I wrote most of the following in 2015, several mass shootings ago. By in large, my arguments still apply to the cultural debate taking place after the tragedy in Las Vegas.
If I had my preference, I would prefer to live in a world without guns. I absolutely hate the fact that when I walk out the door to go to the movies or McDonalds or to my church or a concert, that I am doing what others have done when they lost their lives to a deranged, evil person (you can be both) with a gun.
While serving for a year in inner-city London as a pastor-in-training, the neighborhood where I lived witnessed robberies, muggings, even a stabbing – but no one died from a gunshot wound because no one could legally obtain a gun. There was tragically that year (1987) a mass shooting in the village of Hungerford where 16 lost their lives, but it took nine more years before England saw another such event.
There are lots of things I’d prefer in life. I’d prefer a lot more leisure time. I’d prefer that chocolate chip cookies be good for me. And that my Vikings not find new ways to break my heart season after season. But a wise person knows the world he lives in, and deals accordingly.
So here’s a reality: America is not England. Guns purchased our freedom from England, and guns secured the settlement of our nation, and 310 million guns remain in citizens’ possession to this day as a symbol and sign of our freedom. Culturally speaking – and practically speaking – guns are going nowhere. And the suggestion that the government by fiat or force should transform America into England is unrealistic, if not chilling in what it imagines our government would have to do to get there.
This is why the instinctive reflex to gun violence to go after the gun is so misleading. The gun control policy changes that so many harp on do not fit our context, like a Los Angeles politician outlawing sunshine to thwart skin cancer. Or banishing cars from the road to eliminate drunk driving deaths.
Gun-law tweaking may represent at best 10% of policy-making that would seriously make a dent in the culture of violence that rages around us. By all means, let’s respond to Las Vegas by banning bump stocks. Sure, go ahead and tighten background checks. Keep AK-47s, tanks, and air-craft carriers out of civilian hands. Prosecute those who provide guns to criminals. As a non-gun owner (so far), I don’t want it to be an easy thing for just anyone to get a gun, and have no problem with these measures. But honestly, most gun control laws passed so far are mere window dressing that feel good and accomplish little.
Gun-law tweaking may represent at best 10% of policy-making that would seriously make a dent in the culture of violence that rages around us.
When I lived in Connecticut, less than an hour from my house was Sandy Hook, where 26 elementary school aged children were slaughtered by a madman. If all the stringent laws Connecticut passed after Sandy Hook somehow had been put on the books prior to that awful day, the killings would not have been prevented. Chicago has in place some of the toughest gun laws in the country, yet remains a Hunger Games battlefield month after month.
I would prefer that a broken, unstable person not have access to a gun, but if dealing with the gun is not a viable solution, then we have one place to go to work on for our policy solutions – the broken, unstable person. And that is the other commonality in most of the mass shootings that occur (though the evil or pathology behind Stephen Paddock still – as of this writing – remains a mystery.)
I would suggest that there are a good half-dozen action items that could be pursued right now to begin to diminish these outbreaks, some that would have immediate impact, and others that would take considerably more time but be profoundly effective.
- Do as an Oregon sheriff once did after a mass shooting in his community and grant as little publicity as possible to the killer. The mentally unstable person feeds off the perceived celebrity status granted by the media in these acts. A culture-wide decision to siphon off that publicity could at least begin to drain the swamp of a sick person’s mind from such thoughts.
- Focus the bulk of our money and attention on providing appropriate care and intervention for those struggling with mental illness. Since parents and family members are usually the first line of defense when it comes to recognizing symptoms of trouble, provide training and resources to equip them in how to help their loved ones.
- Since schools, churches, and other community groups provide a secondary safety net, assist them in their ability to offer support and resources.
- Stop rolling your eyes when pastors such as myself suggest that one of the most effective ways to diminish mental illness and antisocial behavior is to strengthen the classical notion of family. Guns are not nearly as destructive to the inner city as is fatherlessness and other toxic home environments.
- Recognize the difference between biological mental illness (which should be treated medically) and psycho-spiritual mental illness that requires more than a pill to remove. The very last verse of the Old Testament warns us that the breakdown of family, faith, and morals leads to a “curse” on a society. Exhibit A is surely America in 2017. The philosopher Voltaire observed that even if there were no God, we would have to invent him, for people tend to behave better when they believe that they will one day have to give an account of their lives to their Creator.
- Recognize the world we live in – not the world we prefer – then take appropriate measures to protect yourself and your community. Gun-free zones sound so cheery when diagrammed on an Ivy-League classroom chalkboard. Treaties with nuclear-obsessed Ayatollahs may seem like a progressively proper way to convince them to step across from the ‘wrong side of history’ and join you in your more enlightened state. But despite all our technological and cultural advances, the human heart remains stubbornly unchanged. And chillingly barbaric.