Like most Americans (I hope), I was distressed to learn this morning that we had yet another mass shooting last night, in Dayton, Ohio; in addition to the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas earlier yesterday. And like most Americans my age, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to our society and why so many people, most of them very young men, feel compelled to commit mass murder.
I can only wonder, however, because the questions I’d like to ask are not allowed to be asked. The only discussion that seems to be allowed regarding mass shootings centers around gun control, with the Left, predictably, using every mass shooting as an opportunity to advocate for more restrictions on gun ownership; and the Right, just as predictably, opposing those restrictions.
The problem is that guns are just tools: and blaming any tool for the actions of the hand wielding it is absurd. Guns are just dead metal. They have no brains, no autonomy, no grudges, no morals, and no biases. They don’t care whether their target is a paper target, a deer, an enemy soldier, or a toddler in a stroller. They’re just tools, and nothing more.
The real question that needs to be asked is why do so many people, most of them young men, choose to gun down their friends, neighbors, classmates, or complete strangers? What has changed in the last generation or two that has made what was once a rare occurrence into a common one?
Or to put it more succinctly, why are we raising so many sociopaths?
Answering that question necessarily requires comparing today’s society to that of previous generations: and that’s where the problems begin. Making those comparisons requires examining changes that are widely viewed as positive (and in most cases are, on the whole); and questioning those changes and their possible effects on young people simply is not allowed.
If it were allowed, however, I’d ask how each of the following social changes may (or may not) have contributed to the epidemic of sociopathy to which the frequency of mass shootings testifies.
Diminished Importance of Religion
Is there a connection between the sharp decline in church membership and lessening of overall importance of religion to Americans, and the steep increase in mass shootings during the same period?
Roe v Wade
Did a Supreme Court ruling that it was okay to kill an unborn child contribute to an overall lessening of respect for human life?
Changes in Child Discipline
Corporal punishment (spanking) was a standard and accepted form of child discipline for most of American history. Nowadays, it can get parents thrown in jail. Does the absence of painful consequences for misbehavior during childhood make it more likely that young people will misbehave during adolescence and early adulthood?
Does excessively close supervision of children, both in-person and through the use of electronic devices like GPS trackers and apps, deprive children of opportunities to learn to interact with society on their own, without physical or electronic constraints?
Does teaching children to fear strangers make it more likely that they will later feel free to kill strangers?
For most of our history, when children came home from school, a parent (usually their mother) would be waiting for them. They could talk about the day’s experiences, ask questions about things that puzzled them, share the joy of accomplishments such as a perfect grade on an essay or exam, or seek solace for the slights they’d suffered from friends. Does the loss of that opportunity in many households have something to do how some children are turning out?
I think (and hope) that most people agree that the empowerment of girls and women (what people my age used to call “women’s liberation”) is a good thing. But considering that almost all mass shooters are young males, is female empowerment having some deleterious effect on boys’ psychological development that needs to be addressed? Do we need to pay more attention to boys and celebrate their masculinity?
Discouragement of Fighting
Along similar lines, fistfights between boys used to be considered a normal part of childhood that required no more than separating the boys from each other before they did any real damage. Nowadays, schoolyard scuffles can get boys suspended from school, or even prosecuted. Is that a good thing?
Many youth athletic programs no longer keep score for fear that the losers’ feelings may be hurt. Does being deprived of the opportunity to fail at something deprive children of the motivation to practice, become better at that something, and experience the joy of that accomplishment?
If an event or sport is scored, but everyone gets a trophy at the end, does that trivialize the accomplishments of those who really worked hard to win? If so, does depriving children of the opportunity to draw attention to themselves through athletic prowess increase the likelihood that they will seek to do so using other means — including shooting their classmates?
Is encouraging children and adolescents to isolate themselves when they feel stressed, rather than encouraging them to confront and deal with whatever is bothering them, really a good idea?
Does the ability of children to immediately call home for help if they run into some problem deprive them of the opportunity to learn to confront or navigate around life’s obstacles on their own? And does the detachment of communicating with others through text messages, apps, and social media deprive children of opportunities to form genuine attachments with others and learn social skills?
Does the anger, vitriol, and extreme partisan nature of social media teach children that it’s normal for the world to be divided into groups who hate each other and who believe they have nothing in common?
I don’t claim to have the answers to these questions. But I do believe that they need to be asked. Unfortunately, we live in a society that doesn’t seem to like asking tough questions — especially when those questions touch upon subjects that have been invested with the secular equivalent of sacred writ.
At some point, however, we need to shift the emphasis from the tools to the people wielding them. We will never solve this problem by blaming dead metal.