Here is a since-deleted tweet you probably didn’t see before Tuesday May 24th, 2022.
For some, this would have stopped us cold in our scrolling tracks. Online however, it seemed like no one blinked.
Weapons of mass murder like these are not designed for killing a rabbit in your garden. Weapons like the ones made by Daniel Defense – a American gun manufacturer based out of Georgia – are as easy to order online as markers, chalkboard erasers or welcome mats. Easily orderable in just 5 clicks actually, as this Quartz article points out. They also conveniently offer a buy-now-pay-later financing option, and approval apparently only takes seconds.
Here’s something else that happened before May 24th, 2022. After his sister refused to when he was 17, a young man in Texas waited until his 18th birthday to buy two assault rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition. Sure sounds like a lot of ammo and assault rifles for a 18 year old, but in Texas?
No one blinked.
What he ended up doing made everyone stare with eyes wide open or full of tears. In over 90 minutes he committed an unspeakable horror in a small school in Uvalde, Texas that was on the lips of practically everyone in North America and many around the world.
19 officers who signed up and trained to be ‘the good guys with guns’ stood around in a hallway outside a classroom door where 19 children trapped inside were eventually all slaughtered. Lives ended in such a gruesome fashion they needed to be identified by DNA, butchered with assault rifles that worked as advertised.
Daniel Defense thoughtfully offered their “thoughts and prayers…to the families and community devastated by this evil act” committed with their own guns in a pop-up statement on their website. They are, after all, used to their customers sometimes acting up like this. The gunman of the Las Vegas massacre during a music festival in 2018 who killed 58 people, used four semi-automatic rifles made by the company.
In 2012, I wrote about another ad by a gun manufacturer. Bushmaster Firearms invited men to utilize their app to “call into question or even revoke the Man Card of friends they feel have betrayed their manhood.” The only thing men like this cling onto tighter than their guns, is their archaic ideas of worth as a man. Of course, if you purchased their product, well…
Bushmaster created the lightweight, semi-automatic military-style weapon a 20 year old male used in killing 27 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. Gun manufacturers will tell you massacres are great for business, as founder Marty Daniel told Forbes: “The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 drove a lot of sales” for Daniel Defense.
Business has been booming. Sales rose as did mass school shootings in America. As you can see with this list of all the shooting between Sandy Hook and Robb Elementary School, there were many.
Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Apostolic Revival Center Christian School.
Taft Union High School.
Osborn High School.
Stevens Institute of Business and Arts.
Hazard Community and Technical College.
Chicago State University.
Lone Star College-North.
Cesar Chavez High School.
Price Middle School.
University of Central Florida.
New River Community College.
Grambling State University.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School.
Ronald E. McNair Discovery Academy.
North Panola High School.
Carver High School.
Agape Christian Academy.
Sparks Middle School.
North Carolina A&T State University.
Stephenson High School.
Brashear High School.
West Orange High School.
Arapahoe High School.
Edison High School.
Liberty Technology Magnet High School.
Hillhouse High School.
Berrendo Middle School.
South Carolina State University.
Los Angeles Valley College.
Charles F. Brush High School.
University of Southern California.
Georgia Regents University.
Academy of Knowledge Preschool.
Benjamin Banneker High School.
D. H. Conley High School.
East English Village Preparatory Academy.
Georgia Gwinnett College.
John F. Kennedy High School.
Seattle Pacific University.
Reynolds High School.
Indiana State University.
Albemarle High School.
Fern Creek Traditional High School.
Langston Hughes High School.
Marysville Pilchuck High School.
Florida State University.
Miami Carol City High School.
Rogers State University.
Rosemary Anderson High School.
Wisconsin Lutheran High School.
Frederick High School.
Tenaya Middle School.
Pershing Elementary School.
Wayne Community College.
J.B. Martin Middle School.
Southwestern Classical Academy.
Savannah State University.
Harrisburg High School.
Umpqua Community College.
Northern Arizona University.
Texas Southern University.
Tennessee State University.
Winston-Salem State University.
Mojave High School.
Lawrence Central High School.
Franklin High School.
Muskegon Heights High School.
Independence High School.
Madison High School.
Antigo High School.
University of California-Los Angeles.
Jeremiah Burke High School.
Alpine High School.
Townville Elementary School.
Vigor High School.
Linden McKinley STEM Academy.
June Jordan High School for Equity.
Union Middle School.
Mueller Park Junior High School.
West Liberty-Salem High School.
University of Washington.
King City High School.
North Park Elementary School.
North Lake College.
Freeman High School.
Mattoon High School.
Rancho Tehama Elementary School.
Aztec High School.
Wake Forest University.
