There is an understandable level of outrage that follows something as horrific and evil as a school mass shooting. We’ve seen calls for the introduction of “common sense” gun control, a picking apart of the shooter’s personal life, and a fair amount of political virtue signaling.
But amidst all the chaotic analysis, outrage and murky discussion, there is one alarming thread that runs through many of the school shootings that have taken place in the U.S. over the past 13 years.
From 2005 to 2015, 27 of the deadliest mass shootings in America have been committed by young men. And as The Federalist’s Peter Hasson noted in 2015, 26 of these 27 men grew up without a father.
The link between young men who have experienced family breakdown and a tendency toward violence is unnerving, and it must be addressed as part of the wider conversation in the wake of the latest mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The young man suspected of killing 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this month also grew up without his biological father, and his adoptive father died when he was young.
One of the most telling examples of this little-known statistic came after California college student Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 others in a 2014 shooting rampage through the streets of Isla Vista. Along with several videos he posted expressing his hatred for women, he released a prolific “manifesto” in which he discusses his parents’ divorce and the impact this had on him.
What if Rodger’s family situation was a trigger point for his rage and subsequent murderous intent? Given the link between family breakdown and violence, it is certainly worth considering.
“Of course, not all children whose parents divorce will become homicidal maniacs,” The Federalist’s Joy Pullmann noted after the 2014 rampage. “But how many other young men out there feel like this? Will our society continue to stand idly about Twittering while we negligently multiply the number of angry, confused children?”
The statistics remain utterly haunting. Not only is there a direct correlation between fatherless children and teen violence, but, as Hasson notes, children without a dad are more than twice as likely to commit suicide. He adds that, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.”
Of course, discussions on mental health and gun control are extremely important. But can we really ignore the fact that the chaos, turmoil, heartache and pain of life in a broken home poses a risk of spilling over into streets and schools?
“The social scientific evidence about the connection between violence and broken homes could not be clearer,” W. Bradford Wilcox of the Insititute for Family Studies wrote in 2013. “My own research suggests that boys living in single mother homes are almost twice as likely to end up delinquent compared to boys who enjoy good relationships with their father.”
Wilcox also cites Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson, who wrote that “Family structure is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, predictor of variations in urban violence across cities in the United States.”
If the breakdown of the family has directly contributed to street violence across America, would it be so far-fetched to suggest, considering the damning statistics, that the same could be true of mass shootings?
“If the nation is serious about ending the scourge of school shootings,” Wilcox writes, “it must also get serious about strengthening the families that are our first line of defense in preventing our boys from falling into a downward spiral of rage, hopelessness, or nihilism that can end in senseless violence.”