If there is anything the Parkland shooting has revealed, it is that the baser instincts of mankind are still very much present, yet perhaps not in the way many would expect. The news, if you don’t know, is that 19 year old Nikolas Cruz gunned down at least 17 victims with a rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Perhaps what was most interesting was how quickly the event became a platform to bypass the tragedy and go straight to sparring. What was generally once accepted as a comfort to those in the midst of a tragedy, is now a vile substance, as now many people don’t want the “thoughts and prayers” of anyone. The firestorm on social media has brought about several short, vulgarity-laden conversations against those who would so tritely offer prayer at a time like this when they are not in favor of stricter regulations. Beyond it being a mere number of hours before a tragedy was politicized, a problematic inference was drawn by many.
Namely, the only people capable of such primal tendencies are the miserable creatures who step into the arena with a gun and the lobbyists enabling them. If you don’t agree with the expressions of the Hollywood elites and left-leaning politicians on gun-control, you are the moral monster. This was the same thing that happened when countless people started to blame Christian beliefs concerning homosexuality as the root cause of the shooting at Pulse Nightclub. Herein lay the root of the issue: the divide is so entrenched that people simply don’t know how to enter into a conversation to effect change without slinging mud. Pot shots are taken, people double down, and they refuse to budge an inch. There is no compromise, surrender, or diplomacy: America is in another Civil War and rightly so. None of these “elites” accurately label the problem, but instead, simply desires to point the finger at people who are not the murderer with the gun.
No Two Gun Crimes are Created Equal
Now, it should be self-evident that gun violence is not monolithic, meaning we can’t assess the data of all gun crimes in the same manner. The Parkland shooting is different than a suicide; a homicide is different than assault or deadly intent. People’s states of mind are different in each of these cases, and they all bear unique elements to them that don’t simply boil down to the existence of guns. It also doesn’t boil down to mental health, a poor upbringing, socio-economic status, etc. These are contributors, to be sure, but the root of the issue isn’t the external fruit produced.
For this very same reason, it should be self-evident that not all of the solutions proposed should be monolithic. We can place more gun restrictions on criminals likely to abuse guns, but that doesn’t really do much for the individual who doesn’t have a criminal record. Likewise, we can implement a blanketed rule across the land that affects everyone, but that doesn’t impact those who don’t abide by the rules. Secondly, there are other measures that can be taken as well, such as cutting the air time such criminals receive for their crime. It is sick, twisted, and demonic – but it is without question that the mass shooter revels in their infamy.
If the focus is simply on the gun itself, which is often the point of divide, we will surely not make any progress forward. A gun, for all intents and purposes, is a tool – the difference is in what fashion an individual decides to use it. For one law-abiding citizen, it is a tool for hunting and recreation, for another, the exercise of the ultimate power to take a life. If the focus is on one particular aspect of why someone decided to kill a multitude, we are likely to find a scapegoat and move along satisfied and placated until the next one hits.
We Think Too Highly of Humanity
One major issue in this discussion is that we fail to consistently paint an accurate picture of humanity. In one breath we tout the virtues and capabilities of humanity, yet lose sight of their propensity to do great evil. This is one of the major flaws to secular-humanism, as well as the resultant postmodernism stemming from it. Society has been consistently spoon-fed the nonsense that human beings are not evil, there are no such things as sins, and mankind is not in alienation from a Creator, who is the fountainhead of goodness.
We paint monsters to be the work of fiction when the reality is that monsters are perfectly ordinary people who lead perfectly ordinary lives. It makes us uncomfortable to look at pictures of Hitler playing with his daughter on a cool German day. We are mortified to see pictures of the residents of Waco, TX holding children on their shoulders as they watch a black man die in front of them like it is a ticker tape parade. These people did great evil and while most would like to place a barrier between themselves, the only real difference between us and them is the restraining hand of God.
My wife recently gave me the perfect illustration for what I am saying here. The last public execution in France was in 1939, by guillotine, no less. The crowd surrounding the soon-to-be executed Eugene Weidmann was unruly. Yet contrary to what the modern reader might think, they were not unruly over what was conceived to be extreme punishment. The French president at the time remarked that, “…far from serving as a deterrent and having salutary effects on the crowds [the execution] promoted baser instincts of human nature.”
These People Have No Fear of Judgment
Without a fear of judgment, whether civil, ecclesial, or eternal, people take license to enact upon great evil. Think of all the cases where an act of great evil is committed; think of the man who decides to rape, murder, etc. He has no fear of repercussions. He does not concern himself with the shame attached to such actions. The Parkland shooting took place because there was no fear of any repercussions, or at least the “reward” was considered higher than the cost.
There is a general sense of fear people have (and ought to have) regarding punishment for sin and breaking the law. These two categories do not always overlap. Some sinful things are not criminally offensive just as some criminally offensive behaviors are not necessary sinful in and of themselves. However, the consequence and shame attached to these things are often a deterrent for most people, and this is a good thing.
Yet much in the vein of the public execution of Eugene Weidmann, society at large doesn’t have much fear for the consequences of a sinful, broken world. As a society continues to push morality aside and determine such morals are vestiges from simpler times, people within that society exercise less and less restraint. When coupled with less severe punishment for more severe crimes, certain individuals rise with greater confidence, believing that the cost is worth the “reward” they will receive for their deeds. It is a twisted way of thinking to consider such a heinous act a reward, no doubt, but it is the reality for these men.
As was already mentioned though, these men form a convenient type of scapegoat for the society at large. We imagine them to be the monsters, or in the case of political adversaries, we imagine the opposite side to be the monster, rather than simply look in the mirror and assess how we truly are. You see, it is far simpler and easier to form the scapegoat and reduce it down to one of the fruit evidences of sin than embrace the common plight of all mankind being sin.
The problem inherent to this discussion is that we view evil in gradations rather than as a modus operandi. We act upon more socially acceptable forms of evil, therefore, we are free to delight in our own baser instincts. While we might do some societal good from time to time, it mainly serves to placate the dread of accepting the fact that we are often self-centered, sinful individuals. Once we embrace this notion of evil we are logically bound to embrace that evil is within us and goodness is external to us.
If this is true, which it is, then the solution to all of these issues, including issues like the Parkland shooting, is external to us. No amount of social reform will substantively fix the issue at hand, even though social reform might suppress the issue. Now, I am all for less people dying innocently at the hands of a madman and the suppression of evil, so do not misunderstand me to say that nothing should be done in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. However, I will say that when the treatment merely involves pruning dead branches yet never moves to a treatment of the roots, we are just shifting deckchairs on a sinking ship.
Another Parkland shooting will happen, and another one after that, all the while we will be left scratching our heads at the persistence of evil. Surely, they might happen less (and believe me, that is a good thing) – but unless we see repentance en masse, they will still happen. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only means by which the root issue will be fixed and the tree come to produce good fruit. As was already evidenced in the beginning though, people have no desire for this. They just want action, meaning the goal is to rearrange the furniture on the sinking ship.
Yet even if that simple action could be had, it must be had through compromise and mutual respect. America simply isn’t a country that has that capability any longer, hence why the metaphor is so apropos in this situation. Truly, perhaps it is time we recognize all other ground is sinking sand.