But the unifying problem—the one that is missing from this discourse—is gender, the fact that nearly without exception violent crimes and mass murders are committed by men.
Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman has called for a national commission on mass violence saying we need to better understand the causes in order to prevent it and President Obama has promised to lead a national effort bringing together police, parents and educators.
But the starting point in any investigation of extreme violence needs to begin with the Y chromosome, an examination of how aberrant behavior in men can become lethal and an understanding of how violence is cultivated and even glorified when it suits the needs of the state.
The problem of anti-social masculinity must be taken seriously. What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a horror but it was far from an isolated event. Men have entered schools and killed children before. Shooting them, stabbing them, and in the case of the Beslen school siege in Russia taking them as political hostages before murdering one hundred and fifty-six of them. In July of this year a Norwegian man killed ninety-two teenagers and young adults at a youth camp in Utoya.
Mass murder is not strictly an American problem. But the numbers are still staggering.
Every year in this country three thousand women are murdered by their intimate partners. By the end of this year another one million physical assaults, rapes, and murders will have been committed by men; against other men, against women and against children.
Boys and men are uniquely at a risk for committing acts of extreme brutality. The link between gender and violence should be examined instead of seen as an inevitable, unsolvable, mystery, or a problem that might be fixed if a particular kind of weapon is taken away.
A system of screening that could identify potential problems in boys early enough to help them and to save the lives of others would go a long way, as would teaching empathy in schools and using common sense about exposing children to attitudes and images that equate power and masculinity with violence and killing.
Without an serious, scientific examination of the links between gender and violence, the price of men's biological and cultural burdens will continue to be paid in children’s blood.