This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Washington Witness: Men and guns: Jesus vs. toxicity

Mass shootings get most of the attention in the conversation around gun violence. The numbers are indeed staggering. There have been more than 2,000 mass shootings in the United States since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. About 2,300 people have lost their lives, and 8,400 have been wounded.


Often lost in the conversation about mass shootings is the disturbing toll gun violence takes on our everyday lives. Research by Everytown for Gun Safety shows that each day 100 people in the United States are killed by guns, and an average of 36,383 lose their lives to guns in a year.

An average of 52 women a month are shot to death by an intimate partner. Women in the United States are 16 times more likely to lose their lives to gun violence than women in other higher-income nations. The research shows that 54 percent of mass shootings have connections to domestic or family violence.

There is a common thread in these statistics: men. Men are the predominant perpetrators of mass shootings. Men are often the ones committing acts of domestic violence and themselves experience the highest rates of gun assaults and gun suicides.

The might-is-right mentality that pervades our culture tells men that it is not appropriate to be vulnerable and express emotion — except anger — and that it is acceptable to express anger aggressively.

This is not a sweeping indictment of masculinity but an acknowledgement that masculinity can become toxic. The toxic version can present itself as aggressive and violent.

Jesus presented a much different image of masculinity, one that should be modeled.

Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and asked them to do the same for each other, modeling servant leadership (John 13:1-20). He healed the sick, enabled the lame to walk and wept over the city of Jerusalem and the loss of his beloved friend, Lazarus (Luke 19:41, John 11:35).

Jesus spoke of forgiveness rather than responding to disagreements with violence (Matt. 18:15-22).

The toxic masculinity that has caused men to take the lives of others and themselves is the opposite of what Jesus modeled. Jesus allowed himself to be vulnerable. He preached serving one another. He modeled conflict resolution through dialogue.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, gun legislation such as red-flag laws — also known as extreme-risk laws — would enable family members and law enforcement to take firearms away from someone who has expressed warning signs of harming themselves or others.

The Giffords Law Center has demonstrated that universal background checks have been effective at keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

These are just a few examples of legislation that could reduce the epidemic of gun violence.

Passage of such legislation needs to be combined with having honest conversations with boys and men about healthy expressions of masculinity.

Manliness can include vulnerability, service to others and power with others rather than power over them.

John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens is criminal justice education and advocacy coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee. His work focuses on issues of mass incarceration and gun violence.

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