By JAY AMBROSE — The killings in Chicago are easing up, thanks to special cop programs. That was the good news from The New York Times recently, although then, not many days later, there was another spate of deadly shootings, telling us that even though law enforcement efforts matter, lots of other things matter, too.
I am not talking about gun control. Though better background checks would make sense, the crucial facts are that there are some 300 million guns in the nation, very few criminals purchase guns from retail outlets and lessening the flow of some tributaries is not going to keep people from drowning in that ocean.
In the end, the issue is not gun control, but violence control. At the margins, that means we must have better, though insistently fair and cautious, means of locating and tethering the mentally disturbed who show up in schools or movie theaters to wreak their horror. More fundamentally, it means we must get at the root causes of gang and other criminal killings that take far more lives a year than the sporadic mass shootings. That means serious focus on fatherless homes.
I do not say solutions here are easily found, but I do say it is obvious that we have entered a period of egregious excess in fatherless homes and that out of this comes social dissolution that includes violent crime. The statistics tell us that 72 percent of adolescent murderers come from fatherless homes and that there are strong ties as well with other crimes, poverty, dropping out of school and psychiatric problems.
After the gun slaying of a 15-year-old Chicago girl who marched in a band at his inauguration, President Barack Obama gave a speech in that city, saying that nothing "would be more important for us reducing violence than strong, stable families -- which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood."
Recently, the Urban Institute, a liberal organization, joined conservative voices saying how destructive to blacks the rise in the number of fatherless homes has been. The organization referred to statesman and scholar Daniel Patrick Moynihan, himself a liberal who thought as powerfully as he cared. He worried in 1965 about the impact of 23 percent of black children living in fatherless homes. Today the figure is 73 percent, but this issue cuts across race lines. The national average is now 41 percent.
Answers? I don't think they reside in government programs, although governments at all levels must be careful not to reward fatherless homes with easier access to welfare than those with fathers in them. It seems to me one thing we do is look at how we got where we are ideologically, in our popular culture and in other ways, and fight back on behalf of marriage through the smartest, toughest debate and leadership both left and right can manage.
Obviously, we recognize along the way that some mothers manage their fatherless homes with extraordinary skill that produces sterling citizens and that there are other factors fostering violence besides this one. That brings us back to Chicago making strides toward fewer shootings with a better police program. Strategic police work, such as sending massive manpower into troubled neighborhoods, can cut down on crime of all kinds and incarceration rates that are the highest in the world.
All of us, including the most feverish in the gun-control crowd, should understand, too, that crime is connected to demographics and that, when the percentage of young men began to decline as baby boomers grew older, crime went down. Gun homicides have dropped dramatically since the mid-1990s, the Pew Research Center organization notes, and we should be happy about that even as we seek a society much, much less violent that what we now have.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. Email SpeaktoJay@aol.com.)