By Chris Talgo
Thousands of students walked out of their classrooms in schools across the United States on March 14. Under the banner of the #NeverAgain movement, the student walkout occurred on the one-month anniversary of the tragic shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. While the political activism of these students is laudable, unfortunately they are improperly framing the problem of school shootings and gun violence.
The vast majority of the student-led crusade following the deadly shooting in Parkland has focused exclusively on the issue of gun control. The premise put forward by student (and professional) activists, as well as the mainstream media, is far too simple: Nikolas Cruz, the deranged Parkland shooter was 18 when he legally purchased the weapon he used to kill 17 of his former classmates. Therefore, if the age to purchase weapons is raised to 21, high school students will not be allowed to purchase weapons and will be unable to commit school shootings.
If only it were that easy. Of course, this flawed thinking fails to address the fact that Nikolas Cruz is not a typical law-abiding citizen. Rather, he is a disturbed criminal. Criminals, by definition, do not follow laws. Sadly, no law may have been able to prevent this senseless act of violence.
The scourge of school shootings is a complicated, multifaceted problem. The causes of these appalling acts of violence are deeply rooted. If we, as Americans, truly wish to deter these atrocious episodes, we will need to confront some uncomfortable and deeply rooted issues endemic to our society and culture.
For instance, why does American popular culture promote grotesque violence in movies, music, video games, and TV shows? Should we re-examine how we diagnose and treat those in society with mental illnesses who demonstrate a propensity for violence? And lastly, how has the near-collapse of the family unit in American society contributed to juvenile delinquency and criminal activity?
In a timely piece titled Deadly Harvest: Patriarchy & the Violence of Fatherless Men, James M. Kushiner writes about the integral role fatherhood plays in maintaining social values and cohesion. Kushiner begins by describing the sad event that took place on February 14, 2018:
[On] Valentine’s Day, there was a mass shooting of high-school students in Florida. The killer escaped the school campus, but a clear description of him went out to the police. Officer Michael Leonard spotted and arrested the suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. Leonard said, “He looked like a typical high school student.”
Robert P. George commented on Facebook:
These crimes are almost always committed by men, frequently young men (and sometimes even boys). So the very first question I want to know the answer to is this: What do we know about the perpetrator’s father and the young man’s relationship with him? . . . [T]ime after time the answer has been that the father is (and was) absent (for one reason or another) from the boy’s life or had virtually no relationship [with] the son or effective authority over him.
I would be surprised if fatherlessness were not the number one predictor of criminality. I recall hearing a veteran Texas prison chaplain say he often asked prisoners if they were raised by their biological fathers. The vast majority—well over 90 percent—said no.
This is one reason why patriarchy is important for the health of a society. Read that carefully. I did not say male chauvinism or male dominance or male privilege or misogyny, which some assume is meant by the “code word” patriarchy.
Patriarchy is based on the Latin word pater, father, and I am particularly thinking of fatherhood and not mere maleness: young men are supposed to be shaped not by a flood of male hormones or dangerous masculine bravado or the oppression or sexual use of women, but by the prospect of fatherhood.
Patriarchy is about fatherhood. It is about fathers raising boys and young men to become fathers themselves. A whole generation, or neighborhood, of boys without fathers will succumb to the chaos and violence of Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies. Wherever you find many fatherless young men not being trained for fatherhood, you will find most of today’s violent crime.
Family in Greek, patria, based on pater, is often translated as nation and is thus the root of patriotism. But where there are fewer and fewer fathers, there can be no enduring patria, no homeland, no security.
Kushiner is correct: A healthy patriarchy is a prerequisite for a society to function and thrive. Young men (and women) need role models. They need the direction, discipline, and sense of love that only fatherhood can provide them. Absent this cherished and vital presence, young men (and women) are far too likely to grow-up emotionally wounded.
The United States faces a crisis: a generation is coming of age without fathers present in their lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 40 percent of all births in the United States were to unmarried women in 2016. In the same year alone, 1.6 million children were born out of wedlock.
Certainly, some of these children will grow up to accomplish great things. Their lives will be fulfilling and successful. However, far too many of these fatherless children are being set-up to fail. They will endure aimless and difficult times.
The difficulties are evident from a young age. According to a study by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, 33 percent of two-parent elementary school students ranked as high achievers, compared with only 17 percent of single-parent students. The same study found that children in single-parent households are more likely to be chronically truant and have disciplinary problems.
To solve any problem, one must properly identify its cause. The problem of gun violence and mass shootings is complex and multidimensional. The instant gratification, quick-fix solution espoused by students will not work.
Instead, a frank and unpleasant societal dialogue is necessary. As a nation, we must address the problems of family breakdown, mental illness, and a culture of violence. Then, and only then, will America make strides and reduce mass shootings and the torment of gun violence.