Gun culture and toxic masculinity: “It results in the death of people.” the stranger

By now, the plot points are familiar. A woman dates a man. The two break up. He's jealous, "heartbroken," he can't take no for an answer. He buys a gun—or he has one already. He kills her.

Police say that on July 29, 19-year-old Allen Christopher Ivanov crept up to a low-key house party in Mukilteo, saw his ex-girlfriend with another man, returned to his car, read the instruction manual for the AR-15 he'd purchased a week earlier, loaded the gun, and returned to the party to inflict mayhem. He shot a young male partygoer who discovered him, then his ex, Anna Bui, and then two more men, according to a detective's account of Ivanov's statement.

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"Ivanov stated that everything that went on tonight was about a girl," the detective wrote.

The shooting rocked Mukilteo, an affluent town of 21,000 people about 30 miles north of Seattle. And it has garnered international headlines, no doubt for the grabby details. "Broken teen romance is said to be motive for shooting that kills three near Seattle," read the headline in the Los Angeles Times.

But what's most shocking is not that Ivanov allegedly killed his former classmates over lost love. It's how common the result is. Bui is one of scores of women dead at the hands of men who felt entitled to them—an entitlement that's propped up by a culture of toxic masculinity.

After the June mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Salon's Amanda Marcotte described toxic masculinity as a "specific model of manhood, geared towards dominance and control. It's a manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an act not of affection but domination, and which valorizes violence as the way to prove one's self to the world."

It creeps into our political discourse as Republicans demand we “bomb the hell out of ISIS” and Donald Trump brags about his penis size or implies that his supporters should shoot Hillary Clinton. It discourages men from seeking help. And it harms women.

Two years before Orlando, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and then himself near the University of California, Santa Barbara after lamenting online that women didn't pay enough attention to him.

"For the last eight years of my life, since I hit puberty, I've been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires," Rodger said in the last video he posted online before the shooting. He ended: "You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male."


Friends describe Anna Bui as a talented singer who was "always so happy" and had ambitions to travel. Ivanov told police he dated Bui for about a year and a half and broke up with her about two months ago because he "thought he needed some time to work on himself," but then "realized he made a mistake and wanted to get back together."

When Ivanov explained himself to police after the shooting, he said he'd recently seen Bui Snapchatting photos of herself drinking with other men. "It showed that she was getting on with her life without him," a detective wrote, "which made him jealous."

Nothing in court documents so far indicates that Ivanov had previously been violent toward Bui. However, one student who had classes with Ivanov told the Seattle Times, "He was always wanting to be in control of the situation and at times displayed illogical anger."

For many women, that's familiar.

More than a third of women in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and those rates are higher for women of color and women who are not straight or cisgender. When abusers have access to firearms, the odds are higher that violence will end in death. Women in abusive relationships are five times more likely to die at the hands of their abuser if their abuser has access to a gun, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2003.


Everytown for Gun Safety

According to the Department of Justice, 64 percent of women who are murdered are killed by a family member or intimate partner. Among men, that number is just 16 percent.

These statistics are borne out in recent news reports from Western Washington.

This year, just three months before Anna Bui, Jordan Ebner, and Jake Long were killed in Mukilteo, a 17-year-old boy was reportedly playing with a silver handgun at an apartment complex in Burien. The boy's girlfriend repeatedly asked him to put the gun away and at one point told him, "I'm not afraid of you," according to a witness. The boy then pointed the gun at her face and, standing about one foot away, fired.

Several months before that, a woman named Jessica Ortega asked a Pierce County judge to save her from a man named Marcos Perea. In a request for a protection order, Ortega wrote that Perea, whom she marked as a "current or former domestic partner," had pulled the shower curtain back while Ortega was showering and pointed a gun in her face. "For the next 45 minutes or so he had the gun pointed at my head telling me it was my time to die," she wrote, "that I betrayed him and that there was a demon inside of me." The judge granted Ortega a temporary protection order, but police say the next day Perea came to the long-term care facility where she was working in University Place and shot her to death. Perea was later killed during a shoot-out with law enforcement on I-5.

And in 2015, a 15-year-old gunman killed four classmates and himself in his school cafeteria at Marysville Pilchuck High School. Text messages released after the shooting showed he was distraught after breaking up with his girlfriend.

It's not hard to find other reports like this, in Western Washington and around the country.


The Mukilteo shooting, says domestic violence survivor Courtney Weaver, should remind people of the "sense of entitlement and the narrative boys follow in our country. It's the same narrative my boyfriend who shot me followed." In 2010, as Weaver's then-boyfriend was staying with her and she was applying makeup in the bathroom, she heard a commotion in another room. There she found he had thrown her cat against the wall and was loading his pistol. The two argued and, worried he would "go on a mass shooting," Weaver says she stood between him and the door. He shot her in the face and arm and then "book[ed] it out the door." The shooting came after six months of a relationship in which, Weaver says, he was controlling and jealous. She'd repeatedly tried to end things with him, she says, but he wouldn't take no for an answer. Men like him, Weaver says, "have this kind of Romeo and Juliet type of [narrative], and a gun is a really easy way to remedy that."

"We promote that bravado," says Peg Coleman, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Women's Network (DAWN), which offers domestic violence survivors in King County shelter, counseling, and help navigating the legal system. "It's part of our culture that we promote that kind of 'you're not gonna screw with me' [attitude]... The price tag, as we've seen just recently, is real. It results in the death of people."


Of course, America's gun culture often merges dangerously with toxic masculinity—and, quite literally, weaponizes it. Gun-friendly legislation allows abusers with entitlement complexes to have continued access to guns, and the absence of an assault weapons ban or mandatory waiting periods allows people like Ivanov quick and easy access to assault rifles like the AR-15.

In the past 25 years, more homicides of intimate partners in the United States have been committed with guns than all other weapons combined, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Yet federal and state laws still contain significant loopholes. Federal background checks, which could flag a domestic violence record, aren't conducted on sales at gun shows or online. (Washington State closed this loophole in 2014.) And under federal law, the red flags that would show up on a background check (domestic violence convictions or protection orders) only cover abusers who live with or have children with their victims, not dating partners—even as dating longer and marrying later become more common. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, many states also do not have good systems for ensuring that when someone becomes subject to a protection order and is no longer allowed to have guns, that the person actually surrenders his guns. A Seattle Times analysis of a sample of King County cases from last year found that even when courts ordered people who were subject to restraining orders to report whether they had guns, most did not submit the required paperwork to the court.

"There is just no question that whatever the cause of domestic violence, guns make it so much worse and more fatal," says William Rosen, counsel for Everytown for Gun Safety. "From our perspective, whatever the cause, the solution is at least in part restricting [domestic abusers' access to guns."

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In Washington, Rosen sees incremental progress. Following the background check initiative in 2014, voters will decide this year whether to create extreme risk protection orders. Initiative 1491 would allow family members or law enforcement officers to request that a court temporarily take away someone's guns if they are a threat. "Washington is pretty much on its game," Rosen says.

Yet stronger gun laws alone are not stopping deaths like Bui's. DAWN's Coleman, who now offers training on how bystanders can stop violence against women, says that after 40 years in social service work, she is still asking the same question: "How do we change the culture we're living in? It's not going to change inside a shelter. It's not going to change with a police protection order or taking away guns." recommended