Posts Tagged With: Violent crime

Parkland, FL School Shooting: An Opportunity for American Soul-Searching?

February 14, 2018 should have been a pleasant oddity. Ash Wednesday (a day to reflect on one’s mortality and to begin a season of fasting, self-examination, and soul-searching) occurred on the same day as Valentine’s Day (when we celebrate romantic love).

In the midst of this blend of somber reflection and joyous celebration, the news gave us reason for national self-examination: A young man entered his former high school in Parkland, FL and murdered 17 people. Every few months, Americans try to wrap our heads around another mass murder. We grieve yet another shooting at a school. In the words of baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again” as a sickening cycle continues. A mass shooting shocks, grieves, and angers us. Liberals say stricter gun-control laws would have kept the killer from getting weapons. Conservatives say that gun control will not solve the problem and innocent civilians need to be able to protect themselves. Arguments break out on social media and elsewhere. Politicians make pious and profound statements. But then, nothing happens, life returns to normal, and we find something new and trivial to obsess about, until it happens again.

Perhaps it is fitting that this shooting occurred on that odd date. America (especially American Christians) can use it as an opportunity for serious self-examination and soul-searching. American Christians can consider how Jesus’ great commandments—to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself—impact this issue.

Let me state from the beginning that I am not offering hard-and-fast solutions below. Much of what follows is merely food for thought. I am asking questions. I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, additional questions, etc., in the comments section at the bottom of this post. (Please keep it civil: If you want to defend your Second Amendment rights, please prove that you can exercise your First Amendment rights in a mature, responsible manner! While conflicting viewpoints are welcome, comments that are vulgar, hostile, or rude will be blocked.)

As an American with conservative political leanings, I believe our nation should adhere to its Constitution. However, as a Christian, I believe the teachings of Jesus Christ must take precedence over any political party’s platform or governmental document. As a grandfather with two grandsons in elementary school, a granddaughter who will soon enter kindergarten, and a wife who works in a school setting, I find myself asking “What if this happened at one of their schools?” I can no longer defend unproven hypotheses, Facebook memes, and clichés if evidence and reason finds them lacking.

So, here are just a few thoughts on this subject:

Our society as a whole is not getting more violent, but there are more mass murders. From the mid-1960s until 1980, the homicide rate in the USA gradually increased, until it peaked at 10.1 murders per 100,000 population in 1980.1 By 2014, it was about half that amount. Even though it has increased slightly since then, it is still far below the rates we saw from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.

Christians usually point to mass shootings as a sign that our society is on the decline due to various moral and spiritual deficits. Yet, it may not be that simple. Murder and violent crime are not increasing as a whole, but we are seeing more large-scale violent attacks. While the perpetrators of mass shootings are not exhibiting godly Christian character, it is a fallacy to say that society at large has become more violent. The situation seems much more complicated than most people realize.

On the other hand, American society remains more violent than comparable developed nations. According to United Nations homicide statistics, the US’s murder rate is below the global average: 4.88 as of 2015, as compared to the global average of 6.2 and a staggering 16.3 for the Americas. However, as a friend pointed out to me, this puts the US in company with many less-developed (and often politically unstable or repressive) nations like Sudan (6.45), Somali (5.56), Cuba (4.72), and North Korea (4.41). When compared with other prosperous nations with democratic traditions (the ones we think of as being more like us), we do not fare as well: Our neighbor to the north, Canada, has a homicide rate of 1.68; that is even higher than Australia (0.98), the United Kingdom (0.92), New Zealand (0.91), Germany (0.85), Ireland (0.64), the Netherlands (0.61), and Japan (0.31). Even though our own homicide rate has declined over the last 37 years, we need to improve more to compare with these nations.

These numbers may bring us closer to the root of our problem. If you eliminate all gun-related murders (73% of American murders involve a gun), the US homicide rate drops to 1.32. That means that America’s non-gun-related homicide rate exceeds those of almost all of the developed nations in that list. Whether one agrees that we have a gun problem or not, we have a murder problem in America. We have a problem with violence, hatred, and sin.

I will add that many of those developed nations, with lower homicide rates than the US, also are less religious than we are. We say that a “return to God” will simply solve the problem, but majority-atheist countries are more peaceful than we are! I cannot find a justification for this in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we should take a look at the American brand of Christianity. Have we bought too heavily into the American culture, baptizing the Gospel in the waters of individualism, commercialism, and materialism? Can our adoption of such self-centered values, in the name of Christ, be contributing to the problem?

Finally, I do not believe that gun control is a cure-all for this situation. In 2012, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, I compared rankings of gun-control laws (from most lenient to strictest) with the rates of violent crimes in those states, and found that there does not seem to be a strong correlation between the two. Even if gun control can reduce the amount of violent crime, there are a host of other factors contributing to the crime rate: social, economic, political, cultural, and other influences must be acknowledged. This job is simply too big to be left only to the politicians. All areas of society (including the family and religious institutions) must play their part to make shootings like the recent one in Parkland, FL, a thing of the past.

