Taking the stage on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, high school student David Hogg offered hundreds of thousands of audience members a visual representation of his reasons for helping to organize the March for Our Lives, a worldwide gun control advocacy demonstration.
“I’m going to start off by putting this price tag right here as a reminder for you guys to know how much Marco Rubio took for every student’s life in Florida,” Hogg said, placing a price tag reading “$1.05” on the podium. Continue reading →
“We are firsthand witnesses to the kind of devastation that gross incompetence and political inaction can produce,” Parkland student journalists wrote in The Guardian. (Photo: March for Our Lives)
Ahead of the historic “March for Our Lives” demonstrations taking place nationwide on Saturday, student journalists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—the site of a shooting last month that left 17 dead—published a manifesto in The Guardian on Friday declaring that they can no longer “stand idly by as the country continues to be infected by a plague of gun violence.”
“We have a unique platform not only as student journalists, but also as survivors of a mass shooting. We are firsthand witnesses to the kind of devastation that gross incompetence and political inaction can produce,” wrote the students, who work for the Stoneman Douglas school newspaper The Eagle Eye. “We will be marching this Saturday for those that we loved and lost, and we write this in the hope that no other community or publication will ever have to do the same.”
NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, right, told CNN host Alisyn Camerota on Friday that the news media “loves” the ratings delivered by mass shootings—a remark that drew condemnation from journalists on social media. (Photo: @CNN/Twitter)
Journalists on social media pushed back on Friday against NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch’s claim that the news media “loves” mass shootings because they deliver ratings boosts.
This rhetoric is dangerous, and continues the assault on journalists in an effort to paint them as subhuman. Of the thousands of people I know, including hundreds of journalists, I know zero (ZERO) people subhuman enough to “love mass shootings” https://t.co/wBo8y5DPYz
“Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it,” Loesch said Thursday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), addressing reporters in the back of the room. “Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy. But I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many in the legacy media.”
Loesch’s comments echoed those made in a video released this week by the NRA, in which gun rights activist Colion Noir argued, “If there’s one organization in this country that has a vested interest in the perpetuation of mass tragedy, it’s the mainstream media.”
The former Blaze host doubled-down on her comments in a Friday morning interview on CNN with Alisyn Camerota, who told her, “You’re wrong on every single level,” and argued against her claim that shootings provide a ratings boost for news programs.
“Americans have reached saturation level,” said Camerota. “They’re so sick of it and it’s so heartbreaking that they actually often turn away.”
Alisyn Camerota to NRA spokeswoman: “You think we love mass shootings? … It’s just malicious, actually, that you would say that. I don’t know anybody in the media who likes mass shootings… We pray that there’s never another one.” https://t.co/qzE1DxoncOhttps://t.co/a0QY03VTYU
Many in the news media have pushed to refine how news stations cover mass shootings, urging journalists to focus less on the perpetrators of attacks. Much of the ongoing coverage of the shooting in Parkland, Florida last week has focused on efforts by survivors to achieve gun control legislation in order to prevent more shootings—a push that is strongly opposed by the NRA.
On social media, many reporters reminded Loesch and her supporters that journalists are members of their communities whose families are put at as much risk as any other American household by the prevalence of military-style semi-automatic firearms like the AR-15.
This an unequivocally horrifying thing to say. Journalists are humans, not story-pursuing robots salivating for the death of young kids. We don’t “love mass shootings.” Many of us have kids of our own. I’m floored by this. https://t.co/HmDU6G4NhG
This is a disgusting insult to journalists everywhere. NOBODY loves mass shootings. We cry and grieve and fear for our kids just like anyone else. And guess what? Our families are victims of tragedies, too. Do people believe this garbage??? https://t.co/DHNKA5gLRm
Others pointed to the emotional toll covering repeated mass killings—typically with little to no action by legislators in the wake of such attacks, to curb shootings—can take on journalists.
The idea that mainstream media loves mass shootings is idiotic & insulting. I covered the VA Tech shootings & was totally unprepared emotionally. Spent nights in hotel room crying after interviewing family & friends of victims. Still affects me. https://t.co/jRwqg6jaFu
Dana Loesch’s comments are so disingenuous and gross. If you really believe journalists enjoy covering mass shootings, especially those involving innocent children and teens, you should hang out at any newsroom and try to do our job for just a day.https://t.co/cCx4OPxXeF
As Catherine Woodiwiss wrote at Sojourners last July, reporters’ prolonged exposure to violent and traumatic events including shootings can correspond with high levels of distress:
In 2014, a study of “frequent and prolonged exposure to deeply disturbing images” published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found that the frequency with which a journalist watches violent content correlates with the journalist’s likelihood of having anxiety, depression, PTSD, or alcoholism.
The Radio Television Digital News Association also released a statement about the NRA’s new talking point.
“We are your neighbors. Your friends. We attend the same houses of worship. We go the same classes at the gym. Our children are in the same classes at school…We are deeply affected by tragedy. We are journalists and we do what we do because you have a need to know and understand the world around you.”
