The Texas and Buffalo Shootings are about Masculinity Too

Ed Frauenheim
4 min readJun 16, 2022

A deadly, deeply immature version of manhood helped fuel the killings

By Ed Frauenheim

The mass shootings in Texas and Buffalo have another culprit besides white supremacy, easy access to guns and potential mental illness: a murderous version of manhood.

A juvenile, dangerous masculinity helped trigger those tragic incidents. And if we don’t address what it means to be a man in America as part of our response to these killings, we’re going to continue to see atrocities committed by misguided men.

The Texas shooter was an 18-year-old man. The Buffalo shooting suspect is an 18-year-old man. In fact, 98 percent of the perpetrators of mass shootings in America over the past 40 years have been men.

What many shooters seem to have in common is a hyper-masculine ethos. It’s a conventional view of manliness curdled to an extreme. Among the features is a zero-sum, fearful outlook — whites are being “replaced.” These men also are unwilling to be truly emotionally vulnerable — a sense of victimhood fuels anger rather than admissions of sadness or anxiety. And they glorify violence, intimidation and domination — rather than dialog or democracy.

The Texas gunman Salvador Ramos, who’d had a troubled home life and experienced bullying by peers, posted photos of assault rifles online before he killed 19 children and two teachers. He also threatened to rape or kidnap young women online.

The Buffalo shooting suspect also put out brutal, tough-guy messaging prior to his alleged massacre in a predominantly Black neighborhood. “[A]s long as the White man lives you will never be safe here,” he warned people of color in an online screed.

A deadly, deeply immature masculinity

This is a masculinity at once deadly and deeply immature. It borrows from traditional male identities such as provider, protector and conqueror, but leaves behind honorable features such as defending the least powerful and playing by the rules.

Unfortunately, this petulant, macho manhood is widespread. It has standard bearers in “strongman” autocrats across the globe and former president Donald Trump. Trump revels in violence, expresses little to no remorse for the deaths he helped unleash Jan 6, and can’t bear to lose.

For Trump and many of his followers, might makes right, admitting defeat is a sign of “weakness,” and bullying isn’t just tolerated — it is celebrated.

America’s extremism on gun rights also stems in part from a simplistic, self-centered masculinity. Many U.S. men are myopic on guns. Blinded by myths of the cowboy and the king guarding his castle, they can’t see a system where trade-offs are needed both to safeguard citizens and preserve legitimate gun ownership. Countries across the globe have responded to mass shootings with gun safety measures, and have seen fewer massacres.

But many American men — and women — deny the evidence. They shut their eyes tight, proclaim a fanatical constitutionalism and seek to turn schools into virtual prisons.

Men at a painful crossroads

All the disinformation, hyper-aggression and racism can be seen as a reaction to a host of challenges men have faced in recent decades. Many American men — white men in particular — feel threatened and “left behind.”

Their status as “king of the hill” in American society is at risk as they find themselves displaced from jobs, socially isolated, bewildered by social and demographic changes, and lacking a sense of purpose. The #metoo and Black Lives Matter movements have called out white men’s privilege and demanded better behavior and self-awareness.

Amid the social upheaval, many men are suffering. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang recently pointed to a slew of troubling statistics for men and boys: boys are five times as likely to spend time in juvenile detention; men now make up only 40.5 percent of college students; and “deaths of despair” — those caused by suicide, overdose and alcoholism — have surged to unprecedented levels among middle-aged men over the past two decades.

Rather than dealing with these difficulties in a healthy way, many men are, in effect, regressing. Instead of evolving to meet the needs of a world expecting more from them, instead of reflecting honestly on the pain they feel, many men are becoming like adolescents or toddlers. They are stewing in their resentment and exploding in temper tantrums — to deadly effect.

Hope for a liberating masculinity

Yet there’s hope. Mass shooters often are troubled young men, bullied into believing they must prove their manhood by dominating others. But many other young men — as well as men of all ages — are developing a healthier, more mature version of masculinity. With curiosity and courage, they are breaking out of old confined beliefs about what it means to be a “real man.”

They are expanding the roles men can play and the ways they can relate to themselves and others. They are learning to identify and express emotions. They are embracing compassion — including the self-compassion that is vital to healing wounds. They are seeing the power and wisdom of connecting with people of all races and genders. They are trading in domination for partnership.

We must help more men liberate themselves in this way. Otherwise, the centuries-old “patriarchy” and its outdated, harmful codes will continue to hurt not just women but men.

And as the Texas and Buffalo shootings tragically remind us, hurt people hurt people.



Ed Frauenheim

I write about work, culture and masculinity. Concerned about the present but hopeful about the future.