Italy High School.
NET Charter High School.
Marshall County High School.
Sal Castro Middle School.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Great Mills High School.
Central Michigan University.
Huffman High School.
Frederick Douglass High School.
Forest High School.
Highland High School.
Dixon High School.
Santa Fe High School.
Noblesville West Middle School.
University of North Carolina Charlotte.
STEM School Highlands Ranch.
Edgewood High School.
Palm Beach Central High School.
Providence Career & Technical Academy.
Fairley High School (school bus).
Canyon Springs High School.
Dennis Intermediate School.
Florida International University.
Central Elementary School.
Cascade Middle School.
Davidson High School.
Prairie View A & M University.
Altascocita High School.
Central Academy of Excellence.
Cleveland High School.
Robert E. Lee High School.
Cheyenne South High School.
Grambling State University.
Blountsville Elementary School.
Holmes County, Mississippi (school bus).
Prescott High School.
College of the Mainland.
Wynbrooke Elementary School.
Riverview Florida (school bus).
Second Chance High School.
Carman-Ainsworth High School.
Williwaw Elementary School.
Monroe Clark Middle School.
Central Catholic High School.
Jeanette High School.
Eastern Hills High School.
DeAnza High School.
Ridgway High School.
Reginald F. Lewis High School.
Saugus High School.
Pleasantville High School.
Waukesha South High School.
Oshkosh High School.
Catholic Academy of New Haven.
Bellaire High School.
North Crowley High School.
McAuliffe Elementary School.
South Oak Cliff High School.
Texas A&M University-Commerce.
Sonora High School.
Western Illinois University.
Oxford High School.
Robb Elementary School…
Fear became the leading salesman for the Gun Industry. After every massacre they’ll repeat that the real threat is the impending attack from the Left on the right to have guns. Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action said: “Backlash to gun safety… hardened in the early 90’s, after the Waco siege. The firearms industry took a very dark turn: they realized marketing militaristic guns and tactical gear to civilians while stoking racism and misogyny and anti-government sentiment …actually helped them.”
Just like gun manufacturers however, when it comes to gun violence there is another manufacturer counting on and creating fear to increase buy-in for what they create and sell.
That manufacturer is us.
Our collective society continues to create and hand down harmful ideas and traditions of manhood, like gun modification-accessories for your masculinity, on an endless conveyor belt for young men and boys.
We are the manufacturers producing these harmful modifications of masculinity – through social conditioning – that ends up leaving far too many men and young men struggling. They struggle through daily interactions. They try to navigate various kinds of work, family, or romantic relationships while retooled with varying degrees of emotional illiteracy: an empathy deficit, difficulty in naming or communicating what’s going on for us, but heartbreakingly fluent in the language of violence.
Striving for these outdated ideas (i.e., ‘be the solution not the problem’, ‘never show fear or pain’, ‘always get the girl’, never weak, demonstrate power or status in every given moment) also means that many young men, even at such a early stage in their lives, are left feeling their masculinity is a ‘failed masculinity‘. They decide that at age 18 that they have failed: fallen short of attaining a narrow, impossible status, or identity of elite manhood they thought was promised them. The feeling is then like an invisible gun held to their heads by others, and by themselves, to achieve this unattainable standard. This fragile state of self-worth and value leaves many men and young men with the perceived feeling they are ‘under attack’ so they go on the attack. That perception becomes their genuine feeling, but the attack is coming from within. The traditions and norms we hand down and reinforce are the source of the struggles we face.
I talked about my experience from ten years ago in this TEDx talk about finding myself, moments after delivering a talk on young men, power and violence with Grade 5 students in an elementary school, suddenly in the middle of a ‘Hold and Secure’ school shooting drill. This was two days after being in an actual Hold and Secure in another elementary school during a class talk.
I found myself shuffled into a music room with a group of Grade 1 students, as we all sat on the floor in the dark. Little children with their legs crossed and hands in laps, sitting under tables and holding an eerie silence. After what felt like an eternity, that silence was broken by a moment I will never forget. The jiggling of the room’s locked door handle from someone in the hallway. I knew it was the school’s vice-principal acting as part of the drill, but I couldn’t help envision it was a shooter trying to see if living targets were inside.
The person I envisioned was male.
Now, many of us, in particular say, women of colour, or LBGTQ+ folks, will rightfully respond by thinking or saying…
…and they are absolutely right. The state of young men and men’s selfhood is like a tinderbox in some cases, and it’s an urgent conversation we still dance around discussing or even naming. The overwhelming majority of mass shootings are committed by young men. in particular young white men. Just ten days before the horror in Evalde, another 18 year old – a young white male inspired by the Christchurch mosque shooting – horrifically targeted Black victims in a racially motivated act of white supremacist terrorism on day when ‘White Lives Matter’ actions where planned.