Christians cannot afford to spout clichés or rely on simplistic responses. We cannot cling to the political partisanship that continues to divide America. Christians must ground our faith, our behavior, our beliefs, and our world view in the Word of God—not in a political party’s platform nor public-opinion polls. Jesus has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we must resist the culture of death whenever it rears its ugly head.

1In the following, “homicide rate” always refers to the average number of murders per 100,000 persons per year.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

So, How Do We Prevent Mass Murders?

Map of violent crime per 100,000 people in the...

Map of violent crime per 100,000 people in the USA by state in 2004. “Violent crime” includes Homicide, rape, robbery and serious assault. >100-200 >200-300 >300-400 >400-500 >500-600 >600-700 >700-800 >800 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet another horrendous mass murder occurred yesterday. Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old male (I hate to refer to him as a “man,” although state and federal laws have to draw the line somewhere) killed his mother, then went to the elementary school where she worked and opened fire on students and staff. By the time the massacre ended, twenty small children (first grade and younger, I believe) were dead, along with six adults at the school, the young man’s mother, and finally himself (he committed suicide, which is how most mass murders end).

Already, politicians are calling for stricter gun control laws. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, wanna-be-dictator of New York City, has already jumped into the fray demanding stricter gun laws. Ordinary citizens have flooded the White House with petitions for stronger gun control laws. I have to admit, it is hard to avoid getting passionate when you see news like this. After all, the deaths of 20 children in the first-grade age range hits all of us personally. Mothers and fathers think of their own children at times like this. As a grandfather, I could not help but think that, in three years, my son and his wife will be entrusting my oldest grandson to a school. Teachers and school employees see their own students in the eyes of these victims. We have all loved a child in this age gap.

Yet I have to ask, is gun control the answer? I know some of my less-religious friends may find this to be a contradiction in terms, but this man of faith demands evidence. Facts matter to me: Ideas and concepts must be backed up by data.

I compared data from two websites this morning. The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence posts a state-by-state gun-control scorecard at http://www.bradycampaign.org/stategunlaws/ (you can download the PDF summary by going to the headline, “Brady State Scorecard Reviews Gun Laws Across the U.S.” and going to the link to “Click here to download state rankings”). I also found a comparison of violent-crime rates by state at the US Census Bureau’s website. Although these sites provide data from different years, this is a starting point for discussion. The most violent states will usually stay pretty violent, and the states with the most lenient gun-control laws will usually not be too quick to clamp down on gun rights.

I kept my study pretty simple. I compared the ten states with the strictest gun laws with the ten whose laws were most lenient, taking a look at the violent crime numbers. Here are a few of my observations:

  1. Connecticut, where the most recent mass shooting occurred, was ranked fifth in terms of gun-control legislation.
  2. The ten states with the strictest gun-control laws had an average of 422.3 violent crimes per 100,000 people. The ten states with the most lenient laws had an average of 378.4.
  3. The three states with highest crime rates (South Carolina, Tennessee, and Nevada) fell near the middle of the pack in terms of gun-control legislation. South Carolina and Tennessee were tied for 20th (ignore the fact that the Brady Campaign’s PDF says they were tied for 22nd; one should calculate these rankings from the top down, not the bottom up), while Nevada was tied for 28th.
  4. Although not ranked with the states, the District of Columbia had almost twice as much violent crime as any state. I believe it also has very strict gun-control laws. It also has a lot of politicians. This leads me to believe that we should pass a law banning politicians.
  5. Two of the three states with the lowest crime rates (Vermont and Maine) also fell near the middle of the pack. North Dakota (49th in violent crime) had some of the most lenient gun control laws (in a six-way tie for 42nd).
  6. California had the strictest gun laws and the 14th-highest crime rate. Utah had the most lenient laws and was 45th in crime rate.

To draw a thorough conclusion, a more thorough study of the numbers would be needed; this is only a beginning. But, it leads me to believe that both the gun-control advocates (who say that stricter gun laws will solve our crime problems) and the gun-rights supporters (who think an armed population will immediately reduce crime) are not completely accurate. The data slightly favors gun-rights supporters, but even that does not solve the problem.

I would be interested in seeing studies comparing other cultural and demographic trends with violent crime. What about religious involvement? Divorce rates (Adam Lanza was from a broken home, and countless statistics show that children of divorce face greater social challenges than those who grow up in two-family households) are worth looking at. So are economic factors (if I had more time, I would be interested in finding violent crime rates since the recession began). I believe that some or all of these factors, as well as a host of others I did not mention, are more closely intertwined with violent crime than gun-control legislation is.

I am reminded once again of the Scripture that says, “[I]f my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV). As I have written before, our nation’s greatest problems lack a political solution, since they are, at their root, spiritual maladies. The gun itself is a tool: It can be used to protect our families, to hunt for dinner, for recreation, or to kill innocent children. The degree of wickedness in a person’s soul determines whether he or she will use that tool for evil. As long as that wickedness prevails, the sinner will find a way to achieve his or her goals. Only a transformation of the heart, by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, will eradicate sin. Therein lies the solution, and our politicians are unable to offer that.

Categories: Current events, Politics | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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