Portland State Magazine Fall 2022

KATHRYN FARR Professor Emerita of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences ERIC MANKOWSKI Professor of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences BRIAN RENAUER Director, Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute WHILE CALLS for stricter gun control legislation have been prolific, less attention has been given to the pervasive pro-gun culture in the U.S. and its relationship to masculinity. Take, for instance, a Bushmaster Firearms advertisement for its .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle, in which a picture of the gun is accompanied by the tagline “Consider Your Man Card Reissued.” The company explained that “visitors of Bushmaster.com will have to prove they’re a man by answering a series of manhood questions.” Guns played an out-sized role in the lives of the 29 adolescents in my study of school shootings.These young, primarily white shooters, enraged by ongoing, emasculating, often homophobic bullying from male peers (and in some cases rejections from actual or potential girlfriends), frequently referred to ways in which their guns made them feel powerful and “cool.” Purchasing, admiring, and prepping their guns were important symbolic tasks in the planning of their rampage. Similarly, gang violence is perpetrated mainly by males acting in accord with a culture of violent masculinity. However, whereas mass school shootings typically occur in rural areas and small towns, gang violence commonly occurs in urban communities severely disadvantaged by structural inequities—another issue often overlooked in discussions about reducing gun violence in the U.S. THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: What if we considered guns to be a consumer product like cars, cigarettes, or kitchen cleansers? Such potentially harmful products are regulated by commonsense health and safety laws that affect how they are manufactured, advertised, sold, used, and stored. Consider the regulation of cars: Drivers must be licensed and their cars must be registered and insured. To be licensed, drivers must pass tests demonstrating knowledge of traffic laws and driving skill. Literally hundreds of laws regulate the design and safety features of cars, as well as where and how they can be driven. High-speed racing (think, assault rifles) are not allowed, except on private race tracks specifically designed for this purpose (think, gun ranges). And you can’t park (store) your car just anywhere. Why not regulate guns from this same consumer productsafety perspective? Over the past century, car and road design, as well as traffic laws, have dramatically reduced vehicle deaths.The same could become true with guns. For example, findings from my research team and others show that unintentional shootings by children who gain access to an improperly stored firearm decrease in states that pass laws requiring gun safety locks and proper storage. Regulations alone will not end gun violence. But reframing guns as consumer products opens up conceptual space for health and safety regulations that could meaningfully reduce gun deaths. WHAT OFTEN gets overlooked when we talk about reducing U.S. gun violence is the history and culture of the U.S. Changing history and culture is difficult. Who leads the world in counts and rates of gun homicides? It is almost exclusively a phenomenon driven by countries in the Western Hemisphere—Latin American countries, led by Brazil, and the U.S.The U.S. is far and away the leader of gun homicide among rich/developed nations, but on par with many Latin American countries. Why? While there are a great many differences between the U.S. and Latin American countries, we do share a similar tragic history of colonization, genocide of Indigenous populations by Europeans, and being the center of African slave trade.That colonization was based on a “by any means necessary” spirit of early capitalism. Has that historic and unethical principle seeped deep into our culture where the most lethal violence can be rationalized as a perfect solution to one’s problems (or society’s problems) and disputes with others? If so, working toward greater stability in community and family, and a government founded on the care for one another, humility, equity, and ethical principles is a solution we should consider to overcome this challenge. People who resort to lethal gun violence are lost; they need to be “found” before they’re lost. Have a question you’d like to ask Portland State’s faculty? Email psumag@pdx.edu faculty voices DECODING OUR GUN EPIDEMIC What do you think gets overlooked when we talk about reducing U.S. gun violence? ILLUSTRATIONS BY BRETT FORMAN FALL 2022 // 5