Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) wondered aloud Wednesday whether “fatherlessness” is driving young men to get guns and kill lots of innocent people.
“Every time one of these tragedies occurs, I think we, for far too long, fail to look back at the root causes of rampage violence,” Lee said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, referring to Tuesday’s mass shooting at a Texas elementary school that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
“Questions involving things like, why is our culture suddenly producing so many young men who want to murder innocent people?” continued the Utah Republican. “It raises questions like, you know, could things like fatherlessness, the breakdown of families, isolation from civil society or the glorification of violence be contributing factors?”
The idea that mass shooters hail from fatherless homes, and that that is a reason why they turn to gun violence, has been floated for years by conservatives ― and it is simply false. There are no studies that clearly support a connection been fatherlessness and a tendency toward gun violence. And while details are still emerging about the 18-year-old male Texas shooter, the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, last week was carried out by another 18-year-old male who had a mother and a father.
It’s not a big mystery why the United States has so many mass shootings compared to virtually all other countries, and it’s not because of a missing dad. The research is clear: it’s the astronomical number of guns in the United States, paired with some of the weakest controls over who can buy a gun and what kinds of guns you can own.
Lee made his remarks during a confirmation hearing for Steven Dettelbach, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. If confirmed, Dettelbach would be its first permanent director in seven years. The agency has been subject to near-constant attacks from the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress, and as such, has only had one Senate-confirmed director in the past 16 years.
Given the timing of Dettelbach’s hearing, a day after another mass shooting, Lee took the opportunity to criticize gun control groups for responding to the Texas massacre by urging people to pressure lawmakers to do something about gun violence.
It is “outrageous” that groups like the Brady Campaign and Everytown are “attempting to profit” off of the Texas school shooting, Lee said, backing up his claim by reading aloud from an email sent out by Everytown that didn’t sound particularly outrageous: “This crisis will only end if we band together and demand action from our lawmakers. I need you in this fight.”
Lee took issue with a fundraising button at the bottom of the email, asking for help to end gun violence. He then turned to Dettelbach.
“You’re endorsed by Everytown, is that right?” he asked. “Are you willing to disavow their shameless, immediate fundraising off the Texas tragedy just hours after this tragedy occurred?”
Dettelbach, a former federal prosecutor and former U.S. attorney previously confirmed unanimously by the Senate under President Barack Obama, said he hadn’t seen the Everytown email. But he said that politics have “absolutely no place” in law enforcement or in an ATF director’s job.
Soon after, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) erupted at Lee’s complaints of gun control groups urging action after the Texas school massacre.
“With all due respect to my friend from Utah ... I’m getting concerned by hearing a number of people being critical of gun control advocates who are speaking out,” Leahy said, his voice rising as he hit the desk with his fist. “It’s almost a case of blaming the victims and not blaming the person who is able to walk in and buy a weapon that should be used on a war zone, not in a school zone.”
The Vermont senator, who is the longest-serving member of the Senate, said he’s tired of hearing “empty thoughts and prayers and, ‘Oh, isn’t it awful’” from Republicans who remain unwilling to put any real restrictions on guns.
“We’re the only civilized nation on Earth that watches our citizens, our children, gunned down, and we do nothing to prevent it from happening again,” Leahy said. “We’re cowards if we don’t act. Cowards.”