On February 14th, 14 students and 3 staff members from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were killed by a former student, Nikolas Cruz. The tragic event marks the eighth school shooting in 2018. With deepest sympathy for the survivors and the family and loved ones of those affected, ECAASU stands in solidarity in support of gun reform and acknowledges certain truths about mental health, toxic masculinity, and racism.
At a time like this, we must remember to examine gun violence and mass shootings in the context of broader issues. An investigation by Mother Jones showed that over 96% of mass shootings were committed by solely men and a 2011 study by the US Department of Justice showed that almost 90% of homicide offenders are men. White men are disproportionately the perpetrators of mass shootings, which have been linked to the triple privileges of white heterosexual masculinity reacting to some kind of failure, rejection, financial loss, or other ‘downward mobility.’ Instances of interpersonal violence are also often a result of rejection or failure, such as a marriage proposal rejection case in Chicago or a prom rejection case in Connecticut. According to the CDC, approximately half of female homicide victims are killed by a male partner.
When considering matters of White privilege and race, although initial reports of the shooters affiliation with the White supremacist group, The Republic of Florida, were determined to be false, the shooter reportedly engaged in racist and anti-Semitic discussions with his peers. The Southern Poverty Law Center, in fact, found that over 100 people had been killed by perpetrators influenced by the ‘alt-right.’
However, many media sources and public officials have defaulted to the same tired narrative of the mass shooting as perpetrated by a broken child who suffers from mental illness and is coincidentally a White male. While mental health is an important area that we often do not discuss or value enough, only talking about it in the context of a mass shooting is harmful and counterproductive, especially when mass shooters are simply assumed to be mentally ill with no evidence. One in five Americans will suffer from mental health issues each year, but only 1% of gun-related homicides are committed by people with serious mental health issues. People with mental health issues are actually far more likely to be the victims of violence.
It is important to be critical in this moment. We must understand how the rhetoric from the NRA and the politicians they fund simply acts to create scapegoats - mental illness - to mask the real threat of White masculinity. And we must understand who this language protects: White men and their access to guns. More importantly, we must call the shooting what it is: terrorism.
It is important to concentrate on how to move forward from this tragedy outside of thoughts and prayers. Reform and accountability in policing, particularly with gun usage, should be emphasized seriously when moving forward. Gun regulation policy solutions should also ensure that they are targeting the correct demographics—White men without mental illnesses—since most regulations serve to disenfranchise the most marginalized among us while allowing the more privileged to skirt around them. As we move forward, we must understand that the right to bear arms has always been different for Black Americans than for White Americans.
ECAASU supports the strong response from the outspoken students from Stoneman Douglas who have been tirelessly organizing for the gun reform, especially Emma González. We believe in the voices of all students and the right to access a safe education. At the same time, we recognize and uplift specifically the work that young Black folks across the country have been doing for years to fight gun violence on the front lines through anti-violence rallies, meetings with presidential candidates, policy idea proposals, national debate participation, and continuous organizing work (e.g. the Dream Defenders in 2013). As we use this critical moment to push for policy change, we must also be mindful of how opposition to other forms of gun violence, such as police brutality, has gone without similar mainstream support. Why has it been so convenient to support the Parkland youths as opposed to the youths in the Movement for Black Lives?
Young black and brown people have sparked a flame of advocacy for more reasonable and equitable state and federal gun laws. ECAASU calls on folks to take strategic and deliberative action so this corrupted system can be changed and lives can be saved. Start with raising awareness through discussions on preventative measures, mental health, gun reform, and school safety. Support local organizing efforts and call your local representatives to demand gun reform and mental health programs. Continue fighting and supporting as you are able to.