♣ Guest Column by Steven Hart
In the event a mass shooting, the first reaction of the public, as in the case of any tragic loss of human live, is invariably one of unified horror and dismay. Yet, as the days go by, grief fades, and as life resumes its former pattern, one question remains looming in the public mind: Why did this happen? Were this only an isolated instance, perhaps we all could continue on, satisfied with a circumstantial answer. “He was out of his mind!” or “He’s just a really bad guy.” But when the news of mass shootings becomes more and more routine, the localized answers no longer suffice. What we really want to know is “How can we prevent this from happening again?” In our present society, two main answers to the question predominate:
The first solution focuses upon the instrument. In order to stop mass shootings, we must keep guns out of the hands of mass shooters. This solution works in theory, but is very hard to put into practice. Some attempt to achieve this through artificial regulations such as limits on magazine size and mandatory waiting periods, but these do virtually nothing to stop any determined shooter. Others focus on the idea of “universal” background checks. The case of Stephen Paddock (the Las Vegas shooter), however, calls this logic into question, as he showed no foreseeable signs of instability and passed all background checks. Other solutions have been suggested as well, but they all face the same inevitable reality: gun control measures cannot be truly effective at stopping massing shootings in this country without wide-scale disarmament of the American people. This is not only a logistical, political, and constitutional impossibility, but it also works directly against the second answer to our original question.
Rather than focusing on the gun in the hands of the criminal, some choose instead to focus on putting guns in the hands of the potential victims. As these people see it, we may not be able to stop the shooter from firing his first volley, but we certainly can stop him from firing a second. Although this logic may be disturbing to some, it is more pragmatic than many of its opponents are willing to admit. Indeed, once a shooting has begun, it is most often another gun that brings it to an end. This being said, although this solution may be effective on a circumstantial level, it doesn’t offer a truly systematic solution to the problem. Even if we were able to get a gun in every school, church, and public place, (and find able-bodied people to use and fire them) this still would not stop these shootings from happening in the first place.
♣ …the reality is, if the world doesn’t know about Jesus it is our fault.
I want to make it very clear that I am not attempting to summarily dismiss either of these two solutions. Both side’s arguments have their merits, and any policy which could lower the number of deaths from mass shootings in this country is at least worth considering. That being said, both of these plans really only deal with the symptoms of a greater problem, a problem that has its roots in our modern culture. The reality is that 60 years ago, people didn’t just walk into churches in order to murder everyone. This, of course, raises a very interesting question. What has changed in American culture such that people now choose, with increasing frequency, to engage in mass murder?
Before I attempt to answer this question, we must first stop to clarify the topic. People have been murdering each other since the beginning of time. Domestic gun violence has existed as long as have guns, and violent racketeering has existed (and will continue to exist) as long as it has been profitable. These things, evil as they are, have existed in some capacity over virtually all cultures at all times since the advent of gunpowder weapons. [Terrorism, on the other hand, is a more recent phenomena, but not one that is by any means endemic to American culture. Heinous though it may be, it has its roots in politics and ideology, and thus its causes and motivations are relatively easy to track and understand.]
♣ A society without God is a society without hope, and a society without hope will inevitably become filled with bitterness and misery.
The shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, alongside many others, however, are of an entirely different phenomenon. In these cases, we have an individual murdering a large amount of people with no clearly identifiable personal or ideological motivation, other than perhaps a generic ire against society. In common language, they are just ordinary people who appear to have “snapped.” Although it is true that these shootings constitute only a tiny fraction of overall gun violence, these acts often appear to us the most heinous, as the victims are chosen not on the basis of any individual offense, but rather their membership in some greater segment of American society.
With this in mind, we can now consider the heart of the question: What has changed about American society, such that these shootings now occur? There are a lot of possible causes I could point to – social isolation, bitterness, entitlement, etc. – but I think, for the Christian, the answer can be summed up with a simple statement: we live in a society that has forgotten God. Some may reject this as mere truism, but I deeply believe this to be the heart of the matter. A society without God is a society without hope, and a society without hope will inevitably become filled with bitterness and misery. I am afraid that so long as society drifts away from the church, shootings like these will only become more and more commonplace. Gun control and self-defense measures might be able to help, some, but ultimately, they are nothing more than painkillers. What we are dealing with is a cancer.
♣ For if we save lives on this earth only for them to perish in the next life, what have we accomplished?
So, what can we, as Christians, do about mass shootings? It is easy to blame the world around us, (“if only they knew better”) but the reality is, if the world doesn’t know about Jesus it is our fault. It is our job to let the world know and experience the love of Christ. So long as the Church sits on the sidelines, entering the public sphere to make its voice heard only on issues of petty politics, societal degradation will continue. If we wish to curb the tide of nihilism in our society, we must get out and fight! But we cannot fight bitterness and despair with anger and self-righteousness. Our weapon against the forces of evil is the love of Christ and the truth of his Gospel. If you are sickened by this tragic loss of life, the best thing you can do is love your neighbor and share the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For if we save lives on this earth only for them to perish in the next life, what have we accomplished? For this reason, I urge you all, brothers and sisters, to live and preach the gospel with ever greater fervor, and when tragedy strikes, let your love and faith shine all the more.