Lack of Manliness Is Real Culprit Behind Mass Shootings


Pundits resort to “gun control” and racial red herrings to avoid diagnosing the real motivations of mass killers like Chris Harper-Mercer, the shooter at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College.

Gun control advocates are right to point out that we cannot predict who will carry out a mass shooting, but they are utterly off base when they suggest that passing a few laws will keep guns out of the hands of criminals. If anything, more laws will merely discourage law-abiding citizens from arming themselves and encourage those who find guns illegally to flout the law in other ways. Prohibition should remind us that illegal does not mean unavailable.

The best response to such tragedies is to understand the motivations behind them -- and encourage angry young men to channel their frustration into healthier pursuits. Fulton Sheen wrote that "as the goal and purpose of life is lost, men become violent." Without a solid foundation -- a cultural and moral exemplar of what it means to be a self-restrained, responsible man -- many young men grow up with a vacuum for their basic male instincts. This leads the socially distressed to act out, and puts us all in danger.

If, as a society, we relearn how to encourage boys to grow into responsible men, we might stand a fighting chance at addressing the root anguish and anger behind these attacks -- and have better families and healthier relationships as a result.

The Revenge of the Lost Boys

What drives a young man to pick up a gun and target the innocent, and how does he see himself in that moment of horror? Is he crazy, just lashing out -- or does he see himself as a hero, deprived of acceptance by those around him, and finally able to give his life meaning by becoming a gruesome sort of martyr?

“Western societies are producing more and more of these Lost Boys, the fail-to-launch young men who carry weighty social grudges,” wrote The Federalist’s Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, and an adjunct professor in the Harvard Extension School. Nichols marveled at “the combination of immaturity and grandiosity among these young males.”

Immaturity and grandiosity -- could two other words better describe a certain cultural image of the unrestrained American male? Seth Rogen, in all his clumsy glory, may seem like a couch potato, but he has a sweet side and maybe a trick up his sleeve. While films often make a point to show women as impressive and put together, men do not see the same treatment.

Fiction films portray grandiose heroes and villains, and internet subcultures breed opportunities for the men who closely resemble the sad boys Seth Rogen impersonates to connect with larger-than-life heroes like Leonidas or Aragorn. Notorious mass murderer Timothy McVeigh thought of himself as a modern Paul Revere.

Such grandiose notions are far from bad -- who doesn’t want to be Aragorn? -- but given the lack of a strong moral code, the distance between ideal and reality can make the socially unstable more likely to lash out.