A Common Factor in School Shootings – An Opinion in New York Times


It has been 10 days since the horrific shooting of children at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas school in Florida. In an act that defies words, a 19 year old young man killed 17 children and wounded many others. This once again brings to conscious memory other equally heinous shootings in schools all over America.

No one understands why teenagers in America, even well behaved teenagers, become mass killers of their own kind. Naturally, the first impulse is to take away the means of killing – guns. Not pistols but assault rifles like the AR-15 the killer teenager in Florida used. Outlawing such assault rifles, at least preventing teenagers or mentally unstable people from owing them, does seem rational & logical. After all, if killers like the Florida 19-year old don’t have assault rifles, they won’t be able to kill so many so effortlessly. And gun ownership is a common factor in all these shootings in schools.

But there hasn’t been any discussion on American Television about a deeper common factor in all school shootings. We specify “Television” because we found one discussion about it in a New York Times Op-ed.  Michael Ian Black, a father, a comedian, actor and author, wrote in his NYT opinion:

  • “We will probably never understand why any one young man decides to end the lives of others. But we can see at least one pattern and that pattern is glaringly obvious. It’s boys.”

And he added succinctly & tragically:

  • America’s boys are broken. And it’s killing us.”

Mr. Black is not alone in speaking out about what American society is doing to boys in America. Others have written about how boys are being left behind, both emotionally & materially. And the biggest tragedy is that no one in the immediate environment of affected boys understands or cares. A large, very large, number of young boys in America don’t have fathers they can trust or talk to without getting a lecture or yelling. And a large number of young boys don’t even have fathers. 

This gets really bad when boys become men in age but not in functional or material capability. Such young men, as Mr. Black writes, have only two choices – “withdrawal or rage“. And in the case of Nicolas Cruz, the 19-year shooter in Florida, it was both.

We forget that a 14-16 year old boy used to be considered a man not that long ago; a man who was taught to be proud of strength, independence. Aggression was a laudatory attribute of those young men. That is radically different today. A 14-16 year old young man is not at all independent today; he is subject to orders from numerous adults most of whom have no time for him. As Mr. Black writes in his article:

  • “Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped“.

The end result is, as Mr. Black writes:

  • “We don’t know how to be, and we’re terrified.”

And a few of these trapped, terrified young men withdraw from societal integration and, in an outburst of cold rage, kill wantonly.

What makes Mr. Black’s article so moving is his description of the connection between him and his son:

  • “I believe in boys. I believe in my son. Sometimes, though, I see him, 16 years old, swallowing his frustration, burying his worry, stomping up the stairs without telling us what’s wrong, and I want to show him what it looks like to be vulnerable and open but I can’t.”

What is needed in America is a Civil Rights Movement for boys and men. Boys have a fundamental human right to respect, to a positive environment that builds up their self esteem for qualities that are intrinsic to boys and men.

It won’t happen until men who have the megaphone on Television & major print media start talking about civil rights for boys. Solitary voices are doing so like Michael Ian Black in his op-ed in the New York Times. That is nice but hopelessly insufficient.

What we need to see from the New York Times is a detailed front page story about teenage boys & young men all over America and their inner helplessness & rage. What we need to see, at least as a beginning, is TV anchors inviting Mr. Michael Black to address this problem on their TV shows.

Which Network and which Male anchor will do so? Hardly any, we fear. 



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