Saner gun laws and better mental health services would no doubt help our country. But the unifying problem—the one that is wholly missing from this discourse—is gender, the fact that nearly without exception violent crimes and mass murders are committed by men.
Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman has called for a national commission on mass violence saying we need to better understand the causes in order to prevent it and President Obama has promised to lead a national effort bringing together police, parents and educators.
But the starting point in any real investigation of extreme violence needs to begin with the Y chromosome, with an examination of how aberrant behavior in men can become lethal. It needs to begin with an understanding of how we cultivate and even glorify this behavior when it suits our needs.
If change is to occur, the problem of anti-social masculinity must at last be taken seriously. What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a horror but as we well know it was far from an isolated event. Men have entered schools and killed children before. Shooting them, stabbing them, and in the case of the Beslen school siege in Russia taking them as political hostages before murdering one hundred and fifty-six of them. In July of this year a Norwegian man killed ninety-two teenagers and young adults at a youth camp in Utoya.
Mass murder is not strictly an American problem. But the numbers are still staggering.
Every year in this country three thousand women are murdered by their intimate partners. By the end of this year another one million physical assaults, rapes, and murders will have been committed by men against other men, against women and against children. These are simply facts and we must face them.
If we are genuine in our desires to find solutions for the problem of violence we need to look closely at common causes. We need to understand that boys and men are uniquely at a risk for committing acts of extreme brutality. And we need to thoroughly examine the link between gender and violence instead of seeing it as an inevitable, unsolvable, mystery, or a problem that might be fixed if we took away a particular kind of weapon.
If we are genuine in our desires to find solutions we need to develop a system of screening that will identify potential problems in boys early enough to help them and to save the lives of others. We need to teach empathy in our schools. We need to use common sense when it comes to exposing children to attitudes and images that equate power and masculinity with violence and killing.
These are clearly long term solutions and it may take generations to see a change. But there is no worthier fight. We need to help men transcend the cultural and biological burdens of their gender or resign ourselves to paying in children’s blood.