Why are so many men and young men resorting to violence, including fatal violence, when lost in emotional crisis?
When our idea of manhood is dominated by domination, when vulnerability is read as a threat, our fear of being perceived as ‘weak’ will always end up leaving us weak as men. We are invested towards achieving strength in body and in how we are perceived, and not valuing or developing true strength in mind and spirit. This leaves our muscles and ‘body-armour-wrapped-personas’ serving solely to protect our extremely fragile heart, fearfully pacing back and forth in its ribbed cage.
Young men and men are seeking certainty, and feel the pressure to be the certainty and the answer in an ‘question-everything’ era of uncertainty. So much of the messaging that is then directed towards men and young men to overcome perceived or actual struggles, depression, lack of success, or failure, is more of the same. ‘Grab these accessories and man up your manhood.’ Rather than developing our full humanity, we deny ourselves half of it: those elements and traits which are labelled ‘feminine’. Some of us actually blame those very traits (and the people who carry them) for our suffering. We then try to fill that void and compensate by doubling down on modifying our masculinity from an array of hazardous ideas of manhood which put us in these situations in the first place.
Fighting fire with fire becomes throwing fire onto the fire.
So, we find a number of young men desperately at that conveyer belt, adding various modifications to their masculinity, removing elements of their humanity. In effect, young men end up weaponizing masculinity: turning their masculinity into a sharp object, like a shank we’ve whittled away at to stab and break our way out of our own self-made prisons of manhood. Today’s conveyor belt isn’t just churning out old-fashioned traditional masculinity – the ideas are getting more and more unhealthy because of the ‘manospheres’ and barren sewers of social media. Hazardous, and extremely dangerous modifications of masculinity are being mass produced and widely disturbed online, and business is booming.
In a powerful Twitter thread, the Breaking the Boy Podcast points out an alarming thread amongst many mass shootings:
So let’s go back to that image:
What exactly is the tradition being handed down here? However you feel, this image basically says: “When we face a problem, men have to man up and solve it …and the way we solve problems is with violence.” What is the point of no return for young men in our lives, in our communities? The path that men and young men in your life or in your community are on, is it an ascent or descent into manhood?
I describe this doomed pursuit of identity for men as climbing what I call ‘The Ladder of Manhood’.
I explain to men and young men how this endless pursuit of identity and self-worth is like a ladder we spend our whole lives hopelessly trying to climb. This standard of masculinity means we are measured by the power you can demonstrate, own or produce. So a number of us attempt to climb or race up the Ladder by holding power over others. We will spend our entire lives straining for the perception of power at the cost of people of all genders, but especially people of other genders aside from us. The top of the ladder is a mirage: only a handful of men make it. Men who are discontent and miserable despite seeming to ‘have it all’. Think of how forever gladiatorial, unsatisfied and fragile men like Donald Trump, Elon Musk, or Vladmir Putin forever are. Still, the majority of us struggle eternally, striving to reach for this unattainable, empty status, and fall short.
As a Black Man, a man with a physical disability, a white middle class young man, an Indigenous man: Where are you, or the men in your life, on this ladder? The quickest short cut up the ladder for any man is through violence. The threat of using violence to leap up the ladder is increased with a number of young white men who feel cheated by a false promise of being exalted subjects. So they will wield various forms of violence to leap past perceived obstacles and barriers towards their ‘entitled freedoms’. One of our first go-to’s for attaining ‘power’ looks like catcalling a woman when with ‘the boys’ or by ourselves, harassing a woman or gender-diverse person online, or using terms for cis-women’s body parts as an insult. It can lead to more and more dangerous forms of verbal, sexual, emotional, and physical violence.
We reduce women and girls to becoming the rungs on the ladder.
We reduce women, gender-diverse people, people of colour, people with disabilities – where we work, live, study, worship and play – to a rung on the ladder, stepping stones to attain power at their expense. We devalue the voices, bodies, and lives of anyone and anything deemed ‘feminine’, including emotional literacy, empathy and love. Again, violence becomes an attempt to override our ‘failed masculinity’ and ascend up to the top of the ladder, at the expense of our humanity by denying the humanity and lives of others.
So, a young man walks into a room with a gun, he goes from a ‘nobody’ to the center of attention with a false sense of power.
As behavioral scientist Caroline Orr Bueno points out on Twitter what many mass shooters have in common: “Nearly all of the deadliest mass shootings in US (and Canadian) history were carried out by men with a history of violence against women and/or violent misogyny, often expressed online.”