You might have also noticed that both the Loesch speech and Pai’s award happened at CPAC. We’ll be summarizing what happened at CPAC sometime in the next few days; the sheer insanity exhibited there was both amusing and frightening.
As families continue to grieve and hold funerals for the 17 victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., students and educators are calling for a nationwide day of action including school walkouts to protest lawmakers’ deadly inaction on gun control legislation.
The day set for the actions is April 20, which will be the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School. Continue reading →
Funding cuts for background checks in President Donald Trump’s new budget proposal would make it more difficult for states to compile criminal records of prospective gun owners. (Photo: Erik Jaeger/Flickr/cc)
As a Florida community reels from the nation’s latest mass shooting—the 18th school shooting in the first 45 days of 2018—President Donald Trump is pushing for a new federal budget that would call for cuts to programs that aim to keep guns out of the hands of people with criminal records.
The National Criminal Records History Improvement Program and the NICS Act Record Improvement Program provide funding to states to improve their reporting of domestic violence and other violent crimes in order to include perpetrators in the national background check database for gun purchases. Continue reading →
Gun control advocates denounced a House vote on Wednesday approving major legislation which would allow gun owners to carry licensed concealed weapons across state laws—effectively voiding gun control laws that prohibit hidden firearms in certain states.
The House passed the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 in a 231-198 vote. The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote that the law is “clearly aimed at undermining gun control efforts nationally,” while the National Rifle Association (NRA) called the measure its “highest legislative priority” for the year. Continue reading →
Thirteen people were shot dead, and 20 are wounded, after a shooting on October 1 at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. Image via Common Dreams.
Men commit over 85% of all homicides, 91% of all same-sex homicides and 97% of all same-sex homicides in which the victim and killer aren’t related to each other.
These startling statistics are driven home with each new mass shooting (though the most recent tragedy in San Bernardino, California is a bit unusual in that a married couple were the shooters).
In any event, politicians and the media are trotting out the usual suspects to explain the tragedy, whether it’s the lack of attention paid to mental illness or the easy availability of guns.
But these explanations dance around the big questions: why is there always a man behind these shootings? And why is it almost always a young man?
Evolutionary psychology can provide some clues.
Psychologists Joseph Vandello and Jennifer Bosson have coined the term “precarious manhood” to describe a dilemma that only men seem to face.
In a nutshell, they argue that “manhood” – however an individual male’s culture might define it – is a status that must be continually earned. And one’s self-worth is tied to being perceived as a “real man.”
It’s precarious because it can be easily lost – especially if the man fails to measure up to the relentless challenges that life throws at him, be they tests of physical bravery, or competition with other men for respect and status.
When I introduce this concept to my male students, they instantly recognize what I’m talking about. But when I ask the women if there’s a female equivalent, I’m often met with confused looks. (Some do note that the inability to have a child could be a threat to womanhood.) Indeed, it quickly becomes clear in the ensuing discussion that “manhood” is more precarious than “womanhood.”
The roots of this male dilemma reside deep in our prehistoric past. Throughout the animal kingdom, the sex that invests the least in the reproduction of offspring (almost always males) competes among themselves for sexual access to mates.
Historically, powerful men have always enjoyed greater sexual access to women than than men lower in the pecking order, and violence can often be traced to this grim struggle for status. Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon spent years studying the Yanomamo people of South America. He discovered that men who had killed other men acquired significantly more wives than men who hadn’t killed anyone. And by all indications, a man’s status in the group was often dependent upon how believable his threats of physical violence were.
In different cultures, the male “quest for dominance” may play out in different ways. Regardless, it is clearly a universal motivating principle among males, with the achievement of dominance satisfying and rewarding for those who attain it. As scholar Jonathan Gottschall put it:
To physically dominate another man is intoxicating.
And so, violence committed against the right people at the right time became a ticket to social success.
For sound evolutionary reasons, younger men find themselves especially concerned with status and dominance.
For this reason, high-risk competition between young males provided an opportunity for “showing off” the abilities needed to acquire resources, exhibit strength and meet any challenges to one’s status. Consequently, heroic or even recklessly daredevil behavior was rewarded with status and respect – assuming, of course, that the young man survived the ordeal.
Today, the widespread promotion of sport in our culture undoubtedly developed as a constructive alternative for dealing with the proclivities of young males that evolved in a very different time. In a legally sanctioned gladiatorial arena, young men are able to exhibit the same skills – throwing, clubbing, running, wrestling, tackling, hand-eye coordination – that would have made them successful fighters or hunters in the ancestral environment.
Young Male Syndrome
It’s no secret that most people fear violent behavior by young men more than violent behavior by older men. There’s a sound basis for this fear.
In fact, the tendency of young men to engage in risky, aggressive behavior prompted the Canadian psychologists Margo Wilson and Martin Daly to give it a name: Young Male Syndrome.
