Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 
Creating Violent Monsters
The Deadly Effects of Parental Irresponsibility

By David G. Young

WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 1999 --  

In the two weeks since the shootings at Columbine High School, countless zealots have come out of the woodwork to pin the blame for the tragedy their favorite boogeymen. The laundry list of scapegoats so far includes the Internet, guns, video games, rock and roll music, Hollywood movies and even the absence of Bibles in classrooms. That fanatics use the killings to further their agendas should not be surprising. What is truly frightening, however, is that the public is actually starting to believe some of these harebrained claims.

In a Gallup poll conducted last week, 64 percent of Americans surveyed blamed the Internet at least moderately for the killings, while 79 percent blamed the availability of guns and 79 percent blamed TV, music and the movies.1 What utter nonsense!

Blame for the massacre belongs to the teenage killers and their parents. Period. It belongs to the teenagers because they pulled the triggers, and to the parents because they created the killers. Anybody who denies this is completely out of touch with reality. Anybody who acknowledges it while focussing on some peripheral cause is guilty of shamefully manipulating a tragedy.

That people can even consider focussing on guns, violent movies, and all that other nonsense in the face of such dumbfounding parental irresponsibility is outrageous. For Pete's sake, the police found a shotgun barrel and bomb-making supplies in plain view in one of the killer's rooms, as well as the garage. The evil plans of the teenagers were far from secret; they were advertised around the world on the Internet. The parents should have known. The parents should have stopped it.

Of course the parents are to blame, and of course they should be punished. They were ultimately responsible for raising their children from birth and shaping them into who they became. They created two hideous monsters, and then unleashed them upon the world with terrifying results. If Americans can be held liable when their pit bull gets loose and bites a stranger, then they should certainly be held liable if a far more dangerous creature escapes from their house to kill people.

If American law is limited in its ability to prosecute parents for the crimes of their children, then it must be changed. Juvenile courts already recognize that children should not be held as responsible for their actions as adults. To the extent that they are not, the parents should face the balance of the responsibility. Even though one of the children in this case was over 18, he was still living as a dependent in his parents' home. This makes him just as much their responsibility, in my view, as if he were any other age.

Unfortunately, punishing parents for the atrocities of their children will do very little to combat this sort of thing in the future. Few parents who create such hideous offspring are tuned-in enough to realize they are in legal jeopardy. This doesn't matter. Punishing the parents has nothing to do with prevention, and everything to do with justice.

If people truly seek to prevent such horrors from happening in the future, they must abandon their foolishness and forget all the easy answers. America's firearm controls are much tighter than in the past, yet suburban school shootings have never occurred with greater frequency. In the United Kingdom, where private handgun ownership is virtually banned, 16 kindergartners and a teacher were killed in a school shooting in 1996.2 Even if America were to follow the UK's example with a complete firearms ban, it would do nothing to stop the deadly homemade bombs that were used at Columbine High School, as well as in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Restrictions on the Internet will accomplish nothing. Knowledge of how to make and use explosives has been part of America's rural culture almost forever, and documentation on how to do it has been in public libraries for at least a century.

To even consider putting legal limits on violence in video games, television and the movies is to deny the history of our culture. Violent shootouts in cowboy movies and toy guns have been around for generations. Modern games are simply more sophisticated. Zealots like to mention that Eric Harris, one of the killers, was an avid player of the video game Doom. Is this supposed to be a surprise? Doom is far from obscure—millions of teenage boys have played with absolutely no ill effects. The game is so popular that it would be newsworthy only if Harris had never played it.

Meanwhile, proposals for regulation of rock-and-roll music—long a favorite scapegoat of the gray-haired crowd—is so preposterous that it does not even merit further comment.

Parents who are concerned about the safety of their children should forget these foolish campaigns and instead simply focus their energies on raising decent kids. This won't stop their neighbors from raising violent monsters, but perhaps it will set an example for others to one-day follow.

This isn't a quick and easy answer. It's not immediately satisfying. But the culture of quick and easy satisfaction has been part of the lives of parents for far too long. Parenting has become almost devoid of responsibility. Parents throw their kids in daycare for strangers to raise. When their children get older, parents expect government and society to protect them from the evils of the world so they won't have to be bothered. It's always somebody else's responsibility, never theirs. And then, when their children become monsters, we're supposed to be surprised.

Related Web Column:

Take Care of Your Own Kids, September 9, 1997


  1. Gallup News Service, Public Views Littleton Tragedy As Sign Of Deeper Problems In Country, April 23, 1999
  2. The Washington Post, World Blames Shootings On Lax U.S. Gun Laws, April 22, 1999