groups the responses were similar and overwhelmingly positive. Manhood meant: helpful, honest, stands up for others, does right by others, cares. Boys in this country, as anywhere, come into the world desiring connections and caring, and are inherently capable of respecting others, loving others, and seeking equity. It is what we do to boys – at home, in our schools, at work, on-line – where we create the harms we see.

Equimundo was founded in the belief that men’s violence is not inevitable. We believe men who have witnessed violence need trauma support [Read our TRAUMA REPORT]. And we advocate for a national and international conversation about healthy, caring boyhood [Learn more about our GLOBAL BOYHOOD INITIATIVE]. This week and every week – as we mourn the victims of this tragedy foretold, and as we remember the two years since the murder of George Floyd – we honor their lives by dedicating ourselves to the cause of healthy, connected, equity-seeking and accountable manhood.

Gary Barker
President & CEO
Equimundo: Center for Masculinities and Social Justice

About Gary Barker

Gary is a leading global voice in engaging men and boys in advancing gender equality and positive masculinities. He is the CEO and founder of Promundo, and co-founder of MenEngage Alliance and the global MenCare campaign. He co-created and leads the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES), the largest-ever survey of men’s attitudes and behaviors related to violence, fatherhood, and gender equality. Based in Washington DC, USA, Gary has advised the UN, the World Bank, numerous national governments, and key international foundations and corporations on strategies to engage men and boys in promoting gender equality. In 2017 he was named by Apolitical as one of the 20 most influential people in gender policy around the world. He holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology.

28 May 2022
North America