September 17, 2004
The expiration this week of a ten year ban on assault weapons has kicked up a debate on American crime rates and how to cut them.
Fighting crime has become a way of life for Americans. We build more prisons. We enact new tougher laws with mandatory sentencing. We hire more police, put gates around our communities, and install metal detectors in our schools. And we tell the unrepentant criminal, “Three strikes, you’re out.”
Many of us can remember a time when life in America was safer. In 1960 your risk of being a victim of crime in the United States was 1.89%, and of a violent crime 0.161%. In 1996 nearly forty years later, your risk of being a crime victim was 5.079%, and of a violent crime 0.634%.
The United States Crime Index Rates Per 100,000 Inhabitants went from 1,887.2 in 1960 to 5,897.8 in 1996. By 1996 the crime rate was 313% the 1960 crime rate. Crime in the United States accounts for more death, injuries and loss of property than all Natural Disasters combined.
It’s tempting to think of guns and gates and laws in an effort to protect ourselves and our families from crime. But there is a better way.
We each hold the key to the primary method of cutting crime. Rather than dealing with the aftermath of crime and relying on punishment to deter, this method cuts crime off at the very beginning where it starts, in the heart and soul of a young person who needs guidance to keep him or her on the path to success.
The method? The key? Our families and our fathers.
In his book Life Without Father David Popenoe explains another statistical trend that has followed the trend in crime through the past forty years:
The decline of fatherhood is one of the most basic, unexpected and extraordinary trends of our time. Its dimensions can be captured in a single statistic: In just three decades, between 1960 and 1990, the percentage of children living apart from their biological fathers more than doubled, from 17 percent to 36 percent. By the turn of the century, nearly 50 percent of American children may be going to sleep each evening without being able to say good night to their dads.
Why does this matter? The subject of families may seem a private matter that we should back away from when looking for the solutions to our crime problems and creating public policy. But Popenoe says otherwise.
[T]he decline of fatherhood is a major force behind many of the most disturbing problems that plague American society: crime; premature sexuality and out-of-wedlock births to teenagers; deteriorating educational achievement; depression, substance abuse and alienation among adolescents; and the growing number of women and children in poverty.
What about the young people you know? Do you see their hearts aching for a strong and healthy relationship with their fathers? Do you see their eyes light up at the sight of dad in the audience at their band concert, of dad in the stands at their football games? Statistics speak to the issue. But our children and their hearts prove the truth. Dads count.
As we hear politicians talk tough on crime, we must listen for the cures they offer us. And at the top of their list, we need to expect a plan to strengthen families by helping mothers and fathers raise children inside of healthy marriages. This is good for children, good for parents and, most of all, good for America.
Cutting crime at the most basic level has less to do with subtracting guns and adding prisons. And it has everything to do with how we raise our children.
If we want children to walk away from a life of crime, we would do well to make sure our fathers are leading the way.
THE POWER OF A FATHER
June 18, 2004: Me Jane, You Tarzan
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