In the aftermath of the mass shooting that took the lives of 49 victims at Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Fla., many political debates have erupted on social media and even within the halls of Congress. The issue that has garnered the most attention is gun control.
Gun control advocates have good intentions — ultimately to minimize gun violence and the incidence of mass shootings. These are goals we all share, even if we do not share the opinion that restricting access to firearms is the best means to these ends.
Still, these violent events raise the question: Aside from gun control legislation, what can be done to reduce gun violence in the U.S.? While it's fair and wise to examine how our laws and public policies can best foster an orderly and safe society, we should also consider our cultural response to gun violence.
To consider appropriate solutions, it's always first important to take stock of the problem. While any casual observer could tell you that the United States experiences too many mass shootings in public places, the (often-ignored) good news is that, broadly speaking, U.S. gun violence has dropped precipitously since the 1990s.
A study from the Brennan Center for Justice examined social, cultural and environmental factors (in addition to policing strategies) and their effect on crime rates from 1990-2013. They found, among other things, that reduced use of substances like alcohol and crack cocaine, along with a better economic environment, contributed to a decrease in crime.
Still, there are other factors that deserve more attention: It's no secret that men commit the overwhelming majority of gun violence. Our cultural views of masculinity may contribute to gun violence, as they do to domestic abuse and sexual violence.
Our culture currently offers confusing guidance to young people about gender. On the one hand, they are told gender is a meaningless social construct. On the other, our media may perpetuate unhealthy caricatures of masculinity and femininity.
Men — especially young men — need to see healthy depictions of masculine figures who use their strength to do what is right and good, protecting the weak and defenseless in society rather than abusing them. We should strive to honor the best attributes of both sexes, finding a balance between dismissing sex differences altogether and exaggerating the worst of masculine or feminine qualities.
Similarly, one set of factors strongly associated with violence among youth is family-related. Risk of violence is lower among strong families, where parents are involved in the lives of their children, where parent-child communication is strong and where parents' expectations for their children are high (but not overbearing).
Many Americans fortunately feel that their family relationships are strong. Even these Americans can do more to foster strong, safe communities: We can volunteer or donate to civic and charitable organizations that mentor youth. We can become involved with a local school or church or coach a youth sports team.
In recent public shootings, two other elements have been widely discussed: mental health and terrorism. Leaving aside the fairness or unfairness of these labels in any event, we can, as a society, do more to address these issues.
Certainly, we should be open and encouraging about mental health treatment. And it may be time in the U.S., as some communities in the U.K. have already done, to develop organizations that reach out to youth who are at-risk for radicalization by terrorists.
Finally, a few recent shootings have clearly had political motives (i.e. an attack on the conservative Family Research Council in D.C., and an attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.). We should all make an effort to facilitate the healthy, civil expression of political opinions and to foster thoughtful debate of the issues without resorting to personal attacks.
The violence at several political rallies this season is not encouraging, and only perpetuates the idea that it's acceptable to harm those with whom we disagree. Everyone can contribute to elevating the tone of our public discourse, and we should all become comfortable with agreeing to disagree.
The response to gun violence is not simple. It's certainly not as simple as outlawing or restricting firearms. Indeed, murder is already illegal. Despite good laws and good intentions, no society will ever be free of all violence and all wrongdoing.
But it's worthwhile to consider what each of us can do to minimize gun violence, and our cultural response will be just as important — and collectively will be ultimately more important — than any legislation.
Hadley Heath Manning is a senior policy analyst for the Independent Women's Forum.