Sexual abuse is not the stranger in the alley, Gun violence is not the stranger in the movie theater

Sexual abuse is not the stranger in the alley, Gun violence is not the stranger in the movie theater

(a work in progress)

1.
I’m 52. I grew up in a gun-owning household in a Midwestern gun-owning environment. We all grew up learning to shoot, most men and boys hunted. We all ate animals that were hunted: deer, rabbit, squirrel, dove, the occasional wild turkey. Guns meant food. And trophies – not in my house, where we ate what was killed, but in the homes of friends, yes, animals hunted and skinned and stuffed and posed to show some man’s manliness.

Guns were also just part of an overall background of violence.

A woman up the block would regularly come hide at our house when her husband got drunk and violent. I remember being hustled to our basement because when she came he was coming after her with a gun. I was really young, I don’t remember what happened, I don’t know how he was stopped that night. I can’t imagine my father brought out a gun although he had plenty. I know she always went home again by morning. Every time.

As a child in a town of 1100 there were two gun suicides that I knew of, or that I remember.

In second grade, the day of the Homecoming parade, all the floats left the high school and went the few blocks to the town square, around it, and back to the school. “Floats” were wagons pulled behind tractors or decorated pickup trucks. The second grade float was a wagon and we were all on board – and by all I mean every child in second grade, all 32 of us.

Small town. Really really small town. We all knew each other, our parents all knew each other, the web of cousins and in-laws was thick.

Our wagon had a frame of 2 x 4s with chicken wire strung around, and “flower” wads of white tissue paper shoved in each hole of the chicken wire. Over the white puffs were large posterboard circles, each painted bright yellow and sporting the two black circles and upward pointing curve of the ubiquitous Smiley Face that shared my year of birth and by the time I was 8 decorated every possible product. On board the wagon each of us held a paint stick with a paper plate, 32 little smiley faces. I remember being excited, and thinking the smiley faces were cool.

I think I could still name at least 20 of us, but for right now only Glen Brown matters. Glen Brown, and the fact that as we headed back from the town square the entire parade stopped. And then stayed stopped. There were sirens in the distance, and worried adults telling us everything was ok. Then Glen Brown’s grandmother, a 3rd grade teacher, appeared and called him down off the float and they left. Later, what seemed like forever to wagons of squirming children, we pulled into the school yard, where a car was parked on the playground, door open. I don’t remember how we found out what happened, maybe our teacher, maybe our parents.

Glen Brown’s dad had pulled his car onto the playground, while all of the kids were safely away in the parade, stayed sitting in his car, and shot himself in the head. By Monday, when we came back to school, the car was gone and Glen was out of school for a while.

No one blamed the gun. That whole family was cursed, so the story went, with uncles dying off equally young in freak accidents involving farm equipment and a cement truck.

The other suicide I remember was a man, a father, who lived in a small white house next to my cousin’s back yard, who stuck a shotgun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. I don’t remember what the rumors were about why. Probably money, maybe wife leaving him – as a child I would have been pushed out of the room when that was discussed. I do remember the women talking about how his wife had to clean the blood and brain matter off the walls.

Because someone always has to clean the blood off the walls. Or the cars. Or the desks.

2.
If you grew up without either of these kinds of gun violence—domestic violence and suicide by shooting—then you are oddly far-removed from the reality of gun violence in the U.S. Because gun violence is the angry assault rifle yielding stranger in the movie theater in the way that sexual assault is the angry knife-wielding stranger in the alley. Yes, both happen, but sexual assault and gun deaths happen most often in the most intimate settings – the home, the bedroom, the in-law’s house, the parking lot outside of work.

Take a breath, then take this in:

Fully 70 percent of mass shooting incidents occur in homes, but we don’t generally hear about them because these crimes are considered a matter of private, not public health.(1)

70%. And in those shootings 64% of the victims are women and children.

Take a breath, then take this in:

More than 2/3 of mass shootings happen in homes. 2/3 of the victims of those shootings are women and children.

The untold story of mass shootings in America is one of domestic violence. It is one of men (yes, mostly men) targeting and killing their wives or ex-girlfriends or families. The victims are intimately familiar to the shooters, not random strangers. This kind of violence is not indiscriminate—though friends, neighbors and bystanders are often killed alongside the intended targets.

