The Cause of Gun Violence: Mental Health or Men?


If we ignore the direct cause of shootings and use mental health as a scapegoat, then we must focus on why men are so violent. (Coutesy of Twitter)

A woman fatally shot two people and injured a third on Monday, Aug. 22, in midtown Atlanta. The suspect was later arrested at a nearby airport. Although police did not immediately disclose a motive, it is assumed that these shootings were not random, since the shooter was seen at two specific street addresses. 

Gun violence is so ever-present in our lives that my first reaction to reading this story was not shock. What did shock me is that, upon reflection, this was the first instance I could recall reading of a female shooter. 

I can not think of this past summer without thinking of gun violence and the endless tragedies Americans have endured. The deadliest mass shooting so far this year occurred over the summer when 19 children and two teachers were killed at a Texan elementary school. This is just the latest in a long, discouraging chain of school shootings. School shootings have hit their highest level on record, according to federal data from the Education Department. 93 school shootings with casualties occurred during the 2020-21 school year alone. 

Of course, many will also recall the Fourth of July shooting that occurred in Highland Park, Ill., where a gunman killed seven people and wounded dozens more. One would think that nothing could prompt leaders to take action more than a tragic shooting on a day meant to celebrate America’s freedom, and yet nothing has changed. 

People continue to defend their constitutional right to arms, ignoring the context in which that right was born, when the military was disorganized in its infancy and divided. People continue to ridicule gun control propositions as unrealistic and far-fetched whilst simultaneously refusing to offer a better solution. People continue to frame gun violence as a causal argument, instead of the grave threat to peace and wellbeing that it really is. 

I am sick of anti-gun control individuals skirting around the real issue at hand. I am even more tired of watching politicians and world leaders stand by. If people really want to push off gun control and instead debate the cause of these mass shootings, as if the cause of a death by gunshot is not the gun, then fine let’s talk about how men are the cause. 

While the woman-committed shooting shocked me, it is important to note that this shooting is not considered a mass shooting. (To be fair, the definition of a mass shooting is vague. Despite the lack of consensus on the definition, a mass shooting is widely accepted as an indiscriminate killing of at least three or four victims.) 

Men, on the other hand, are responsible for 98% of mass shootings in the U.S., according to The Violence Project, a nonpartisan research group. In fact, men commit much more violent crime than women more than three times as often as women, according to the United States Department of Justice. Men also make up the vast majority of persons arrested for property crimes, according to the FBI. Unforgettably, nearly 99% of rape and sexual assault perpetrators are male, according to the United States Department of Justice. 

There are many theories as to why men are more violent than women. Researchers say that men tend to externalize their problems and look for other people to blame more often than women, which can lead to anger and violence. Future perpetrators also tend to look to mass shooters for inspiration, and since most mass shooters are men, this would explain the continuance in this trend, according to Jillian Peterson, president of the Violence Project

You might be wondering — okay, men are more violent than women, and men are committing these shootings, but why is that important? 

I am not simply bashing men or trying to provide some sort of psychological argument against them. It’s important because I am trying to expose the mainstream argument used in the media and by major leaders: Namely, that gun violence is either caused by guns or by a mental health crisis in America.

I am not going to argue against the mental health crisis in the U.S., or the lack of resources provided to some individuals. But I will point out that this perceived debate is illogical. It makes absolutely no sense to argue over whether guns or poor mental health are causing mass shootings, since these are two different types of causes. 

Guns are the direct cause of mass shootings. Mental health is an indirect cause of mass shootings. There is no need to argue whether guns or mental health are the cause of mass shootings; they can both contribute to the cause.  

Anti-gun control individuals love to say that the answer to mass shootings is not banning AR-15s, but rather, improving mental health advocacy. If these overnight mental health advocates truly wanted to solve this American crisis, it would be impossible for them to ignore that the only ones they truly need to focus on are men, at least for the sake of eradicating gun violence. 

If we truly want to ignore the direct cause of shootings and instead take the more time-consuming, trickle-down route of mental health advocacy, then we need to focus on why our men are so angry and so violent. We need to focus on less restrictive gender roles. We need to focus on raising our men to be less entitled and less reactive. 

But just imagine trying to tell one of these anti-gun control leaders that we need to be raising our men to be more like women. Imagine trying to tell them that men are the problem behind gun violence. It would never work. And why is that? It is because these anti-gun control leaders do not back mental health advocacy because they think mental health awareness is important. They only back mental health advocacy when it means they can keep their guns. 

Taylor Herzlich, FCRH ’23, is a journalism major and English minor from Mt. Sinai, N.Y.