It’s not about the guns, it’s all about the parenting

Another day, another mass shooting in the US. Add Charleston to the list. Another public lamentation from Barack Obama. Blame the NRA. Blame “gun culture”. Blame the politicians. Blame the political system. Blame the guns.

I am not a social psychologist busy faking data for my next paper and my next television appearance. But I do consider myself a student of human behaviour. One thing that is certain and common about these mass killers, whether in the US or in the Middle East or in Mexico, is that all the killers have been behaviourally “primed”. The priming can be called corruption or radicalisation or perversion or brain-washing or imprinting, but it is always the creation of a state of mind which leads to a particular behaviour.

It is not (primarily) about the killers’ genetic make-ups. It is not about the guns. It is about behaviour. And the behaviour is (primarily) a consequence of nurture not nature. It is about the bringing-up of children and young people who do not reach mental maturity till they are 25. It is about the behaviour of young humans whose critical abilities and ability to make judgements continues to develop long after their teenage years. It is about parenting in the main. It is about societies which allow parents to abandon their responsibilities (and their liabilities) before the pre-frontal cortex of their children and their consequent ability to exercise judgement has been fully developed.

So when I hear about radicalised teenagers running off to ISIS or a 21 year-old massacring people in a church in Charleston, I don’t blame the guns. I blame the parents who leave vacuums to be filled by radical preachers. I blame parents who have inculcated in their children the view that killing some particular group of people is not just acceptable, but desirable.

I blame the killers first. But then I blame their parents who brought them up, and third, the societies which encourage these parents to cease parenting early. I blame “children’s rights” movements which argue for allowing greater autonomy and giving more “power” to children whose judgement and critical abilities are very far from fully developed. Where inculcating discipline in children is considered oppressive, where parents are given the right to brainwash their children into any religion they choose but have no duty to develop any sense of morals or ethics. Where parents abrogate their responsibilities to teachers or the State and where teachers are hamstrung by regulations.

It’s not about the guns. It’s all about behaviour. It’s all about the parenting. Even if there is a small genetic component, it is still about the parents.

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