We found that in 57 percent of mass shootings, the shooter targeted either a family member or an intimate partner. According to HuffPost’s analysis, 64 percent of mass shooting victims were women and children. That’s startling, since women typically make up only 15 percent of total gun violence homicide victims, and children only 7 percent.(2)

To paraphrase one of the more stunning bits of jingo-based gaslighting from the NRA, guns don’t kill women. Men that women know intimately use guns to kill women with alarming frequency, accuracy, and ease.

Men also use guns to kill themselves with alarming frequency, accuracy, and ease.

More than 60 percent of people in this country who die from guns die by suicide. 51% of people who commit suicide use guns. Men are 4 times more likely than women to die by suicide, even though women attempt suicide 3 times as often as men.(3) 4X more likely to die because men here use guns. White men, in particular, die by self-inflicted gunshot wounds, at a much higher rate than men in any other racial/ethnic/cultural group in the U.S. Middle-aged and older white men, in fact.

To stat that in a slightly different way, if you like being statted at:

“Suicides among white males accounted for nearly half of the [total number of] deaths from firearm violence during 2012, and suicide among white men is increasing,” Wintemute says. “The increase offsets any decline we might have seen in overall firearm-related mortality during the 21st century.” (4)

While the overall rate of gun violence in the U.S. has been dropping steadily, the percentage of those deaths that are suicide is going up. And up.

Rhetorical strategy moment – let me repeat what needs to be repeated because it goes utterly against the “reality” we soak in from the media. THE OVERALL RATE OF GUN VIOLENCE HAS BEEN GOING DOWN FOR TWO DECADES. In real life, not in tv shows or movies or the nightly news, which form what we “know” so profoundly.

The social panic level of an issue seems to be in reverse proportion to actual facts and analysis in my country. 95-ish% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, even though knowing the assailant becomes evidence against the victim in the legal process. The actual rate of abduction and murder of children has dropped enormously, but the fear is at such a fever pitch that parents who let their kids walk home from a park are charged with neglect. The actual sexual danger to children is rarely a stranger offering candy, is nearly every time the uncle, step-dad, older cousin, mom’s boyfriend.

I don’t have any information to know if Meghan’s Law and similar statues are ultimately helpful or ultimately used to target minority and poor people. Most high-profile post-crime laws are more the latter. What I do know is that such laws don’t address the statistical realities of what they claim to address; Amber Alerts do not do a goddamned thing to stop adults that parents invite into their homes.

Which is leading me to something complicated I’m trying to formulate inside my head about how my communities think and talk about gun violence and gun control. Which is, of course, deeply about Race. And Racism. And the terror of the “Black thug” that lurks on the edge of all of these conversations.

But first, in order to understand the nature of gun violence in our society, a detour into the history of school shootings in the U.S.

3.

School shootings in the U.S. – that is, shootings that happen in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, or at school events, date back much farther than I had ever considered. In an exhaustive, well-documented list compiled on Wikipedia, the first shooting is listed as 1840, when a male student killed a male teacher in Virginia.

Yes, 1840. School shootings are part and parcel of our national history, and their death toll climbs with each new innovation in gun technology. The long gun was hard to disguise, but Samuel Colt’s revolving pistol was not. Semi-automatic pistols let shooters shoot faster, and the intro of the fully automatic handguns and smaller rifles let the blood flow fast and free.

Before we go, I invite you to take a quick quiz I’ve devised, multiple choice, on the history of shootings in schools in the U.S. logo

Back?

Notice how mind-numbingly repetitive and dull these stories are? How nearly none involved “crazed masked gunmen”? How nearly all the violence is ordinary U.S. violence? Accidental shootings. Jealousy. Rejected suitors showing up at the love-object’s workplace to murder her (mainly her, a few times him – women are more than capable of enacting male-pattern violence)(5). Teachers who violently assault students and are killed by family members. Students who shoot teachers. Teachers who shoot students. Gang members attacking one another.

As a society, we have an astounding ability to construct a false truth, to praise social conduct codes based on our false truths, to have public hysterics based on the violations of our false truths, all while living with the EXACT OPPOSITE of that false truth and being totally unbothered by the denial and dissociation. In this case, the false truth is that children are precious and innocent and asexual and that protecting them and guarding their innocence is a primary social value. Which everyone reading this knows is hogwash.

