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Guns, Mental Illness and American Manhood

Common Dreams - A consensus seems to have developed that some in media precipitously and inaccurately blamed violent rhetoric from the right for the shooting in Tucson on January 8. But whether or not they were misled in this instance by what turns out to be false reports about the shooter's political motivations, something positive did emerge from the media in the wake of this tragedy. Key figures in media promised to "look in the mirror" and examine their responsibility for contributing to a toxic political environment that could lead to violence.

This is a promise to which we should hold the media, regardless of how the event that initially catalyzed it turns out. There is a lot more that journalists and opinion-makers in the media could do to advance a discussion in our society about violence - political and otherwise.

Much of what needs to happen is an honest conversation about issues related to masculinity and violence. Many people have circled around this subject, especially in terms of the intensifying debate about guns. The Tucson massacre has revived debate (for the moment) about our country's gun laws, and the astounding power of the NRA to block commonsense regulations. Some people go beyond the power of the gun lobby and ask larger questions about our culture, such as MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who asks repeatedly: what's the obsession with guns? But few if any voices in mainstream media have discussed the connection between guns, violence, and American ideals of manhood.

Amazingly, this connection has not been part of the mainstream coverage of Tucson or any of the rampage killings in recent years. The trouble is you can't change a social phenomenon until you can at least identify and name it. Each time one of these horrific acts of violence occurs, commentators and editorial writers hone in on every relevant factor they can identify - mental illness, the availability of handguns, the vitriolic tone of talk radio and cable TV - and leave out what is arguably the most important factor: gender. Read more.

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