We wasted no time after the Parkland shooting returning to our circular conversation about guns. We know the arguments: the left believes fewer guns will equal fewer problems. The right, in good company with our founding fathers, believe that fewer guns will equal more problems.
I, like most conservatives, hold fast to the popular mantra: the gun isn’t the problem; the person behind the gun is. Guns are inanimate objects that are neither inherently good or bad. They can be used for self-defense, for hunting, for recreation, or, they can be used for murder. Their purpose is dependent entirely on the intent of the person using it.
However, the argument against focusing on the person behind the gun is legitimate: “you can’t legislate morality.” The left asserts that because Congress can’t make a law that eradicates evil in someone’s heart or mental illness, we need to focus on the tool these mentally ill and evil people are using to commit mass murder.
That is true: we cannot – and should not – attempt to change people’s hearts and minds through any law written by Congress. Even so, we would be remiss to completely ignore the person and only focus on the gun. That would be akin to going the doctor, getting diagnosed with cancer, and, as a cure, receiving a prescription for pain medication. It might make you feel better, but it doesn’t solve the issue.
No one is arguing against what would actually constitute as a “common sense gun law.” Most responsible, law-abiding gun owners believe in enforcing reasonable laws and following protocol to help ensure that tragedies like the one in Parkland don’t occur. Because, not only are we devastated by the loss of life like everyone else, we also know that we, along with all Republicans and members of the NRA, are going to get blamed. So, rest assured – we care about gun safety.
But, while we should promote obedience to our laws, following protocols and holding our intelligence agencies accountable, we should also highlight the very real — and very consequential — underlying fissures in society that often lead to adolescent violence. If we truly want our country to be safer — which, I believe, we all genuinely do — don’t we want to explore all theories behind why these shootings happen? Shouldn’t we at least spend some time discussing how to prevent the next mass shooter and not just the next mass shooting?
So, yes, let us evaluate current protocol. Let us propose legislation if we so choose. Let us discuss possible systems that could make schools more secure. Let us debate the effectiveness of arming well-trained teachers. Let us highlight mental health issues. But let us also discuss the very real — and very consequential — underlying issues that often lead to adolescent violence. Just as fissures in construction are often caused by a crumbling foundation, so fissures in society can be attributed to deterioration at its base. For us, this deterioration begins with the breakdown of the American family.
In the book, Home Economics: The Consequences of Changing Family Structure, Nick Schulz presents data that shows the deconstruction of the nuclear family since 1960. Not only are people getting married later and less than they used to, in 2009, 41% of all births were to unmarried mothers.
This is significant, because, as explained in a study by Jane Anderson published by the National Institutes of Health, children and society are generally happier, healthier, and more successful when the nuclear family is intact. She points out that as societal norms and perceptions of marriage have changed – from something that’s healthy and beneficial to something that’s constricting and even harmful. Therefore, our culture has evolved to glorifying singleness — and even single parenthood — rather than embracing the nuclear family.
This has led to a higher risk of emotional distress, of psychological immaturity and social and financial immobility for many children who were raised in single-parent homes, which in turn negatively affects societies economically and socially.
This is not to say that this is the sole cause for young people committing acts of violence. This is to argue that the deterioration of the family has hurt society as a whole, and children, specifically.
The family has been redefined, and, as a consequence, so has community. According to Pew Research Center, 1/3 of Americans have never interacted with their neighbors. 40 years ago, that number was 1/4.
In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam argues that this emphasis on individualism has deteriorated institutions such as the PTA, book clubs, club sports teams and churches. Barna reported that 6 in 10 young people leave the church by age 15. At the same time, Barna cites, 57% of all Americans believe that right and wrong is a matter of mere personal experience. Michael Sandel called this the pursuit of the “unencumbered self” – the desire to be your own god, your own authority, your own community, your own truth.
Furthermore, a study by the Social Science Department at UCLA cites a clear link between loneliness and isolation and delinquent behavior. Sociologist Adam Lankford actually argues that lonely, troubled childhoods are a direct cause of more mass shootings.
Fatherlessness, in particular, seems to play a key role in violence among young men. In fact, the majority of school shooters come from fatherless homes. Research by W. Bradford Wilcox suggests that boys who grow up in single-mother homes are twice as likely to commit crimes than those who grow up with a present father. Both sons and daughters are more likely to be depressed without a strong relationship with a father. Broken families, in general, create not only a higher threat of delinquency for children, but also an increased risk of poverty and social immobility. The breakdown of the American family hurts our adolescent who often grow to be hurt adults, which consequently leads to a cycle of pain and violence.
All of this said, correlation does not necessarily equal causation. It is difficult to say, empirically, that the breakdown of family and community causes these horrible acts of violence, but it sure hasn’t helped.
So, if we want to get real about talking about solutions to violence and crime in America, we need to talk about the truth behind these crimes and criminals. The glorification of individualism, of singleness, and of isolation has coincided with our culture’s embrace of moral relativism and rejection of absolute truth is doing more to damage our country and promote discontentment which can lead to violence than it is helping.
Why not start there?