Working independently using a wide range of methods, researchers in psychology, sociology, anthropology and criminology have found that the perceived failure to accomplish a societal standard of masculinity is perhaps the most significant factor in men’s and boys’ decisions to wield deadly force using a firearm. This has been borne out with school shooters, mass shooters and murder-suicides.
In this light, it is particularly noteworthy that a common Remington ad shows an AR-15 weapon with the caption “consider your man card REissued” (emphasis ours). The implication is that although you may have been feminized, you can restore your lost sense of masculinity by buying this weapon. In light of the research we just summarized, if Remington’s aim was to increase gun violence, the ad could not have been more precisely phrased.
The opinion piece notes that in addition to gun control, parents can try to make sure their children are not raised with hyper-masculinity as a role model. That is quite a challenge and the current epidemic of gun violence, the vast majority of which is by males, shows that the “John Wayne Syndrome” is baked into our culture. Trump’s mantra of “never back down, never admit defeat, never admit you’re wrong” has only strengthened the cult of hyper-masculinity, resulting in more young men becoming worshippers of assault weapons and handguns.
In what must be the understatement of the year, the authors state:
We need to persuade all adults to carefully consider the messages that they are sending to boys. In light of what we have said regarding gun violence, valorizing the aggressive and violent aspects of masculinity would seem to be a very bad idea.
A 2021 NPR article noted:
A staggering 98% of these crimes have been committed by men, according to The Violence Project, a nonpartisan research group that tracks U.S. mass shooting data dating back to 1966.
"Men just are generally more violent," said the group's president, Jillian Peterson, a forensic psychologist and professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University. "There are many theories as to why that is."
As NPR has reported, researchers say that men, more than women, tend to externalize their problems and look for others to blame, which can translate into anger and violence. And when women do choose violence, guns are not typically their weapon of choice….
If men vastly outnumber women as mass shooters, those perpetrators are often a model for the next male shooters, who "see themselves in them," Peterson said, a phenomenon that she noted is particularly true among young, white men. Violence Project data show that white men are disproportionately responsible for mass shootings more than any other group.
"They study the perpetrators that came before them," she said. "Many school shooters study Columbine, for example; other university shooters study the Virginia Tech shooting. And they really are kind of using those previous shootings as a blueprint for their own."
So the hyper-masculinity context of most mass shootings replicates itself and is reinforced by multiple-cultural cues including child-rearing, movies, gun industry marketing and the mass media coverage of mass-shooting leading to copycat bloodshed. The gun manufacturers even begin marketing to young children less than 12 as shown in this Violence Policy Center report, “Gun Violence Prevention Groups Condemn Launch of AR-15 Assault Rifles Designed Specifically for Children entitled,
“Manufacturer Says Its JR-15 Child-Sized Assault Rifle ‘looks, feels, and operates just like Mom and Dad’s gun’: Gun Violence Prevention Groups Condemn Launch of AR-15 Assault Rifles Designed Specifically for Children
Crafting a public health solution with America’s ceaseless barrage of gunfire requires not just gun law reforms. It necessitates a remaking of what it means to be male without the centuries-long glorification of the man who believes he can solve his grievances as a male with a gun.
This is a psychological and sociological problem, and our mass-shooting nightmare won’t be resolved until remaking the male hyper-masculinity into a more benign approach to participating in our national community.