Gunman in Lewiston, Maine shooting

Security camera footage shows a gunman in Lewiston, Maine, released by local law enforcement on Wednesday, October 25, 2023.

(Photo: Maine State Police)

Mass Shootings and the 100th Monkey

In our years-long struggle to eradicate the scourge of mass shootings, could we be approaching a tipping point?

Another American first. We’re closing in on 600 mass shootings in 2023 and—good news, people—there’s still two months left in the year. Can we get to 650? 700? USA! USA! USA!

Banks. Bars. Beauty Salons. Big box stores. Bowling alleys. Concerts. Colleges and universities. Convenience stores. Dance studios. Gas station. Grocery stores. Halloween parties. Houses of worship. Massage parlors. Mushroom farms. Movie theaters. Nail salons. Nightclubs. Restaurants. Schools. Shopping malls. Spas. Please forgive me if I missed other venues where (primarily) white men hunt to kill in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

While the Maine shooter was clearly suffering a mental health crisis, don’t let that fact distract you from the larger truth: The shooter, once again, was male.

On October 25, a 40-year-old white male Army reservist murdered 18 people and wounded 13 in Lewiston, Maine. Even before authorities discovered that he had died by suicide, a Maine congress member did a 180, reversing his views on gun control. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, told a press conference:

I have opposed efforts to ban deadly weapons of war like the assault rifle used to carry out this crime. The time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure—which is why I now call on the United States Congress to ban assault rifles like the one used by the sick perpetrator of this mass killing in my hometown of Lewiston.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Congress to take up his proposal. The best newly installed Speaker of the House, evangelical Christian and staunch gun control opponent Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), could manage to offer was, “This is a dark time in America… Prayer is appropriate at a time like this, that this senseless violence can stop.” That’s it, Mr. Speaker? That’s your “Sandy Hook” promise? WWJD?

One of Maine’s most famous residents, author Stephen King, wrote on social media, “It’s the rapid-fire killing machines, people. This is madness in the name of freedom. Stop electing apologists for murder.”

King, whose titanic body of work includes the aptly named 1982 novel, The Dark Tower: Gunslinger, is just the latest prominent voice calling to stop the madness. What’s true, and what continues too often to go unexamined amid the horror of the latest mass shooting, is the gender of the shooter. While the Maine shooter was clearly suffering a mental health crisis, don’t let that fact distract you from the larger truth: The shooter, once again, was male.

Last December, commemorating the 10th anniversary of Sandy Hook, I reiterated my long-standing assertion that:

If we are ever to radically reduce, if not prevent, this almost exclusively U.S. phenomenon, the murderer’s gender must move from the periphery to the center of the discussion. If we refuse to turn our attention, resources, and political muscle to asking why the killers are almost always white men, we will be doomed to a never-ending cycle: murder, outrage, mourning, repeat.

April 20, 2024, will mark the 25th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where two alienated young white males, 17- and 18-years-old, slaughtered 13 and wounded 21. Imagine if we had begun back then paying attention to how we raise boys, beginning in preschool? How many alienated, lonely, and bullied males might we have helped to live a healthy boyhood and a productive manhood? It’s not too late. The warning signs are often right in front of us.

While a dysfunctional House of Representatives is highly unlikely to take up my suggestion anytime soon for Congress to authorize the CDC to begin a pilot study of Head Start preschool boys, that’s not a reason to stop trying. There are plenty of staff in both the Senate and the House who would gladly run with this idea.

Despite my doom and gloom, I believe we are inching closer to reaching the “100th monkey effect”: the phenomenon in which a new behavior or idea inexplicably begins to quickly spread from one group to all related groups as soon as a critical number of members begins to exhibit the new behavior or acknowledge the new idea. In other words, in our years-long struggle to eradicate the scourge of mass shootings, could we be approaching a tipping point?

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

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