But the anxiety between the false truth and the lived truth makes all issues having to do with childhood potential flash points. Nearly all books that are “challenged” in the U.S. each year are books for children. Issues around the sexual abuse of a few children explodes across the national attention span and pronouncements are made and laws are passed—pronouncements and laws that in no way affect anything that would protect the vast majority of children being sexually abused. So why does it surprise us that shootings at schools also explode across our attention spans but that from the attention no real change can ever come? No one in this society is going to take away the guns in the homes that are responsible for the majority of deaths any more than they are going to take away the penises/fingers/hands/mouths in the homes that are responsible for the majority of sexual assaults.

I felt like the most awful, “nothing is ever going to change” bitter cynic when my friends and community members were so sure that after Sandy Hook surely, surely, over the bodies of first graders, something could be done. In many ways I am a deeply embittered person, as a survivor of sexual assault in my childhood—at a profound level, I can’t believe adults actually care about what happens to kids. Activists and communities of color, especially Black communities, have always known that the people in charge don’t care about their kids. Perhaps the level of disbelief among white friends was caused by a very public discovery that the deaths of white kids was also not going to change anything. The same toxic-stew-fed monster of violence, profit, and greed that has always chewed up children of color came for the white suburban kids.

And surprise surprise, those who create the monster and profit from it were not going to lose sleep or profit, even for “innocent kids” from a “good neighborhood.”

So we worked through the public scripted ritual of the wringing of hands, the wailing, the fury at the shattering of how children are supposed to be protected and innocent and safe. Then nothing changed. Because gun violence in schools is, in the land of the lived truth, absolutely no different from gun violence outside of schools. In false truth, killing kids is a kind of breaking point after which change must come. In lived truth, kids are killed every day, and we’re all consoling ourselves by eating chocolate-coated child slave labor.

(more to come)


1. “Mass Killings in the US: Masculinity, Masculinity, Masculinity” by Soraya Chemaly

2. “We’re Missing The Big Picture On Mass Shootings” by Melissa Jeltzen

3. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

4. Gun Deaths In America: Suicides Outnumber Homicides 2-to-1

5. “Male-pattern violence” is a phrase invented by Jennie Ruby in a conversation about domestic violence. The phrase helps cut through the argument “but women do it too.” Yes, women can, and do. But the pattern is connected to masculinity and how our society understands “male.” She coined it from “male-pattern baldness,” which women can also have, but which is nonetheless overwhelming connected to the male body and hormone system. Read her article.

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Know Your History of U.S. School Shootings! a quiz

How well do YOU know the history of shootings and murders in U.S. schools? Here’s a quiz. All you need to do is choose the right year. Ready?
answers are at the bottom

Accidental Shootings

1. During a school play rehearsal, a revolver was accidentally loaded by a boy who tried to shoot a bird with it the day before. When the girl was to use the firearm as written in the script, she picked it up, then laid it down saying she was afraid of the old thing. The Teacher, Miss Reedy then grabbed the gun and said there was no need for alarm and pointed it at the girl, Pearl Reedy, 18 years old, and squeezed the trigger. The bullet lodged near her heart fatally wounding her.
1911
1923
1959

2. As some children were playing and throwing snowballs in the front yard of the Ponca Creek school, three young men drove up who engaged the children in a snowball fight. When they were leaving, one of the men pointed his 45 caliber and accidentally shot and injured three of the school children. Harbaugh, the young shooter, surrendered himself.
1995
1949
1883

3. At the Kable’s Military Academy a 15-year-old student, A. H. Hathaway of Dennison, Texas, was accidentally shot dead by his 17-year-old classmate James Whitworth of Sulphur Springs, Texas while they were playing with an old pistol.
1890
2006
1921

4. During a school performance of “the Grand Central”, John Moake, portraying the villain, was shot in the forehead and dangerously wounded by the hero, Roy Slater. The cartridge was thought to have been blank.
1962
1909
1941

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Teacher/Student Problems

5. Ernest Lee Grissom, a 15-year-old student at Drew Junior High School, shot and seriously wounded a teacher and a 13-year-old student after he had been reprimanded for causing a disturbance.
1968
1987
1924

6. A boy who refused to be whipped by his teacher left the school. The next day he returned with his brother and a friend for revenge. Not finding the teacher at the school, they continued to his house, where a gun battle took place and three died. Only the boy survived.
1976
1868
1950

7. Neal Summers, 45, a teacher, was shot and killed just outside Whitman Middle School in North Seattle by Darrell Cloud, 24, a former student who had been sexually abused by Summers since the age of 13.
1994
2009
1968

