The least shocking revelation about the El Paso mass shooting is that the culprit’s parents divorced eight years ago. He is yet another mass shooter among that many who did not live full time with his dad — a trend that appears to be especially strong among school shooters. If you expand the “mass shooter” category to include drug and gang-related violence in the inner city, the fatherless connection becomes even clearer. In Baltimore, where violence is infamously rampant, fewer than 20 percent of all teens are being raised by married parents.
I got in trouble with Media Matters yesterday for making this point, but it bears repeating. “Do something” seems to be the universal refrain this week. Well, here’s something we can do. It doesn’t involve laws or policies or any other form of input from bureaucrats in Washington. We can address the problem ourselves in a very straightforward way: by raising our own kids. This plan will not be enough to prevent every potential act of brutality or terrorism, but it will have a much wider and deeper impact than any piece of legislation ever could. The negative consequences of fatherlessness are well established. The solution, on an individual level, doesn’t get much simpler. Stay married. Be present. Raise your kids. Love your kids.
Would the El Paso shooter have still committed his terrible act even if his parents stayed together? What about the Sandy Hook or Christchurch shooter? What about any of the hundreds of killers and gangbangers in the inner city? Would they all have ended up on a different and better path had they been raised in a home with a present and active father? We can’t say for sure, but the chances seem pretty good. If I could go back in time and make only one change in the lives of any of these people in the hopes that it might prevent them from becoming mass murderers in the future, this is certainly the change I would make. Can you think of a better one?
It’s not hard to see why this connection between violent young men and fatherlessness exists. A boy who grows up without a dad will inevitably experience profound feelings of abandonment and confusion. Over time, those feelings can calcify into a deep, simmering anger that the boy doesn’t quite understand. The problem is compounded because fathers are precisely the ones best suited to teach their sons how to channel anger and aggression in a constructive way. A boy without a father in the home will have more anger, more aggression, and less of an idea about what he’s supposed to do with it.
A father also teaches his son how to take healthy risks. A father teaches his son how to fight back and stand up to bullies. A father teaches his son how to respect women and protect those who are weaker. Mothers can pass along these same life lessons, but something will be lost in translation. A mother can tell a boy how to be a man but only a father can show a boy how to be a man. Spoken commands are always less effective than demonstrations.
None of this should be considered an excuse for mass murderers. They are responsible for their actions, regardless of these disadvantages. But it’s better if our kids don’t have the disadvantages to begin with. And that’s where parents, especially fathers, come in. We should focus on this step before we worry about passing new laws.