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Are Fatherlessness and Gun Violence Correlated? Here’s What The Data Suggest

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After the heinous act against humanity at Uvalde leaving 21 dead, political voices looked for a root cause to allocate blame. Such is per usual after mass shootings, revealing the somewhat robotic nature of politics in America.

The same narratives were blown around among the camps. Progressives exclaimed the ease-of-access to guns is –and always was– the primary cause. Conservatives note cinching down on 2nd Amendment rights wouldn’t have prevented the shooting in the first place.

Texas’ governor drew attention to Chicago, a blue city with high gun violence and strict firearm laws. 228 people have been killed in the city so far in this year, equaling 45 people killed a month.

This time, a line of logic circulated among conservatives that’s a little more nuanced than the repeated “It’s good versus evil”. There’s no doubt mass shootings are indicative of a fight far greater than ourselves, but often this rhetoric is the extent of the argument.

Rather, this time conservative voices pointed to fatherlessness. Instead of infringing on the law-abiding American’s 2nd Amendment rights, conservatives postulated addressing the thousands of broken families in The United States would offer a more lasting solution and hopefully less dead children. Many op-eds were published about the topic following the wake of Uvalde. But before investigating the relationship between fatherlessness and gun violence in America, the root cause of the absentee fathers should be sought.

Out of wedlock births have been on a steady rise since the 1960s. Before 1965, less than 10% of the nations births were outside the union of marriage. By 2016, that figure soared to an estimated 40% and hovers around that figure now, according to a 2020 report by the Center for Disease Control.

What causes the out of wedlock births? Economists of the past suggest the increase is linked to welfare programs. The Hoover Institution fellow and Walter E. Williams reported on survey data in a column, “Using 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data, Anne Hill and June O’Neill found that a 50 percent increase in the monthly value of welfare benefits led to a 43 percent increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births.

Which, makes sense. If a father isn’t needed in the home to bring in the monthly income there’s less cost associated with having a child out-of-wedlock. By history, women wouldn’t dare to conceive a child without guarantee they would be cared for. This would, in effect, leave them stranded with a child to feed and no means to do so. However, this cost doesn’t dissipate. It’s offloaded to the child, manifested into further disparities down the road. An increased likelihood for incarceration and lower socioeconomic status, for example.

The pernicious nature of out-of-wedlock births is cyclical. Children born outside marriage are more likely to have their own offspring outside marriage. The costs parents who have children out-of-wedlock avoid –by the help of welfare programs– are offloaded to their children’s children. Costs must be allocated somewhere, as it is with all things.

Thomas Sowell, also of The Hoover Institution, raises similar points, “You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization — including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain — without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large.

A couple can bear children while unmarried whilst the father is still in the home. If this were the prevailing circumstance, out of wedlock births wouldn’t correlate with fatherlessness per se. But this Utopian thinking. According to Pew Research Center, over half of unmarried parents were single moms in 2017. In a 2019 report, The Center quoted, “For decades, the share of U.S. children living with a single parent has been rising, accompanied by a decline in marriage rates and a rise in births outside of marriage. A new Pew Research Center study of 130 countries and territories shows that the U.S. has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households.

It is undeniable out-of-wedlock births are associated with single parent homes, therefore fatherlessness.

And fatherlessness begets violence, according to criminologists Dr. Micheal Gottfredson and Dr. Travis Hirschi who state in their book A General Theory of Crime, “such family measures as the percentage of the population divorced, the percentage of households headed by women, and the percentage of unattached individuals in the community are among the most powerful predictors of crime rates.

Dr. Wade Mackey and colleagues found similar data. In their 2003 publication The Presence of Fathers in Attenuating Young Male Violence, “Data analyzed across the U.S. indicate that father absence, rather than poverty, was a strong predictor of young men’s violent behavior. Predictions of violent crime rates based on the level of out-of-wedlock births from the prior generation were superior to predictions that were based on adult violent crime rates and levels of out-of-wedlock births from the same time frame.” they say.

It’s tempting to pin gun access as the prevailing cause for gun violence and mass shootings, like the one transpired in Uvalde. Though, even if gun access is somewhat causal, fatherlessness makes up an overwhelming majority of the cause.

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