Blog Post

Fatherlessness Common Among 2013 School Shooters

An internationally recognized expert is pointing out what the news media has chosen not to report about this year's rash of school shootings - almost every shooter was a young man whose parents were divorced or were never married.

W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia who was raised by a single mother, says that most of the school shooters of the past year - from Adam Lanza who killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut last December to Karl Pierson, who shot a teenage girl and then killed himself this past Friday at Arapahoe High in Centennial, Colorado - were essentially fatherless.

"The social scientific evidence about the connection between violence and broken homes could not be clearer," he writes in this oped, entitled "Sons of Divorce: School Shooters" and appearing on National Review Online.

"My own research suggests that boys living in single mother homes are almost twice as likely to end up delinquent compared to boys who enjoy good relationships with their father."

His studies are certainly borne out by the hard evidence collected on the shooters who have been involved in the past year's deadly school shootings.

For instance, James Seevakumaran, who threatened to shoot his roommate and eventually killed himself at the University of Central Florida on March 18 of this year, lived with his stepfather and is said to have hated his biological father.

Adam Lanza, who killed 26 people at Sandy Hook last December, was the son the divorced parents.

It was the same case with Michael Brandon Hill, the 20 year-old gunman who invaded the Ronald E. McNair Discover Learning Center Academy Elementary School in Decatur, Georgia on August 20 of this year. Thankfully a quick-thinking receptionist managed to talk him out of shooting until police could arrive and arrest him.

The most recent shooter, Karl Pierson, was living with his mother as his parents had been separated for years.

According to the research, the absence of strong father figures in the lives of these boys is no coincidence. Wilcox cites Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson who called family structure "one of the strongest, if not the strongest, predictor of variations in urban violence across cities in the United States."

Prominent criminologists such as Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi agree and have written that family measures such as divorce and percentage of households headed by women "are among the most powerful predictors of crime rates."

Most of the school shootings involved boys, which leads Wilcox to ask why fatherlessness is such a big deal for boys.

Again, he cites the research of eminent sociologist David Popenoe who wrote: “ . . . (F)athers 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.”

Even though most fatherless boys will grow up okay, they are vulnerable, which is why so many are swept away into gangs, violence, and crime.

While the debate over gun control and mental health issues are valuable, if the U.S. wants to get serious about ending school shootings, "it must also get serious about strengthening the families that are our first line of defense in preventing our boys from falling into a downward spiral of rage, hopelessness, or nihilism . . ."

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