The Variable That Almost Everyone Overlooks In Mass Shootings


Tens of millions of Americans are troubled by mass shootings. No surprise. But as America debates cause and effect, it keeps returning to the issue of access to firearms and mental illness.

Most people don't want mentally ill people to access firearms, especially those whose illnesses tend to manifest violent tendencies. Others say everyone's access to firearms should be more restricted, mental illness or criminal record notwithstanding.

The latter is not a workable solution in a society with an estimated 270 million to 320 million firearms, possibly even more. More laws attempting to restrict access to them will not cause existing guns to disappear.

So maybe instead of returning to the usual culprits, we dig deeper into some difficult realities.

New Zealand journalist Carolyn Moynihan who focuses on family issues, centers her perspective around family structure, specifically the fact that a common denominator in these mass shootings is that the assailants have some dysfunction in their relationship with their father. (I have omitted the most recent shooter's name in her remarks purposefully, to refuse him the notoriety and attention he was seeking).

At first glance [he] does not fit the pattern; both his adoptive parents had died – his mother, whom he was very close to, only last November. But the New York Times profile of [him] hints that even before his death, the father may have played a minor role in the family: the report says [he] and his younger brother Zachary “were raised largely by their mother, especially after their father, Roger P. Cruz, died suddenly in 2004 at the age of 67.”(Emphasis added)

This is just the latest example in a history of these events, where the shooter has had problems with his father in some way.

The absence of a dad matters for a child’s wellbeing. Sociologist Brad Wilcox summed up in National Review the research and the reasons a few years ago after Adam Lanza’s suicidal attack at Sandy Hook. A study published last year found that whatever the reason for separation – imprisonment, death, separation or divorce – the loss of a father even has a biological effect on a child, especially in the case of boys and if the child is younger than 5 – the age approximately at which [this shooter] lost his father.

We cannot underestimate the importance of a father in a child’s life. Sociologist David Popenoe states that “fathers are important to their sons as role models. They are important for maintaining authority and discipline. And they are important in helping their sons to develop both self-control and feelings of empathy toward others, character traits that are found to be lacking in violent youth.”

Not all children who have parental issues are going to become as violent as these attackers have been, but the common thread is there among those who have. For the 19 year-old who shot the students in Parkland, Florida, he had to deal with his father dying at a young age, but also his mother dying recently as well, which took away one of the last people on whom he could lean for emotional support, according to a friend.

There are far too many children who are growing up without a father in their life. That steady presence is critical to a child’s success in most cases. Moynihan’s conclusion is that the long-term solution is to reverse the decline in marriage rates, and the high rate of divorce. In her assessment, the breakup of parents is contributing to the epidemic of mental illness among young children.

I’ve generally seen the connection between mental illness and these mass shootings and other types of attacks, but I never considered how breakdown of the family could be contributing to it. At TPOH, family is discussed as one of the most important institutions in society. If it's crumbling, why are we not sounding the alarm?

It won't be a solution that will solve all our problems, but Moynihan makes a good case for restoration of the family. To me it makes sense, and I fully intend on doing my part to try to preserve my and my family's posterity when my wife and I have children of our own.