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Mass Shootings: Three Causes, Three Solutions

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Sep 20, 2022


"We live in a country where mass shootings have become common place. A mass shooting is defined by the Gun Violence Archive as an event where a minimum of four victims are shot, either injured or killed, not including the shooter.

As of September 2nd, there have been 450 mass shootings in the U.S.

That’s unfathomable.

While myriad factors contribute to this crisis, one of the factors that has gotten too little attention is father absence. That’s right. When we peel back the onion far enough, we find that many mass shooters are boys and young men who have grown up with absent or physically present but uninvolved fathers.

Indeed, on several occasions, National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) has addressed the father absence factor in this blog.

Sadly, mass shootings have continued unabated. That’s why we continue to raise awareness of this factor in the debate about solutions to mass shootings with the following guest article by Dr. Warren Farrell, one of our country’s leading experts on the impact of father absence, particularly on boys. With great insight, Dr. Farrell identifies three causal factors—including father absence—contributing to a crisis we, as a country, have failed miserably to address.

To be clear, NFI understands that father absence is not the only causal factor. But those of us who understand the devastating impact of father absence on the well-being of our children, families, and communities must raise awareness that programs and initiatives that increase father presence and strengthen families are part of the solution to addressing mass shootings."

Christopher A. Brown, president, National Fatherhood Initiative®

Mass Shootings: Three Causes, Three Solutions

By Warren Farrell, Ph.D.*

We blame mass shootings on replacement theory-style hatred, access to guns, toxic politics, poor family values, violence in the media, violence in video games, and mental illness. But our daughters live in the same families with the same family values, are exposed to the same replacement theory-style hatred and toxic politics, have the same access to the same guns, video games, and media, and suffer similar mental illnesses. Yet our daughters are not killing. Our sons are.

Why? We have been blind to the first cause of mass shootings:  the boy crisis. And blind to the second cause: almost all the school shootings are done by boys who are dad deprived. The two most effective solutions will be attending to those two underlying causes. Until we do, these boys will communicate their pain as loudly as they can: with guns as powerful as they can get. Boys who hurt us are boys who hurt.

The evidence of the boy crisis? In the 53 largest developed nations boys fall behind girls in almost every academic subject, especially reading and writing—the biggest predictors of success or failure. In school they learn the future is female, which does not inspire them for their future.

Boys are far more likely to drop out of both high school and college. The unemployment rate of boys who are high school dropouts is more than 20% when in their twenties. In a few years girls will be graduating from college at twice the rate of boys.

Females often consider male dropouts to be losers. Women are more attracted to winners. These boys feel vulnerable to both female relationship rejection and sexual rejection. They learn in school that if they take sexual initiatives too quickly, they are a sexual harasser. But they learn in life that if they don’t take sexual initiatives quickly enough, they’re a wimp.

The result? Anger festers. Yet under that anger is vulnerability. Anger is vulnerability’s mask. Yet their anger generates our anger at their anger, not our empathy at their vulnerability.

Mass shootings are both homicides and suicides. At age nine, boys and girls commit suicide equally. Between ages 10 and 14, boys commit suicide twice as often; between 15 and 19, four times as often; between 20 and 25, five times as often. Dad deprivation is the single biggest predictor of suicide.

What is the evidence that mass shooters are dad deprived? In the 21stCentury, we know the family backgrounds of six of the seven mass school shooters who killed ten or more people. In all six, from Salvador Ramos to Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook), the boys were deprived of their biological dad.

Sadly, Salvador Ramos’ father was rarely present in his life. (He was living with his mom until recently, then his grandparents.) He had a speech impediment, and was often bullied. Then he failed to graduate from high school.

Feel the shame and vulnerability, and the mask of anger and compensation: the purchase of an AR-15, the showing off his guns on Instagram and TikTok, and the shooting of his grandmother after an argument over his failure to graduate high school; and the mass shooting as both a homicide and a suicide.

Dad deprivation is the biggest predictor of male suicide. Boys who hurt us are boys who hurt.

The dad-deprivation dynamic is also common among mass shooters who do not target schools. In the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the Las Vegas shooting by Stephen Paddock, Stephen’s mom reported that Stephen felt angry and rejected by a dad who chose to repeatedly escape prison and be either caught or in hiding rather than complete his imminent term and return to him. Dad deprivation is common also to Nikolas Cruz of Parkland, Robert Bowers (Synagogue); David Katz (Jacksonville); Elliott Rodgers (UC Santa Barbara), and Dylan Roof (Charleston Church).

The solutions? Although my research for The Boy Crisis generated a variety, it was an email from a young man who had planned a mass shooting that both touched my heart and prioritized my solutions.

The young man wrote that his anger at not having a dad in his life, and having neither structure nor purpose, had led him to joining the fascist group 8chan that gave him the structure and purpose he was missing. He said 8chan had already nurtured two mass shooters and inspired him to write his own 52-page manifesto outlining his plans for his own mass shooting.

Fortunately, before he carried out his plans, he stumbled across The Boy Crisis. He said he felt that I was describing what led to his anger so precisely that it was like I was a spy in his life. He felt seen--like someone got him. His anger dissipated enough for him to drop his plans, seek the help of two therapists and allow me to work with him until he could see that his mom was not his enemy—that she loved him and would sacrifice most anything for him.

The solution this experience prioritized for me is the need to see the vulnerability behind the mask of anger. It wasn’t my data or the lack of guns that prevented the mass shooting. It was feeling seen.

Yet boys’ experience of being shamed in school for being male, of being part of an unacknowledged global boy crisis, and of dad deprivation, is almost completely ignored by schools, legislatures, and the media. Only Florida has signed into law a systematic program to address the fatherhood crisis. And only Kentucky has made equally shared parenting the starting assumption for children of divorce.

That said, if the boy crisis is a global problem, and dad deprivation is common to many other developed nations such as the UK, why are mass shootings so much more common in the U.S.? And until we solve the boy crisis, what can we do about it?

Australia in 1996 had experienced the U.S. per capita equivalent of 180 mass shootings in eighteen years. They instituted a major mandatory gun buy-back program that led to the US equivalent of about ten million guns being surrendered. They banned the sale and importation of automatic and semiautomatic weapons. The result? In the 20 years following Australia’s change in gun policy, mass shootings fell to zero.

We have three choices: If it is our sons doing the mass shootings, we can attend to the boy crisis, or ignore it. If our sons’ dad-deprivation is the biggest common denominator among our mass shooters, we can attend to it, or ignore it. If a country with the courage to outlaw guns virtually eliminated mass shootings, we can follow suit or ignore it.


*Warren Farrell, Ph.D., is author of The Boy Crisis. He has been a pioneer in both the women’s movement (elected three times to the Board of the National Organization for Women in NYC) and the men’s movement (called by GQ Magazine “The Martin Luther King of the men’s movement”). He has been chosen by the Financial Times as one of the world’s top 100 thought leaders. His books are published in over 50 countries, and in 19 languages.

Dr. Farrell briefed the White House on the importance of dads in preventing the boy crisis. He was then asked to do a first draft of a potential presentation for President Trump for Father's Day 2020.

Dr. Farrell has two daughters, lives with his wife in Mill Valley, California, and virtually at www.warrenfarrell.com

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Topics: involved father, father absence data, father absence cost, Featured, mass shootings, gun violence, father presence

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