The duo studied the relationship among age, sex and homicide victimization in the United States in 1975. They found that the likelihood of a woman being a murder victim doesn’t change dramatically throughout the course of her life. The pattern for the males, on the other hand, is striking. At age 10, males and females have an equal probability of being murdered. But by the time men are into their 20’s, they become six times more likely to be murdered.
Consistent with Wilson and Daly’s data, 87% of the 598 homicide victims in the city of Chicago in 2003 were males, and 64% of the victims were between the ages of 17 and 30. The likelihood of being the victim of lethal violence peaks for men between the late teens and late 20’s, before steadily declining for the rest of their lives.
Nature fuels the fires of male violence by equipping young men with the high levels of testosterone necessary to get the job done.
Studies on chimpanzees – our closest primate relative – have shown that high-ranking male chimpanzees exhibit the highest levels of aggression and the highest levels of testosterone. Furthermore, all adult male chimpanzees experience their highest testosterone levels when they’re in the presence of females who are ovulating. This is associated only with higher levels of aggression – not significant increases in actual sexual activity.
Researchers such as myself who study the relationship between testosterone and aggression in humans have concluded that testosterone-fueled violence is more likely to occur when males are competing with other males, or when the social status of a male is challenged in some way. The increased testosterone facilitates whatever competitive behaviors are needed to meet the challenge, which could mean physical violence.
Many studies have shown that testosterone levels in males rise and fall according to whether the individual wins or loses in competitive sports, like tennis and wrestling – even chess.
Sports fans experience the same spike watching sports, which helps explain the violence and destructive rioting that can take place after big games (win or lose).
Adding guns to the mix
So how do guns figure into this violent equation?
In 2006 I coauthored a laboratory study on men’s responses to guns in the journal Psychological Science with my colleague Tim Kasser and one of our students. We demonstrated that males who interacted with a handgun showed a greater increase in testosterone levels and more aggressive behavior than males who interacted with the board game Mouse Trap.
In the study, each participant dismantled either a gun or the mousetrap, handled its components and then wrote instructions for how to assemble the objects. Then we gave them the opportunity to put hot sauce into water that was going to be consumed by another person. The participants who handled the gun put in significantly more hot sauce – and were also more likely to express disappointment after learning that no one was going to actually drink the concoction.
Thus, cues tied to threats often won’t result in aggressive responses unless testosterone is involved. Elliot Rodger, the disturbed college student whose violent 2014 rampage through Santa Barbara, California, was foretold in a chilling YouTube video, clearly experienced a testosterone surge upon purchasing his first handgun.
“After I picked up the handgun,” he explained, “I brought it back to my room and felt a new sense of power. Who’s the alpha male now, bitches?”
Mass shooter = low-dominant loser?
Young male violence is most likely to be initiated by young men who don’t command respect from others. They’ll often feel like slighted outcasts, deprived of what they want or feel they deserve.
British clinical psychologist Paul Gilbert has developed something he calls the Social Attention Holding Theory. According to Gilbert, we compete with each other to have other people pay attention to us; when other people take notice, we build status. The increased status that comes from having others attend to us leads to all kinds of positive emotions. But persistently being ignored by others produces much darker emotions – especially envy and anger.
It’s no mystery why the media will often describe mass shooters and terrorists as misfits or loners. In many cases, they are.
Nicolas Henin was a Frenchman who was held hostage by ISIS for ten months. Here’s how he described his young, murderous, Jihadi captors:
They present themselves to the public as superheroes, but away from the camera are a bit pathetic in many ways: street kids drunk on ideology and power. In France we have a saying – stupid and evil. I found them more stupid than evil. That is not to understate the murderous potential of stupidity.
Apparently, a lack of attention from others results in a lack of status, resulting in a lack of access to women. Combined with a young man’s testosterone, it creates a toxic, combustible mix.
There may not be much we can do to change the structure of the young male mind that evolved over the course of millions of years. However, ignoring or denying its existence doesn’t do us any favors.
Before the details of the last mass shooting in San Bernardino were even known, Speaker of the House Raul Ryan spoke about how gun violence in America is a result of mental illness, and stated that the proposed “Murphy’s Law” would make America safer.
Until Congress lifts the ban for doing studies on gun violence in this country, we are only throwing darts at a wall while blindfolded.
The law would take away all privacy safeguards for anyone with mental illness. It then will force incarceration (called “institutionalization” in the bill) and will force this person into a drug regimen that may or may not be the correct course of treatment.
First, the law will serve as a deterrent for anyone thinking of seeking help for mental illness.
Second, the law will focus on disabled people such as returning veterans, violence survivors and others with PTSD and panic disorders.
Thirdly, and worst of all, the law clearly discriminates against a specific segment of the population based on what they might do, completely ignoring any oath of office to protect and uphold the Constitution of this nation.
There is a reason this is dubbed “Murphy’s Law” and we think it is more than coincidental.