On a Mission to End Violence in the Wake of Another Mass Shooting

By YWCA Alaska

October 1st, 2017, was a terror filled night for America. The act of violence that occurred in Las Vegas was undeniably horrific; and sadly, we’ve experienced it before. At YWCA Alaska, we cannot in good conscious ignore this opportunity to address how violence surrounds us, and who most often perpetrates this violence.

YWCA Alaska’s mission is dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women, while promoting dignity, peace, freedom and justice for all. To live out our mission we are compelled to respond to this attack by using this national dialogue to address violence and create the safer world we imagine.

Throughout our history, men have used guns to kill people in America. We have long known this with disturbing certainty, and yet, the problem persists. During October 16th through the 20th, YWCA organizations around the country will campaign for a “Week Without Violence”, which is a global movement to end violence against women and girls. While gender had no influence on who the victims were in Las Vegas this past weekend, we know the shooter was a man. We also know that violent attacks are most often perpetuated by men. Therefore, we cannot end violence against women and girls if we do not raise awareness of the conditions that create that violence. Our goal is to increase awareness of the harmful dynamics we see associated with the mass shooting in Las Vegas, because in doing so, we also turn a light on why so much violence is experienced by women. While we campaign for a week without violence, our ultimate goal is a world without violence.

Why Are Men Shooting So Many People?

Stephen Paddock attacked our country by killing 59 people, injuring 527, and further frightening an entire nation. While these numbers are heart wrenching, a mass murder is not a rare occurrence in America. An FBI crime report identifies an individual as a mass murderer if they kill four or more people in a single incident. In the last three decades, there have been 91 mass murders. Over 95% of the attacks were carried out by men, and 54% by White men. We also know the issue of mass shootings is worsening; over half of them occurred within our current decade, including four of the deadliest. If we expand the data to define a mass shooting as four people being killed or injured by gunshot, the numbers are staggering. With 355 in the last year, we essentially experience one mass shooting a day. Based on the data, we can acknowledge that Stephen Paddock joins a very long list of “male” shooters, and his white skin only puts him further in the majority of that list. Now, more than ever, we are in need of much more than a “week without violence”. While we are not saying all white men are violent or that all white men shoot people, we are asking, why are so many white men shooting people and what are we going to do about it?

Why are Women So Often the Victims to Violence?

Research shows us that most perpetrators of violence are men; we also know that most victims are female. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), the Violence Policy Center released a new report further illustrating to too many women are being killed by men. Using 2015 FBI data, it found that more than 1600 women were murdered by men in 2015, with 93% of women being killed by a gun. Alaska is at the top of a list ranking females murdered by males, based on population size. White women did account for a majority of the fatalities in the study, but women of color were disproportionately impacted by lethal domestic violence. Trans lives are often taken by gun violence, with trans women accounting for the overwhelming majority of murders. When looking through a racial lens, it’s disturbingly clear that men take the lives of too many trans women of color. The “week without violence” campaign is an effort to address the negative impact that gender-based violence has on all women, and as an organization committed to eliminating racism, we must be vigilant in confronting the exponential violence perpetuated toward women who hold multiple marginalized identities.

Was this the Deadliest Mass Shooting in Modern History?

The Las Vegas shooting for many is the most horrific mass shooting that they have personally experienced or been alive for. However, it’s important for us to recognize that calling this the deadliest mass shooting in history, overlooks the horrific violence perpetuated toward indigenous people and people of color throughout our country’s history. “On Easter Sunday of 1873 in Colfax, LA., white citizens gunned down and hung perhaps as many as 150 African Americans. On Dec. 29, 1890, U.S. Army soldiers killed 200 Lakota Native Americans with machine guns at South Dakota’s Wounded Knee Creek. (Time Magazine). In 1917, an estimated 100 African-Americans were killed in the East St. Louis race riots. “Mass shooting is really a new name for a very old, familiar problem,” says criminologist Grant Duwe, author of Mass Murder in the United States: A History. When headlines report on the deadliest mass shooting in “modern” history, I wonder if a more accurate headline would be the deadliest mass shooting during “the history we are comfortable talking about”.

Do All Our Guns Make America Safer?

Over half of Alaska residents own guns. There are 88 guns for every 100 people in the U.S. While we account for less than 5% of the world population, we have 35% to 50% of all the civilian-owned guns. To effectively push forth our “week without violence”, we must pay attention to the role that guns play in violence throughout our nation. Vox presents 18 charts that explain the extent of gun violence in the United States (video below). We do not know what version of gun regulation would perfectly satisfy all Americans. We do not even know if violence would dramatically decrease if all our guns just disappeared. Our campaign is more focused on asking questions that can hopefully inspire solutions as our nation engages in dialogue about gun control, as tends to happen after every mass shooting. What we do know to be true, is that we have many guns and guns take the lives of too many people in America.

How Do We Move Forward From this Mass Murder?

First and foremost, we need to continue healing. But when you are ready, you can offer support in the ways you are able. Give blood, donate money, or support having a dialogue on gun control legislation. During the YWCA’s “Week Without Violence”, think of how you can we show up in your community and create a world without violence. As uncomfortable as it is, we need to be specific about what we are seeing. Gun violence in the U.S. is scary, and most shooters are indeed men, but it doesn’t have to be this way. In a recent response, YWCA USA revisited the words of wisdom that President Obama spoke in the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. This is “a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.” We know that good hearted people are in abundance in America. Collectively, we can decide to make a change. Our bravery to have uncomfortable conversations will be rewarded with opportunities to address the difficult topics that most impact our nation. In this “week without violence”, let’s work together to foster a nation without violence.