A Tale of Ritalin, Masculinity and Mass Shootings

Incoming NRA president Oliver North recently caused a stir in media circles by blaming, among other things largely unnoticed, the drug Ritalin which is used to treat ADHD in school-age children.  While the rise in the use of Ritalin and the number of school children diagnosed with ADHD over the past decade is certainly a concern, to date there are no studies that indicate that using Ritalin necessarily leads to a propensity to commit a mass shooting, especially in a school setting.  To argue that false correlation would necessarily mean that mass shootings (including those in schools) are likewise on the rise over the past decade as the rise in the use of Ritalin has occurred.

In actuality, the number of mass shootings have not been on the rise, but the number killed may be. The mass shooter is getting more deadly.  Additionally, the frequency between mass shootings has grown shorter in time since 2013.  From 1982 to early 2018 (not counting Santa Fe, Texas), there have been 816 deaths from 98 mass shootings, or 23 deaths per year.  This makes a fatality from a mass shooting one of the rarest forms of firearm-induced mortality.  As a point of comparison, in 2014, 21,386 suicides were attributable to firearms.  In that same year, there were 11,208 homicides attributable to firearms in a non-mass shooting context.

Taken together in conjunction with the rise in the use of Ritalin, one can safely say that it is not a cause of mass shootings by youthful shooters.  In fact, as the use of Ritalin has increased over the past decade, the incidence of violent crime has decreased over that same period.

In fact, Oliver North likely misspoke when he singled out Ritalin and may have been using that drug as a metaphor for something else.  Allow me to explain and North’s more pertinent comment is important here:

The problem that we’ve got is, we’re trying like the dickens to treat the symptom without treating the disease, and the disease in this case isn’t the Second Amendment; the disease is youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence…

There is a competing theory regarding the spate of recent mass shootings.  Tom Nichols profiled men who have committed the worst crimes in recent memory.  Many have these traits in common: social isolation, delusions of grandeur and a sense of perpetual adolescence.  Many have had failed attempts at military service.  In short, they have not matured from being adolescent boys into manhood.  They do not, in Nichols words, define what it means to be a man: responsibility, restraint, self-discipline and “other masculine virtues.”

The competing theory- called “toxic masculinity-” supposes that because we live in a culture that idolizes men with guns (Indiana Jones, James Bond, John Wayne), young boys are socialized to be potential future mass killers.  These idols are all men who get what they want and every woman wants to have sex with them.  They have the respect of their peers and their communities.  But, obviously the mass shooter lacks any of these qualities.  Instead, they think that the world owes them something because they are male.  Hence, the socialized masculinity is “toxic.”  As one writer stated on this issue:

Guns, convey the message of “strength”, manliness and reassurance. They are also deeply rooted not just in America but in the whole world’s society and history. A man with a gun feels like he’s in control and that everybody needs to obey him since he’s the dominant person in the room, a typical sign of toxic masculinity.

Instead of this mindset, it is quite possible that the opposite- the feminization of boys- may be partly responsible.  We are creating a generation of self-important narcissists who live their lives on Instagram and Facebook.  They let the world know of their self-importance one selfie at a time.  Meanwhile, greater than 20 million children are being raised by single mothers and millions more being raised by an abusive or absent father.  Practically every mass shooter studied by Nichols did not have a strong father figure in their life.

Culture and academia are teaching young boys that masculinity is toxic.  Being a boy is something that one must apologize for and they must suppress.  Duke University offered a male privilege awareness seminar where college age boys were taught to change their “outdated” views of masculinity.  Healthier (read: more feminine) alternatives were suggested in their stead.

As the #MeToo movement moved into high gear, sickening males went online outlining their shame and embarrassment… for being male.  What was left unsaid is that Harvey Weinstein and his ilk were not indicative of masculinity, but more a spoiled, entitled brat who never matured.  The problem is not men per se, but that cultural shift that has allowed boys to remain “boys” into adulthood.

Trust me…I have seen this phenomena in the elementary school where I work.  What used to be a brush of the knee and back to play is now an event worthy of a trip to nurse’s office complete with histrionics.  And God forbid there is a scintilla of blood from a paper cut.  We have created a culture where boys are no longer allowed to play out being boys through adolescence where they hopefully then mature into male adulthood.  Whether it is violent video games, the over-prescription of drugs, or the boys “getting in touch with their feminine side,” this writer knows one thing for sure: When boys were allowed to be boys in the traditional sense, lock down and active shooter drills were non-existent.  There was always the crazed gunman involved in a mass shooting, but they were the rarity.  And if they persisted with their adolescent mindset into adulthood, there were other mechanisms that kept those immature tendencies in check.

One thing is certain: Aaron Feis, a football coach at Parkland High School who stepped in front of bullets thus saving lives and paying the ultimate price, was more of a man than David Hogg and Nicholas Cruz could ever hope to be.