The crisis of fatherless shooters

Posted 6/1/22

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the wake of last week’s horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, we are publishing the following excerpt from an article which Heritage Foundation scholar Emilie Kao …

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The crisis of fatherless shooters

Posted

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the wake of last week’s horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, we are publishing the following excerpt from an article which Heritage Foundation scholar Emilie Kao wrote after the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

By EMILIE KAO

There is a sobering theme repeated over and over in the biographies of school shooters — the fatherlessness of a broken or never formed family.

Among the 25 most-cited school shooters since Columbine, 75 percent were reared in broken homes. Psychologist Dr. Peter Langman found that most came from incredibly broken homes of not just divorce and separation, but also infidelity, substance abuse, criminal behavior, domestic violence, and child abuse.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, scholar Brad Wilcox called attention to the work of criminologists Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi, which found the absence of fathers to be one of the “most powerful predictors of crimes.”

The late rapper Tupac Shakur said, “I know for a fact that had I had a father, I’d have some discipline. I’d have more confidence. Your mother can’t calm you down the way a man can. You need a man to teach you how to be a man.” Shakur, who was murdered in 1996, started hanging out with gangs because he wanted to belong to a family.

Boys who do not have a strong relationship with their fathers may lack a model of healthy masculinity. Many of the school shooters struggled with a sense of “damaged masculinity” and sought to become “ultramasculine.” Langman says that at the end of this spectrum is “getting a gun to suddenly have power.”

In fact, the fathers of three of the most infamous school shooters were absent from their sons’ lives. The father of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, had not seen his son in two years and later told reporters he wished his son had never been born. The adoptive father of Nikolas Cruz died when Cruz was 5 years old. And the father of 6-year-old Dedrick Owens, the country’s youngest school shooter, was in jail when his son killed his first grade classmate. Dedrick Owens’ father has said that he suspects his son’s crime was a reaction to his absence.

Since the 1965 Moynihan report, the breakdown of the American family has been hotly debated. Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s finding that fatherlessness would lead to poorer outcomes for African-American children was published at a time when only 25 percent of African-American households were led by a single parent. Today, 24 percent of white non-Hispanic families are headed by a single parent and the rate has reached 66 percent among African-Americans. If we don’t reverse current trends on marriage, the number of fatherless children will only grow.

A good starting place would be to reduce the marriage penalties that have been built into our welfare system.

A next step would be to elevate the contributions of ordinary men doing the extraordinary work of fathering. And if we directed 1 percent of the attention and media coverage we give to athletes, musicians, and movie stars toward fathers, perhaps more boys would grow up seeing them as role models.

We cannot provide every fatherless boy with a dad, but we can start by respecting the unique role that fathers play in the lives of boys and encouraging more men to step into the lives of children who need a male role model.

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