8. Edward Foster, a 17-year-old student at Inman High school, was shot and fatally wounded by his teacher Reuben Pitts after he had jerked a rod from Pitts’ hands to resist punishment. According to the teacher, Foster struck the pistol Pitts had drawn to defend himself, thus causing its discharge. Pitts was later acquitted of murder.
1850
1903
1942

9. Mr. McGinnis was shot and killed by his daughter’s teacher after McGinnis threatened the teacher for expelling his daughter from school. When McGinnis’s son learned of this, he went to the school and killed the teacher.
1867
1947
2003

10. Mrs. Carmila Rindoni went to the school and her son’s teacher, shot Miss Rosalind I. Reynolds, two times for spanking her son the day before. Mrs. Rindoni was arrested, and Miss Reynolds was expected to recover.
1953
1920
1937

11. Woodrow Porter, 38, who was a janitor at Paul Dunbar Elementary School, was shot to death by the 56-year-old grandmother of an 8-year-old that was allegedly spanked by Porter earlier.
1998
1978
1908

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“Domestic” Violence

12. Fifth-grade teacher Margaret Brooks, 57, was shot to death in front of her students by her estranged husband James A. Brooks.
1912
1972
2010

13. May Thomas was lured out of the schoolhouse by Harry Garvey who was devoted to her, but she had refused his further attentions. He then pulled a revolver out and shot her dead, then killed himself.
1916
1936
1898

14. Miss Anna Dwight was shot to death in front of her students by Chauncey Barnes, a rejected boyfriend, at the Stone Lake Schoolhouse. After shooting Dwight, Barnes shot himself twice in the head.
1918
1871
1948

15. Teacher Irma Caler was shot and killed in her classroom at Rentschler school by 19-year-old Robert Warner, apparently because she had rejected his advances.
1919
1942
1981

16. As George E. Landers was teaching at the Willow Slough school house, Mrs. Julia A. Finn drove up and called out to him. When he came out to talk, Julia asked him to marry her, and he refused. Julia then took out a gun and fired three shots at him, but missed. She was then tried for attempted murder.
1924
1957
1880

17. Sarah E. Allen, a third grade teacher at the Jefferson school, was shot to death in front of her class by her estranged husband Oswald C. Allen, who then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
1912
1975
1889

18. Sylvester E. Adams shot and killed teacher Edith Smith after she rejected his advances. Adams then shot and killed himself. The incident took place in a schoolhouse after the students had been dismissed for the day.
1912
1854
1940

19. Stalker Michael Pimental walked into the cafeteria at The Evergreen State College, approached a table where several students sat, pulled out a .45 Colt automatic, and murdered Elisa Tissot.
1984
1997
2005

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People Doing Violent Things

20. Charles Whitman, aged 25, climbed atop the observation deck at the University of Texas-Austin, and killed 17 people and wounded 31 during a 96-minute shooting rampage. The shooting would remain the deadliest shooting on a U.S. college campus until the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.
1966
1979
1991

21. Luke Woodham, 16, murdered his mother at home before killing his ex-girlfriend and another student and wounding seven others at Pearl High School. The perpetrator attempted to flee police and continue his killing spree at a nearby middle school, but he was stopped and detained by the Vice Principal.
1976
2007
1997

22. ” Los Angeles Herald article “Boys and Pistols”
Yesterday at noon a boy sixteen years of age shot himself, or was shot by his brother. It matters not who fired the fatal shot. No criminal act was intended or committed, and the boy is dead. He was a member of the High School of this city and was, we are told, something over the average good boy of Los Angeles. This boy lost his life through the too common habit among boys of carrying deadly weapons. We do not know that this habit can be broken up. We do not know that school teachers have the right, or would exercise it if they had, of searching the pockets of their pupils, but it seems almost a necessity that some such rule be enforced. The hills west of town are not safe for pedestrians after school hours.”
1874
1929
1956

23. After some of his dormmates urinated on his mattress, Bob Bechtel, a 20-year-old student at Swarthmore College, returned to his dorm with a shotgun and used it to shoot and kill fellow student Holmes Strozier.
1993
1972
1955

24. Regents scholar Anthony Barbaro, 17, armed with a rifle and shotgun, kills three adults and wounds 11 others at his high school, which was closed for the Christmas holiday. Barbaro was reportedly a loner who kept a diary describing several “battle plans” for his attack on the school.
1974
1997
1902

25. After being taunted for his beliefs, a 15-year-old self-proclaimed Nazi, killed one student and wounded a second with a Luger pistol at Everett High School.
1994
2013
1978

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quiz answers

quiz answers edited