Caroline points out the history of violence (having threatened, harmed or harassed) against women online or in person with mass shooters like the Pulse night club shooter, the the gunman who opened fire at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, the Virginia Tech gunman, the California synagogue shooter… and on and on. She also points out in these tweets that this includes the murderous shooter at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
Caroline also shares a: “long thread with a lot of research and statistics on the intersection of gun violence and violence against women/children.”
There are many factors to discuss and address when it comes to gun violence, Harmful ideas of manhood is a key factor we still leave off the table in conversation. White supremacy and Male Supremacy are not about mental health, it is about choices made to point through windows at others instead of looking in mirrors. Whether it’s pointing a finger, a mouse, or a gun, the common point is violence.
Here in the land we call Canada, there was a school shooting that changed my life and shook the country. On December 6th 1989, also just days before the end of classes (for the winter break versus the summer break as in Evalde) a young man walked into the school that rejected him for their engineering program. He blamed it on women. He killed 14 women, as well as injured 10 women and four men. 12 of the women he murdered were engineering students. My dad was an engineer. We used to watch television together in silence, as he was physically present but emotionally a million miles away. That night he and I along with a whole nation watched the live grainy footage covering that shooting in complete silence. I talked about my experience here in this video:
Monique Lepine said: “she prayed when she heard about the shootings, only to find out the gunman was her son. She has since met and cried with a family of one of her son’s victims. “All this hate we keep inside, if we don’t let it go, or ask forgiveness of the people we hurt, it will build up and lead to violent behaviour… If you didn’t solve your emotional problems when it was the time, eventually you’re growing, you’re an adult, but emotionally, you’re still at the age of your wound.”
The Wounds That Wound.
Too many men and young men today are stuck at the age of their wound, grown but stunted in their emotional age. Our untreated emotional wounds as men become the infected wound that tears on the fabric of your humanity, it becomes where darkness enters. Trauma can leave you on a quest to heal, but when vulnerability is coded for men to feel like the true threat, violence becomes the favourable remedy. The white supremacist Christchurch killer even “credits the far-right personality Candace Owens with helping to “push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness.”’
Why shoot schools? In addition to seeking targets such as women who are educators, they perhaps seek to feel the power over children perhaps currently at the age a potential shooter is emotionally stuck at due to unhealed wounds of trauma. Perhaps, because something happened to them at that age, they seek vengeance over their ’emotional peers.’ All the while, we sit numb, surprised and shocked when circle of violence constantly expands around us, and the degrees of separation from violence continue to shrink.
Today’s slippery slide for men and young men into the sewers of the manosphere of hate online can be stopped with an embrace of accountability, empathy, and love. We model and hand down to young men either a tradition of responsibility and being accountable, or a ritual of avoiding accountability. The key is encouraging accountability, responsibility and ownership for own lives as men and for the impact we’ve had, and can have.
When we as men awaken our atrophied emotional muscles and strengthen them – training and building them together – we can develop the ‘emotional muscle memory’ needed to respond to everyday challenges and situations in helpful instead of harmful ways. These are the kind of modifications to our masculinity we truly need.
To reject the conveyer belt of harmful modifications of masculinity, to drop that armour we carry and seeking a wide range of helpful ideas of manhood instead, means embracing your full humanity. Filling the void with the parts of ourselves we have forever denied ourselves and others. To restore this within yourself, and ultimately others around you, takes courage.
Courage is a muscle we as men can develop and strengthen. I’m not talking about the courage to face a physical threat, but the courage to not treat emotional truths like a threat. We can face ourselves, face hard truths, and rather than get defensive we can get to work. There is a war not on men, but a war on our humanity as men, and the causalities are the lives of people across all genders, even the planet itself.
We offer ‘thoughts and prayers’ for that which is out of our hands. We can offer empathy and action for that which is in our hands. I’ve always been a hopeful person, but you work to meet hope halfway. Most of that kind of work will not be realized within your lifetime. That is the larger goal I always aspire to work towards: something bigger than me, bigger than my eyes will ever see, something I myself will never live to see but a generation someday will… a future without violence.
Our journey towards helpful and healthier ideas of manhood isn’t found climbing up a ladder, it’s found on a path. So get off the ladder and get on the path to restoring your full self and our collective humanity.
It is time to draw New Maps to Manhood. We can road trip together.
Empathy and Action for the victims and survivors of gun violence from Uvalde to Buffalo…
LIST OF ARTICLES AND RESOURCES
Sandy Hook Promise Foundation
about jeff perera
Since 2008 jeff perera has spoken to tens of thousands of people of all genders across North America about healthy versus harmful ideas of manhood, striving to be allies, and how we as men can be the lesson in action.