Plastic Gangsters

After an extended holiday hiatus, the blog is back up and running, ready to face 2013 with full force!

Despite all the prayers, hope, and holiday egg-nog filled merriment, the realities of our global and national problems remain and returning to them seems even harsher. We are still lamenting over the fiscal cliff, debating over Second Amendment rights, and worrying about explosives in distant lands. However, the pressing realities at hand include not only the 20 innocent children who died at Sandy Hook, but the 85 victims who die each day on average due to firearms. It is not only the gruesome and deadly gang rape of a 23-year old student in Delhi, India, but the at least one in three women and girls worldwide that are beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.

We are in a climate where some leaders and decision makers actually believe that more not less guns are a solution despite the fact that gun ownership and the number of deaths due to firearms are on the rise. We are living in an environment where the Violence Against Women Act was not re-authorized in 2012 and justice is non-existent or inadequately provided for rape victims despite the fact that every 2 minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. The question is why and the answer leads back to the culture of violence that has been justified or to which we have become desensitized or have simply chosen to ignore.

Instead of tackling the problem head on, we further cling to our own ideologies and groups that support them, while often playing the blame game so no guilt is our own. And instead of acknowledging the atrocities that have and can happen to any one of us, we choose to believe it only happens elsewhere-a different country, a different state or to a different person-that somehow we are better or immune. We can sit around all day and try to link each instance of violence back to the personality of one particular person, a mental illness, familial background, and the list goes on. But the bottom line is that none of this is happening in complete isolation and all of this relates to our society’s underlying acceptance and even idolization of violence, which includes our conceptualization of gender identity.

In the case of firearms, gun owners are re-iterating misplaced arguments rooted in our outdated Second Amendment rights in the face of the rising numbers of those dying every day, week and year in the face of a gun. As The Economist so astutely put it,

“If America is ever to confront its obsession with guns, that time is now. America’s murder rate is four times higher than Britain’s and six times higher than Germany’s. Only an idiot, or an anti-American bigot prepared to maintain that Americans are four times more murderous than Britons, could possibly pretend that no connection exists between those figures and the fact that 300m guns are “out there” in the United States, more than one for every adult.”

And in confronting that obsession, we must move past the mask of so-called freedom and our “rights” because in the effort to “protect” ourselves, we are hurting thousands of others. Unpacking the desire to own guns relates to this ideology of violence and at least in part to our construction of masculinity. We live in a nation and world where patriarchy and power continue to reign, and one where we, including our young children, are ever more exposed to language, images and sounds of violence, especially towards women. Several research studies have revealed both an increase in exposure to certain types of violence in the media and also its connection to the potential for real-life violence. Findings from a 2009 study of primetime broadcast television commissioned by the Parents Television Council revealed that during the period from 2004 to 2009, the portrayal of violence against women went up by 120 percent and the depiction of teen girls as victims rose by around 400 percent. Furthermore, a September 2012 report by the Media Violence Commission of the International Society for Research on Aggression (IRSA) concluded that findings clearly show that the consumption of media violence increases the relative risk of aggression, defined as intentional harm to another person that could be verbal, relational, or physical.

While women are not insusceptible to violent acts, the facts are in and men have committed such acts with much greater frequency. According to data collected by the F.B.I. and the Bureau of Justice, men have currently and historically made up the majority of both offenders and victims of all homicides in the United States, including those restricted to guns. In the meantime, women are found to be particularly at risk for becoming victims of intimate killings and sex-related homicides. In 2011, men accounted for 89.3 percent of the offenders of all homicides and 77.6 percent of the victims. The majority of homicides involved the use of firearms, with handguns comprising 72.5 percent of those usedIn murders for which the relationships were known, 54.3 percent of victims were killed by someone they knew (acquaintance, neighbor, friend, boyfriend, etc.) and 24.8 percent of victims were slain by family members. In the case of female murder victims, 36.5 percent were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Data for the years 1976-2005 combined corroborates this story with male offenders accounting for 88.8 percent of all homicides and 91.3 percent of gun homicides.  Furthermore, the nonprofit news organization Mother Jones has determined that out of at least 62 mass shootings in the US over the last 30 years, 61 of them were committed by men.

All of this is not to say by any means that women are immune to the problem of violence and they certainly need to be part of the solution. According to a recent Gallup poll, while women still only account for half the number of men who personally own a gun (46% are men and 23% are women), the percentage of women who report household gun ownership is at a record high of 43 percent (versus 52% of men). This rise in both male and female ownership or joint ownership of guns must be noted and may relate to the rise in actual and perceived violence from the outside, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence. Even though the unfortunate reality is that most of the violence, which may be largely misplaced, is taken out on those we know and even love as referenced above.

Following the Newtown shooting, an article was written by Porochista Khakpour, giving the perspective of both a gun aficionado and a woman on her love of guns. The author describes how she fell in love with guns due to the power it gave her, “a historically scrawny, weak nerd who’d been the prey to all sorts of danger, could now be the danger.” But in the aftermath of so many shootings and unnecessary violence, she came to the realization that an obsession with guns is often merely “a passion for destruction veiled as protection.”

The accounts and the facts all bring up important points surrounding gender identity and the culture of violence. Do men feel strong owning guns and in response are women enticed to own them in order to feel even tougher? Are the reasons for needing such affirmation brought on by socialization as a means to protect or an instilled fear brought on through tradition or by previous trauma? These questions must begin to be confronted in order to help us better understand our deep-rooted desire to harbor weapons of violence that goes well beyond our need for a well-regulated militia. A film series entitled The Mask You Live In is currently being produced by those involved with the film Miss Representation in order to explore some of these very questions. In particular, the series hopes to uncover “how American culture reinforces a rigid code of conduct on boys that inhibits their capacity for empathy, stifles their emotional intelligence, limits their definition of success, and in some cases, leads to extreme acts of violence.” Such explorations are warranted and necessary, especially in light of these recent events, but in the meantime, we need to take action.

So, we can continue to delude ourselves in thinking that somehow we as women, as men, as gun owners are not susceptible to either committing or being a victim of gun violence but the truth is we are all at risk. A gun owner died at the hands of her own gun and men have overwhelmingly been at both the front and back end of the gun, often hurting or killing their acquaintances, friends and current or former lovers. In the words of the rap song, Plastic Gangsters, “that’s what you get when you mess with knuckleheads, when aggression is respected than you learn to be aggressive.” Instead, I recommend following the sage advice of Ms. Khakpour and face the reality that “it’s time for all of us to woman up and disarm.”

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