Baloney data detective: Wilcox school shooters edition

Another day, another Brad Wilcox really? moment.

This just in from W. Bradford Wilcox, writing in National Review Online:

Another shooting, another son of divorce. From Adam Lanza, who killed 26 children and adults a year ago at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., to Karl Pierson, who shot a teenage girl and killed himself this past Friday at Arapahoe High in Centennial, Colo., one common and largely unremarked thread tying together most of the school shooters that have struck the nation in the last year is that they came from homes marked by divorce or an absent father. From shootings at MIT (i.e., the Tsarnaev brothers) to the University of Central Florida to the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., nearly every shooting over the last year in Wikipedia’s “list of U.S. school attacks” involved a young man whose parents divorced or never married in the first place.

That Wikipedia “list of U.S. school attacks” includes (as of this moment) all of nine school attacks in the last year from Sandy Hook to the present. Oddly, this does include the Tsarnaev brothers, who after allegedly blowing up the Boston Marathon also allegedly shot a security officer at MIT — apparently enough to get them on the Wikipedia list of school attacks. And yes, their parents did divorce — after they were 18 years old. Also on the list, one shooting that resulted from a fight between two acquaintances (parents’ marital status unknown); and a guy with serious mental health problems whose mother, who had schizophrenia, apparently was never married to his father. And in the latest shooting, in Arapahoe, the perpetrator’s parents were divorced.

What a minute, though. I know it’s crazy to nitpick something this ridiculous, but: why “school” shooters, instead of rampage killers in general? Could it be because recent rampage killers James HolmesJared Lee Loughner, and Jiverly Wong — the three worst rampage killers in the U.S. since April 2009 — and Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, all had married parents? Maybe divorce makes people shoot up schools specifically. Interesting!

Wait another minute.

That Arapahoe guy was described as a “dedicated, bright student from a religious family that attends Bible study meetings.” The Tsarnaevs also “turned to religion with mounting fervor” before becoming school shooters. The shooter who attacked Santa Monica College earlier this year reportedly attended Sunday school as a child. Of course, Newton shooter Adam Lanza attended Catholic school at the church where the family were parishioners. Excluding one shooting in which no one was killed except the perpetrator, and the one that was really just a school fight, that’s 4 out of 7 with a religious connection. Of course, since I haven’t ruled out a religious background in the others, that puts the link somewhere between 4/7 and 7/7, or “up to 100%.”

I won’t jump to conclusions from such sketchy data — who do you think I am, Brad Wilcox? — but I think we have enough data now to at least raise the hypothesis that religion causes divorce and school shootings (but not rampage killings in general).

7 thoughts on “Baloney data detective: Wilcox school shooters edition

  1. It is as good or as bad a claim as the following (neither of which has any proof):

    “Universal, public, early childhood education: Good for children, reduces economic inequality, equalizes opportunities, maximizes public investment in human capacities, reduces gender inequality, and maybe even helps break the grip of hyper-parenting.”


    1. Mot of the comments and references in the articles are not correct; the summary reference is:
      James Alan Fox and Monica J. DeLateur
      Mass Shootings in America: Moving Beyond Newtown
      Homicide Studies published online 18 December 2013

      The authors show that the number of incidents have been approximately 25, and victims have been just less than or about 100 in a period between 1976 and 2011. This is in between 0.5-0.7% of total homicides in US. 62% of the offenders have been white and 33% has been black. The majority of offenders have been between the age of 21-40. Almost every myth about mass shooting (we can prevent them by mental health care, or assault gun weapon ban or by monitoring the offenders) has been considered and proved wrong.

      The school attack article of Wikipedia should not have been referred to here because it is awful.

      As expected, the authors do not consider divorced parents, which is by itself an awful measure. However, I give you a prediction: 50% of the offenders have divorced parents and the percentage has not changed in 1976-2011.


  2. My parents are divorced and i haven’t shot anyone. Who thinks of this stuff?
    The real problem is a lack of disciplinary action taken by parents during the children’s upbringing, and in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers, jihadist indoctrination by their mother.


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