Isla Vista: Armed Misogyny

This weekend’s massacre in Isla Vista was a misogynistic act of terrorism. Misogynistic acts of terrorism in Nigeria look like the kidnapping of hundreds of girls from a classroom. Misogynistic acts of terrorism in Pakistan look like Malala getting shot on a school bus. It shouldn’t surprise us that a misogynistic act of terrorism in America looks like a shooting spree near a college campus.

Some people argue that focusing on the motivation behind the killings is a distraction from the gun problem in America. It’s only a distraction if you’ve already determined that these murders can basically be blamed on American gun culture and the National Rifle Association. The NRA is full of morons, but this isn’t on them.

The perpetrator killed as many people with knives as he did with his three pistols. Making all guns in America disappear would not bring back the three men he stabbed in his apartment nor heal the cyclists he ran over in his car.

The introduction of guns by themselves doesn’t necessarily create an atmosphere of elevated violence. Utah is a good example of this. There are, however, certain combinations involving guns that often do. Guns and the heroin trade is one. Guns and religious fundamentalism is another. Guns and misogyny is a third.

Even though he killed as many men as women, this was clearly an anti-woman crime. Men who hate women also hate the men whom women like. That doesn’t mean the men whom women like are better, just that to someone like the perpetrator, they are part of the problem. He made his feelings about them clear in his words and by throwing coffee on them.

America has a relatively high rate of gun violence, but it’s not evenly distributed. People who get shot in this country basically consist of young men in poor urban neighborhoods, abused domestic partners and suicide victims. If I am ever gunned down, it would just be terrible luck and have nothing to do with the real violence problem in America.

Spree killings dominate media coverage and are far too common overall, but even they make up a very small percentage of American gun deaths. They get this attention because they are scarier to the average American. This is because they are random and don’t require your kid to be selling drugs in Detroit to get caught up in one. They happen at school, at the movies and at the mall.

The one common thread tying together these mass murders is that they are perpetrated by young men who feel left behind or surpassed by their peer group despite having material advantages in life. They are aware of their privilege, which makes their shortcomings extra painful. Their narcissism makes them feel entitled to success, and turns their failure to achieve it from hurtful disappointment to actionable offense.

Frighteningly, colleges seem to create the ideal environment for this type of hate to fester and eventually boil over.

In this case, the perpetrator felt left behind by the sexuality and relationship success of his cohort. He moved to a place he perceived to be some model oasis of hedonism, where everyone was having easy sex and he should be able to get some through osmosis. But it was always about him and not the setting, so of course he failed. Doing so in a place he perceived to have the lowest possible bar for success, where even “inferior” men were able to attract beautiful women, was devastating.

College sex’s portrayal in popular culture just amplified it. Internet porn made it even worse. It’s not hard to see how being around this could send a young man who was already dumping hot coffee on happy couples over the edge.

He used guns because this is America and guns are available to young men without criminal records. I’ve long called for more hurdles in place to trip up the kind of young men who are higher risk to use those guns to kill people, but nothing in his history would trigger anything in the current system. I’d like to think that someone who attacks innocent women and couples with hot beverages for no reason would set off all kinds of domestic violence sirens, but minor assaults like that don’t get reported and things fall through.

Dismissing the antisocial killing spree of a guy who wanted to put women in concentration camps as some kind of statement about American gun violence is completely missing the point of why we’ve yet to #bringbackourgirls . Rodger’s background and attitude toward sex was not that different from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s.

There are no easy answers here. I’ve long supported the idea of putting up some additional hurdles in front of young men buying guns in the hopes of snaring more potential problem buyers before it’s too late. Even when they don’t have criminal records, all these selfish killers have a host of social red flags, but it’s hard to deprive someone of his constitutional right just on the basis that other students think (know) he’s a disturbed weirdo. There should be a way in the gun buying process to flag people who have expressed violent hatred toward women or any other social group but are not felons.

Until then, I’ve got nothing.

  • Duane Law

    And the reason you’ve got nothing is because … by taking an extremist
    position in which the most obvious solution to this issue is dismissed
    because it isn’t perfect … and ruling out of bounds discussions of how
    getting rid of all the guns that aren’t connected with “a well
    organized militia” (the part of the Second Amendment gun enthusiasts
    somehow never get around to mentioning) … you fail to connect the dots
    and consider the only really practical solution … one that doesn’t
    completely eliminate the issue of course (few solutions ever do) … but
    one that can go a long, long way toward reducing the incidence of these

    • Matt Pressberg

      Getting rid of all the guns that aren’t connected with a “well regulated militia” is a way more extremist position than anything I’ve suggested. 300 million guns in America. Not going anywhere even if we wanted them to.

  • Duane Law

    Defeatism will not solve the problem. Gun control has been done in other societies much like our own. It can be done here, too and ultimately … it will be done.

    • Matt Pressberg

      With regard to guns, there is no other society like our own. The problem is really young men falling through the cracks and then getting guns, not guns turning otherwise nonviolent young men into murderers. Violent crime in America seems to usually involve guns for the same reason lunch in America seems to usually involve sandwiches. They are common here.

      I do agree that the utility of gun ownership isn’t equal across America. It’s a lot more useful to have a gun in rural Alaska or the south side of Chicago than it is in the Upper West Side. The problem is that we try this one-size-fits-all gun control strategy that responds to disturbed young male killers by inconveniencing old hunters and ex-military guys who shoot as a hobby.

      Gun violence in America is basically a product of 15-25 year old men, as is pretty much all violence of all kinds around the world. This is why the only gun control that would truly make a difference would be something like requiring an interview and more background checks for male gun buyers under 25 years of age. Everything else is people like Mike Bloomberg patting themselves on the back for not solving the problem.