The dangerous men who've made recent headlines locally were once boys who grew to govern their lives with violence.

Last month, Shannon Gooden killed two Burnsville police officers, Matthew Ruge and Paul Elmstrand, and a firefighter, Adam Finseth. He fired dozens of rounds of ammunition, while his girlfriend and children were in the house.

In December, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office charged Matthew Brenneman in the killing of his ex-girlfriend, Danicka Bergeson. Prosecutors allege he murdered Bergeson soon after he was released from jail for assaulting her. And Jaden Trejaun Butcher — at 18 years old, barely a man — was charged this week for his alleged role in a mass shooting in Minneapolis but only after he'd been wounded himself in a separate incident.

Men with guns remain a great societal threat. You can add qualifiers to the conversation, if you'd like. "Dangerous" men with guns. "Violent" men with guns. But any man with a gun could cause harm. And without a platform to teach young men that toughness isn't the foundation of their manhood, some of them will.

But I still have hope for the boys, the ones who may one day become those men, if we can reach them.

As stewards of the world the next generation will inherit, we have abandoned our youth's futures in a multitude of areas. We have not offered them an equitable education experience, disinvesting in our teachers and silencing their firsthand knowledge of what's best for our children. We've ignored climate change. Our unhoused have been left without food and shelter in neighborhoods with three-story homes and stocked refrigerators. But we've also failed to support the development of a full emotional palette for our boys. That's a treacherous oversight that's left destruction in its wake.

My father always tells me when it all changed.

He was a teenager in Milwaukee in the mid-1960s. If there were ever a fight in his neighborhood, people would gather and watch as two young men squared up and threw punches until one of them got the best of the other. He didn't condone the violence, but he appreciated the process. One young man fought another young man. Without weapons.

Everybody lived and went home.

And then, one day, someone brought a knife to a fight. He said those who gathered that day were shocked. They had never imagined that anyone would draw a weapon on another person. It only escalated from there.

Today, the most violent encounters are sometimes broadcast in 4K or through social media channels that only encourage young men to act with rage. You can win or lose a fight on Snapchat and go viral.

And when those young men pick up guns and use them, they endanger all, including themselves. For every parent who has to bury a young man who is the victim of gun violence, another parent has to attempt to understand how a boy whose brain has not yet fully developed may have lost his youth to a terrible choice. Everybody loses.

But those boys learned from their elders, the men with guns. Perhaps we can stop them from mimicking the most dangerous versions of them.

In the 2021 "Be A Man" study by Adam Stanaland, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and public policy at Duke University, men were asked about their "gender knowledge," via questions about home repair, sports and other topics that many men believe they should understand based on strict ideas about gender roles. Those who received low scores were told their limited knowledge on the subjects suggested they were "less manly" than their peers. They then had to put words together from fragments, and the most "aggressive" responses to that exercise in the study were among men ages 18 to 29.

"In those years, as men attempt to find or prove their place in society, their masculine identity may be more fragile," Stanaland told Duke Today.

Without a unified effort to create more outlets for the boys who need them, supply mental health resources and provide a curriculum on alternate ways to resolve their conflicts, they could evolve into volatile men, some without the emotional balance to regulate their actions in contentious moments. And then, they might get guns.

That, however, is the finality of these recent tragedies, not the beginning.

When I was a kid, I aced gym class. I was athletic and those gifts helped me excel socially. But I didn't invest in therapy, as a serious resource, until I was in my late 30s.

Imagine if that concept were reversed. I would love to see a greater interest in perfecting a young man's understanding of his emotions more than his jump shot.

Because this is serious.

The deadly men with guns were once boys who did not know what to do with their anger.