[Michael Cook] Divorce, family break-up an often-ignored common themes among mass-shooters

[Michael Cook] Divorce, family break-up an often-ignored common themes among mass-shooters

Opinion
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[Intellectual Takeout] What turned Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian who murdered 50 people at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week into a mass killer?

VIDEO: [Infographics Show] Why this generation might have more serial killers than ever. [Dec 9, 2018]


We’ll never know for sure. The media has been full of speculation. The suspects include extreme right-wing ideologies, racism, toxic masculinity, resentment of immigrants, first person shooter video games, the internet, bullying, narcissism and readily available high-powered guns. No doubt all of them played a role in poisoning Tarrant’s mind.

But there is one factor which is consistently overlooked – a background of divorce. According to a profile of the killer in the New York Times, Tarrant’s parents split up early in his childhood. It must have made an impact, as his manifesto alludes to “Broken families with soaring divorce rates, that’s if they even bother to get married at all” as a symptom of the decay of Western civilisation.

But divorce is almost never mentioned as a factor in the ever-longer list of mass shootings. After the Columbine massacre by two students, experts from the US Department of Education and the Secret Service published an analysis of school shootings from 1974 to 2000. Although it found that fewer than half of the shooters lived with both biological parents, it overlooked family structure as a contributing factor. This might be understandable – the parents of the Columbine killers were not divorced.

But more than half of the school shooters did appear to come from broken marriages or unconventional backgrounds — surely that is something that requires further investigation.

The link between mass shootings and family structure is not a theme that attracts much attention from social scientists. A 2015 study of European terrorists identified 18 risk factors – none of them related to family background. A 2018 study by an American criminologist of mass shooters and suicide terrorists settled on three factors: suicidal motives and life indifference, perceived victimization, and desires for attention or fame. The author ignored the impact of divorce or family structure.

But family break-up is a feature of most of the shooters. Here are a few of the many over the past few years:

This article continues at [Intellectual Takeout] The Ignored Factor in New Zealand’s Mass Shooting

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