It was heart-breaking news: on Sunday 5 November 2017, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, was hit with a mass shooting. Devin Kelley, age 26, with a history of violence and mental health issues, stormed into the church. Clad in black, carrying a military-style rifle, and wearing a ballistic vest on his chest, Kelley fired at the congregation indiscriminately and at close range. By the time he was done, 26 people were dead, with ages ranging from 5 to 72. Among the dead was the 14 year old daughter of the pastor. Kelley later committed suicide after being attacked by a gun owner.
It is the grimmest of role calls. Kelley’s shooting spree comes on the heals of the Las Vegas attack on 1 October 2017, where 64 year old Stephen Paddock killed 64 people during a concert. Omar Mateen, age 29, murdered 49 people in a gay night club in Orlando, Florida on 12 June 2016. There was the attack on Virginia Tech by a Korean migrant named Cho Seung Hui, age 23, on 16 April 2007; Cho managed to kill 32 students/teachers before he died.
Though not the highest death toll, the Newtown Connecticut massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School of 14 December 2012 was the particularly disturbing. Twenty year old Adam Lanza, after killing his own mother, went about shooting teachers and pupils alike. The final toll was 27 dead, mostly children. This event, just before Christmas, greatly shook America. The school was later torn down and rebuilt.
The United States has the distinction of having the highest rate of gun ownership in the world: 88 guns per 100 people, or around 270 million guns in circulation. Of interest, Switzerland (45+ per 100), Finland (45+ per 100), and Sweden (20+ per 100) are among the top ten nations with the highest gun ownership.
Unfortunately, the USA also has the highest rate of mass shootings and it appears to be increasing. Of the top 30 worse shootings since 1949, 18 of them have been in the last 10 years. For our purposes, a ‘mass shooting’ involves the following:
1. Four or more people are killed;
2. The people are randomly chosen in the same place and time;
3. Shooting is done in public: a place of employment, school, or a church
By that definition, from 1 January to 5 November 2017, there has been 307 mass shootings in the United States or virtually 1 shooting per day. In 70% of the incidents, the shooter dies, either by suicide or felled by others.
Predictably, after every high profile, high-casualty mass shooting, there are calls for ‘more gun control.’ Before we even touch that topic, here are some other things to consider. Anders Behring Brevik, 32, on 22 July 2011 shot and killed 77 people in Norway. Martin Bryant, age 28, murdered by gunshot 35 people at Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia on 28-29 April 1996. And one of the most horrifying mass murders in recent days did not involve a gun at all: Lahouajej Bouhlel Mohammad Salmene, age 31, mowed down 86 people in a lorry, with 458 injured, in a Bastille Day rampage at Nice, France in 2016.
So mass murder by gunshot is not only an American phenomena, of which it constitutes less than 1/2 of 1 percent of all annual gun deaths. Half of US gun deaths are suicide.
Why does America have this problem?
This author does not claim to have the definitive answer to this important question; however, here is some food for thought.
1. Violence in the media: Whether its television, the cinema, or cyberspace, there is little question that violence in media feeds a culture of violence.
2. Culture war: Technically speaking, the culture war is more of a ‘cold war’ of words and actions, rather than a ‘hot war’ of bullets and guns. Yet, this on-going polarisation of western society, which has flared up in recent years, can potentially lead to violence (e.g. the shooting of Congressman Scalise by a Bernie Sander’s supporter in 2017).
3. Narcissism: An unhealthy, unrealistic, and distorted image of one’s self, the narcissist likes to draw attention to themselves. A mass shooting is a lethal way to do it.
4. Spiritual dimension: Let’s face it: we are in a fallen, spiritual world. The US has been a Christian leader, though there has been some serious erosion of Biblical, Spirit-filled Christianity over the decades of postmodernism and culture war. Spiritual forces of darkness would dearly love to derail and destroy America and the West.
What is the gun-control debate - Please consider
This situation will not be solved immediately and it is not as ‘black and white’ as it seems. Gun-control advocates are calling for everything from ‘banning assault weapons’ and ‘machine guns,’ to an ‘honest debate.’ Normally, but not exclusively, such advocates are on the secular-left-progressive side. The NY Times in 2015 had an editorial advocating the confiscation of guns, and one of its ‘conservative’ columnists called for a repeal of the second amendment (which is not a traditional conservative position). In the aftermath of the church shooting, some on the left blamed the victims - saying their ‘prayers’ were not good enough to save them or inhibit gun-control!
Gun-rights advocates do have a case. For example, the US Constitution Second Amendment, known as the ‘Bill of Rights,’ clearly states:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Even the progressivist-leaning US Supreme Court a decade ago reaffirmed the clear constitutional right of individual Americans to own guns. Three-quarters of Americans do not want the banning of private gun ownership. So, any attempt to ban private gun ownership, which is what happened in Australia in 1996 after the Port Arthur massacre, can be legally and politically resisted in America. Even left-wing Democrats are reticent to touch gun-ownership, since gun-rights supporters are more electorally active than gun-controls advocates.
Regarding gun-control laws, background checks, machine gun bans - these apparently already exist. Gun-rights advocates say that the enforcement of present laws, not the creation of additional laws, is what is needed. People convicted of domestic violence are banned from own firearms. The BBC reports that over half of the 156 mass shootings from 2009 to 2016 involved partners or former partners of the shooters, while an alarming 50 women plus a month are killed by former partners, according to Every Town for Gun Safety. .Laws can vary from state to state, and loopholes and lack of enforcement can result in the tragedies we have just witnessed.
Devin Kelley was imprisoned for domestic violence and banned from buying or owning a gun. However, his conviction was not entered into the National Criminal Information Centre database. Had it been, perhaps the Sutherland Springs shooting would not have taken place when it did.
Without being trite, ultimately, this problem, like everything else the West faces, requires a spiritual revival. When God’s people diligently seek His face and turn from their wicked ways, God promises to heal their land (II Chronicles 7:14).