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Jay Ambrose is an opinion columnist for Tribune News Service.
Who are they? Who are these boys, these teenagers who viciously kill innocent school acquaintances or maybe unknown children, each victim special in his or her own way, all of them loving and adored?
Think of the bright eyes the parents will never see again, the laughs they will never hear again. Think of the astonished horror endured by 19 youngsters and two teachers in a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school as bullets left punctured, bloody bodies where the majesty of life used to rule.
That was just one of 27 school shootings this year, on top of 34 last year, and there is a lot to understand if we are to overcome this evil in a shrunken society. One place to start is with the shooters and what’s welcoming is that all kinds of organizations, governmental and otherwise, have deeply explored their backgrounds, personalities, anger and hatred. Many have arrived at similar explanations for these soulless Americans, and a big one is the raggedy families that produced them.
It’s an atrociously neglected subject in America today that families are disastrously falling apart in huge numbers, that one parent (usually the father) gets lost and the other faces fierce demands that are hard for even two to satisfy. Sometimes things can work out OK, but fatherless children are more likely to drop out of high school, commit crimes, kill themselves and go jobless. The worst households are often dysfunctional to the point that children are not trained but ignored, rejected and abused. Their guidance is left to TV, video games and cellphones, and if the father and mother ever live together again, they may do more hitting than kissing.
A missing father can mean missing lessons in masculinity for the boy, less security, less self-respect, it is said, and this is common for shooters. Researchers say that, when shooters go to school, the door is often open for bullies to harass them as ever more withdrawn tear-soaked, womanish wimps. Girls don’t like them and they become resentful. They get depressed, suicidal, more given to guns, drugs and threats, infuriated to the point of explosion. They almost always say they are going to kill people they may not even know before they kill them in supposedly brave, masculine acts.
The 18-year-old Texas killer, Salvador Ramos, never knew his father. He did know his grandfather, who was a convicted felon. He and his mother had fights, according to her boyfriend. Bullies had at him in school because of a speech impediment. He was a disliked lone wolf with a fetish for guns and once told someone he cut his face up for the fun of it. His grandmother owned the house he and his mother lived in and was planning to take it away because of the mother’s drug problems. Ramos moved in with the grandmother, had arguments with her about dropping out of high school and shot her in the face before he conducted the massacre he briefly advertised online.
We all need to cry for these lost lives, for the parents, for all of those out there wondering if this could happen to them, something like 60 percent of teachers nationally, according to a poll. We must strive for safety and for the mental health of those who have witnessed these shootings and those who might commit more of them. The good news is that all kinds of alert organizations, public and private, are trying to come up with meaningful solutions, and no doubt they will on some level or the other.
But the final answer, which could take a long, long time, is pretty much up to nearly all of us helping to rebuild the family in this country, fighting for morale, for growth in goodness and love, restoring certain old norms and getting off the path to civilizational destruction.