October 5, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
– “He who troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” Proverbs, 11:29
Another slaughter. As all know, last Thursday, Chris Harper-Mercer murdered 9 people on the campus of Umpqua Community College and injured some 20 others. It’s been about three months since Dylan Roof entered a Charleston, South Carolina church and killed nine people. So it’s time to revisit this article (The Federalist, 7/14/15) and this one (Women of Grace, 12/17/13).
Both point out the urgent fact that, when these types of mass slayings occur, the killer is almost always a young man who spent all or much of his life without his father. But the connection between fatherlessness and violent crime is far more than the mere specious correlation many would like to pretend. No, fatherlessness explains dysfunction in boys and young men better than anything else. Correct for race, religion, class, income, education and other important variables and, across a wide range of anti-social behaviors, the variable that remains is fatherlessness.
Unfortunately, no one among political elites or the news media wants to admit the fact. The issue of fatherlessness was swallowed up by that of gun regulation (or the lack thereof) in the first minutes after we learned of the horror in Oregon. That was no surprise of course since the same debate happens every time a deranged young man gets his hands on a gun and decides to express himself in the blood of innocents.
That debate about reasonable gun laws is worth having. Yes, other countries have mass killings despite their fairly stringent regulations of firearms, but none can match the sheer volume of them that the United States has. More to the point, mass murder is a comparative rarity, common as it sometimes seems here. And it’s a virtual certainty that, if a person is motivated enough to commit the type of atrocities that Roof, Adam Lanza and others have committed, he’ll be able to obtain the gun with which to do it in pretty much any country. But what’s most telling are the numbers of gun deaths in the United States that don’t make the dramatic news splash that mass killings do.
This table shows the problem. In the year for which the statistics are reported, the U.S. had 3.55 homicides by firearm per 100,000 people in the country. By contrast, the U.K. had 0.05, France had 0.22, Germany had 0.20, Spain had 0.15, Italy had 0.36, Japan had 0.04, South Korea had 0.04, etc. It’s no coincidence that all those countries with murder rates by handguns that are tiny fractions of ours also regulate gun ownership far more stringently than we do. Is that a guarantee against murder or even mass murder? No, but overall, effective gun control makes an enormous difference in rates of death and injury by firearms.
But here’s another fact: if all guns sales in this country were banned tomorrow and the ban was 100% effective, there would still be almost as many firearms in this country as there are people. And of course no such ban will be put in place, can be constitutionally put in place and even if it were, the trade in firearms would continue at a brisk pace.
The point being that we can debate issues about firearms and their regulation, but whatever we decide won’t make a lot of difference to the availability of guns in this country. Again, I don’t mind having that debate; I think we should. But no one should expect great changes to the availability of firearms.
That brings me back to the far more important debate that no one seems to want to have, the debate about fatherless children, particularly boys. That’s not just a debate we can have, it’s a problem we can go a long way toward solving. And when we do, we’ll see gun crimes by young men drop accordingly.
Peter Hasson, writing in The Federalist puts the matter succinctly:
As noted above, Roof’s parents divorced even before he was born. Not only were Adam Lanza’s parents divorced, but he hadn’t seen his father in the two years before the Sandy Hook shooting. Jeff Weise, the 16-year-old school shooter who killed ten people, came from a depressingly broken home: his parents separated before birth and both his parents were dead before he was even a teenager. The list goes on. From Charleston Churches to the Boston Marathon, the victims change but the narrative remains the same: unstable homes produce unstable individuals. All that remains to be seen is whether we decide to keep destabilizing American homes, or wake up and give our kids the upbringing they deserve.
Correct. “Unstable homes produce unstable individuals.” Much social science demonstrates that boys tend to suffer the loss of a father more than do girls. The exact reasons for that aren’t completely clear, but the type of impulse control fathers tend to provide is vitally important to boys. The same of course is true for the type of modelling of responsible masculine behavior that fathers provide for their sons.
Fathers and mothers tend to parent differently and dads’ emphasis on “rough and tumble play” inculcates in their children the importance of boundaries and empathy for others.
But what does any of this have to do with mass shootings? Let’s revisit some those characteristics of mass shooters. Violence? There’s a direct correlation between fatherless children and teen violence. Suicide? Fatherless children are more than twice as likely to commit suicide. Dropping out of school? Seventy-one percent of high school dropouts came from a fatherless background. Drug use? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.” How about guns? Two of the strongest correlations with gun homicides are growing up in a fatherless household and dropping out of school, which itself is directly related to lack of an active or present father.
Now, Hasson’s emphasis is on no-fault divorce about which I’ve written a couple of times lately. What he neglects is the impact of divorce laws on children’s relationships with their dads. Something like 36 million kids under the age of 18 have experienced their parents’ divorce. Some 40% of all American children don’t live with their fathers.
So what do family courts do? They make every effort to make sure that, when their parents split up, the children lose contact with their dads. It is beyond disgraceful that, at this late date, we’re still consigning children to sole or primary custody by one parent, almost always their mother. We know far too much about the value of fathers to children for that to continue, but year after year, the numbers remain all but unchanged. Over 82% of custodial parents are mothers.
And that, as we know through the research of Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen, is partly responsible for our high divorce rate. Brinig and Allen found that the reason that 70% of divorce filers are women is that they know they won’t lose their kids. They also know they’ll receive an award of child support that’s disproportionately high, plus alimony. So why would they stay in a relationship that’s the least bit below their expectations?
Then of course there’s the failure of courts to enforce fathers’ visitation rights. Plus there’s vast ignorance about parental alienation and laws that fail to curtail move-aways by custodial parents.
All that effectively removes fathers from children’s lives. And mass slayings by disaffected young men are one of the results.
We’ve inherited the wind.
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