As evidenced by President Obama's State of the Union address, the major post-Newtown focus has been on gun regulation. Missing from the discussion of what to do about our epidemic of violence has been the question, what is it about American society, about the state of the family, that keeps our mass murder and homicide rates the highest of any advanced industrialized country -- 5 per 100,000, versus Canada 1.6, France 1.1, Germany 0.8. -- and what can we learn from this discrepancy? Other countries have experienced mass murders; but they are not recurrent as ours are -- more than 30 since Columbine.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, a vast majority of violent crime perpetrators are not mentally ill. So why do so many turn to violence?
An important part of the answer no doubt lies in the fact that American parents are far more stressed than their foreign counterparts. Many work several jobs to make ends meet -- working full time at the federal minimum wage brings in $14,500 a year. The poverty rate in 2011 for children under age 18 was 21.9 percent. Intense financial stress and long absences from home, make it much more difficult for parents to provide the nurturing, guidance, and non-violent discipline children need. This can lead to anger, depression, emotional detachment, and lack of empathy in children. It is even harder for stressed parents to deal with difficult children. Boys who suffer from ADHD and/or Learning Disability are more likely to feel easily frustrated, humiliated, angry, and have less impulse control. They present a challenge to any parent. While most will never commit any significant acts of violence, they are overrepresented among those who do. It is estimated that at least 30% of prison inmates have ADHD, which frequently overlaps with learning disability.
Surely, other advanced countries have children suffering from these conditions, but they and their parents get much more help , both because universal medical coverage usually includes mental health, (in the U.S. many bankruptcy filings are due to huge medical bills) but also because family friendly policies enhance their ability to deal with difficult children. In most developed countries, minimum wages are higher. This is often in addition to special allocations for families with children, free quality pre-school, and day care provided by professionals trained in child development, with cost based on income. Paid parental leave is universal. Some countries provide paid leave in the last month, or months, of pregnancy.
European parents are helped by limits on work hours, and mandatory vacations--usually about four weeks a year. The United States stands alone in not mandating paid vacation days and paid holidays. Americans typically get 11 days off a year, and work approximately 1800 a year versus a European average of approximately 1550. Parents in other countries get to spend much more quality time with their children.
The NRA loves pointing to Switzerland, where every adult male has a gun and homicide rate are very low--1.2. per 100,000. True, but Swiss culture is supportive of families and children. Health care is universal; parents get 14 to 16 weeks of mandated paid parental leave and 28 vacation days. While day care is not as available as it is in some other European countries, earnings are such that a majority of mothers of young children do not have to work outside the home, or can work part time. Extra bonus-- legislation protects children from violent video games.
Here in the U.S. where we have minimal family support, providing easy access to guns, including assault weapons to millions of angry, depressed, desensitized young boys and men is a bit like throwing lit matches into a gasoline tank.