The United States has a gun violence problem. This is nothing new to those of us who have been paying attention. But it is news. It is news I report on far more than I would care to, because I am a journalist with a responsibility to inform the people. That is my job. On the worst days, I still consider it an honor to perform that duty for my readers and listeners. But sometimes it hurts.
Gun violence in the United States — what a complicated, pervasive problem. We can’t protect our children from taking a bullet to the head as they’re walking to class. We can’t protect people of color from some cops who think it’s okay to use excessive force. And we can’t protect women, young and old, from being shot in the head by white boys and men with hurt feelings.
How many of you have followed the shooting that took place at Great Mills High School in Maryland? It wasn’t a massacre like what happened on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Florida. One student was hurt and only two died. It breaks my heart to say "only two", as though the lives of our young people, their hopes and dreams, their loss can be softened by a small number. But that is the world we live in. It is not whether tragedies happen, but rather the severity of those tragedies.
One was the shooter.
And as much as I would like to say I am the type of woman who can find sympathy in my heart for someone who was clearly broken, I find it difficult to feel sorry for that loss. I feel for his victim. The girl he went to Great Mills High School to shoot in the head with a semi-automatic handgun. Why? Reports say he wanted to kill her because she broke up with him.
He wanted to kill her because she broke up with him.
Now, I know we can all understand the pain of young love. However, I want you to think for a moment and raise your hand if you’ve ever felt a serious desire to kill someone because they broke up with you — so much so that you would take your father’s gun, go to her school and shoot her in the head.
My guess is no. I write under the assumption that the readers of our site do not condone or perpetrate dating violence. I could be wrong on that, but I’m pretty sure. That said, this is not a new problem. Violence against women. It dates back centuries, long before the guns men use to kill us were invented.
But we don’t talk about it. It’s funny that in the midst of our debates over gun legislation and mental health awareness we seem to be missing the point: that far more often than not, the perpetrators of these tragedies are young, white, American men.
Our boys are angry.
They are angry and they do not know how to handle it, so they pick up a gun and start shooting at the thing that made them that angry. We are the things. Women are the things that they want possession, domination and control over.
And when we say they can’t have us, they get angry.
When we say no, they get angry.
So they use their force. They use their strength. They pull the trigger.
They decide to play God because a mere woman dared to defy them and deny them their desires aka our bodies.
This. Is. A. Problem.
According to a study published last year by the Violence Policy Center (based on data from 2015), 1,686 women in the United States were murdered by a man in a “single victim/single offender” incident. Of the incidents in which the relationship between the offender and victim could be established, a pool of 1,551 cases, 93% of the women were killed by a man they knew and 64% were wives — or intimate acquaintances — of their killers.
In the case of our Maryland high schooler, the victim was just a 16-year-old girl whose life was cut short by an angry boy she didn’t want to date anymore. Whatever she was going to do or be in her life is gone, replaced only by her family’s grief, for which there will likely not come a reprieve.
We can sit here and argue. We can hate each other while more women and children (and yes, men too) die as we fight over whose guns should or shouldn’t be taken away, whether public safety is enough of an imperative to violate civil liberties, or whether we need to provide more mental health awareness to the general population. We all have thoughts on whose rights or which rights are more important. Personally I tend to be in the camp that considers public safety more important. But let’s not waste this opportunity for some honest introspection and social analysis.
Our boys are angry.
But how did they get that way? And why don’t they have the tools to deal with their anger without shooting someone in the head? HOW IS THAT AN OPTION?
It’s not a matter of one person not receiving the mental health care they require, though that is important. The Trump Administration slashed necessary mental health resources around the same time it repealed Obama-era legislation that would restrict folks with certain mental health concerns from buying guns.
It’s also worth noting here that people with mental health issues are statistically more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. So the mental health argument seems more like a flawed means of shutting down a healthy conversation than anything else.
This is a matter of an entire segment of our population using its perceived power as a force to exert its will over other people’s lives. It's a matter of boys and men who get angry and decide to play God.
And we need to handle it. Because we are all complicit when we allow these systems of oppression to continue. We all contribute, whether positively or negatively.
So what do we do?
I am a writer. When life confounds me I turn to the words of writers who’ve inspired me. So for your consideration, I give you one of the great American poets, Mr. Walt Whitman — who once wrote of the trials of life that the goodness lies in this:
"That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
What will your verse be?
Search your life and your influence. Look to those around you. In our society with shootings and discrimination and division and endemic violence against racialized women, queer and trans women, women with disabilities and women who dare to say no — in this world of angry white boys and their victims who need our help — what will your verse be?
Kelly Livingston is a freelance writer with a passion for intersectional feminism. After four years studying English and Anthropology at the University of Florida, she remains fascinated by the ways we can use writing to comment on and change our culture.