Disarming Sandy Hook and South Sudan

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in early December a heated debate has raged in the US media around guns and gun control. Voices supporting greater gun control, including Australia’s previous centre-right Prime Minister John Howard, have proposed addressing the high rate of violence through legislation. The limited legislative approach appears to have been adopted by the current US administration who has promised to introduce legislation that will combat gun violence.

What is missing from most of these existing debates is a more fundamental discussion around gun culture and militarised masculinity Despite the general dearth of gendered voice in malestream reporting a number of feminist and pro-feminist voices have tried to focus the debate onto militarised masculinity and the social significance of guns. Although these commentators have provided valuable insights the debate has remained largely gender blind. Instead of developing an incisive and challenging critique of patriarchal culture most outlets have relied on the tried and tested false dichotomy between gun control and individual liberty. The focus of this debate has distracted attention from the more challenging voices hoping to explore the deep and challenging connection between core masculinity and violence. Some of the most compelling commentary on the most recent slayings has focused on the marketing campaign from Bushmaster Firearms, the producer of the AR-15 rifle used in Sandy Hook. This campaign actively appealed to shooters sense of masculinity advertising that their ownership of a Bushmaster AR would result in their ‘man card’ being reissued.

Previous massacres and resulted in deep and insightful analysis of the gendered dynamics at play. Michael Kimmel’s comparative analysis of Anders Breivik’s attacks in Norway in 2011 and Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 Oklahoma City Bombings resulted in a compelling and insightful analysis of the nexus between militarised masculinity and white supremacist politics. Rather than solely focusing on the tools of violence, which is valuable in its own right, Kimmel successfully charts the macro gendered trends that fuel the violence rather than focusing exclusively on the psychology of the individual killer or the kind of weapons he used.

Focusing almost exclusively on the most visible aspects of aspect of violence (in this case guns), is also common in some post-conflict peacebuilding efforts in the Global South. The most visible programs organised to combat militarisation in most post-conflict societies are the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programs (DDR). In post-conflict states such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Iraq DDR programs have been the primary tool intended to disengage ex-combatants from militarism and armed violence.

Though these programs have been executed differently from location to location what is common is that most programs appear to be much more successful in disarmament than demobilisation and reintegration. In South Sudan the failings of the DDR program have been particularly visible, as the victorious Sudan People’s Liberation Army appears to have little desire to demobilise or reintegrate the large armed force that they amassed during more than two decades of civil war. Nada Mustafa Ali from United States Institute of Peace has suggested that the failings of this DDR program can be directly connected to insecurity and subsequent abuses of civilians. In South Sudan this has meant that society remains militarised to a large extent and violence against civilians remains a significant problem, with women and girls continuing to be targets of brutal sexual abuse from soldiers and ex-combatants. The failure to properly address militarised masculinity has caused similar problems in Sierra Leone where far greater focus has been paid to removing guns from combatants than on demilitarising those who fought. These practices are in direct opposition to the intention of DDR programs which have been designed with an understanding that simply removing guns will not result in peace and security.

The question remains if the approach of US law makers and peacebuilders is due to pragmatism or oversight. Is the heavy emphasis on disarming in the US and in post-conflict societies a case of policy makers trying to harvest the low hanging political fruit or a more damaging failure to understand the all important nexus between masculinity and gun worship? In either case an adequate political response to men’s violence must prioritise unmaking the relationship between masculinity and violence alongside efforts to disarm civilian populations.

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About David

I have recently completed my PhD at the University of Melbourne writing on gendered culture and new wars. My research focuses on war as a shifting social construct, the role of gender/masculinity as a causal factor in international relations and the connections between different forms of violence. My thesis argues that the shifting form that small scale wars took during the 1990s can explained by looking at the gender arrangements between groups of men that existed in the Global South during this time. Apart from my thesis I am interested in the place of masculinities research within feminism, feminist political philosophy and the politics of various homosocial subcultures.

2 thoughts on “Disarming Sandy Hook and South Sudan

  1. This is an interesting response to the gun debates that occurred after Sandy Hook in the US and reminds me of the debates in Australia about the link between alcohol and violence. While I agree with the sign on Punt Rd in Melbourne that “Alcohol does not cause violence,” I disagree with the second part of the ad that reads, “blame and punish the individual.”

    Violence is not an individual phenomenon. People are not just pathologically violent because of brain chemistry or dysfunction of sorts. Violence is an inherent part of the social construction of masculinity. I think you’re right to argue that simple disarmament will not get to the root cause of violence, whether it is in the context of terrorism, armed conflict, or in the ‘private’ sphere.

  2. I heartily agree. The tired individualist rhetoric we hear every time a tragic mass violence event occurs serves to mire us in a cycle that never analyses the problematic nature of the social structures, relations and identities that provide for the possibility for mass violence to occur. Disarmament (I refuse to call it DDR as it does not achieve much else) also does nothing towards reducing levels of violence in the private sphere, as we can see so blatently from data which shows increases in intimate partner and family violence in the so-called aftermath of conflict.

    On a more local note, that sign on Punt Rd always makes me cringe. I’ve often wondered who sponsors it and how it has been remained there for so long, but am embarrassed to say I’ve never made further enquiries. I think the most interesting aspect of it is its location: almost literally above a brothel, and I can’t help see this as framing an awful nexus of right-wing individualist rhetoric, hegemonic masculinity, alcohol consumption, compulsory heterosexuality, non-consensual sex, consumerism and the objectification and degradation of women…

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