More Than Gun Control – What We Must Do To Stop Mass Shootings

More Than Gun Control – What We Must Do To Stop Mass Shootings October 5, 2015
Copyright: flybird163 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: flybird163 / 123RF Stock Photo

The scariest thing about mass murderers is just how normal they are.

In the wake of Umpqua Community College shooting last week, the New York Times published an article titled, “Mass Murderers Fit Profile, as Do Many Others Who Don’t Kill.” Here’s a very disturbing line:

What seems telling about the killers, however, is not how much they have in common but how much they look and seem like so many others who do not inflict harm.

What’s so scary about these killers is that we’d really like to have an explanation that makes them “other” than the rest of us. So we say they are mentally ill – unlike the rest of us who are quite mentally healthy – and our society needs to do a better job of caring for them.

While it’s true that we need to do a better job caring for the mentally ill, the vast majority of people with mental illness will never harm anyone. Mass murderers don’t tend to be mentally ill. As Dr. James Alan Fox stated in the Times article, “They’re not out of touch with reality. They don’t hear voices. They don’t think the people they’re shooting are gophers.” In other words, the problem with these shooters have very little to do with mental illness.

What are the signs that someone may turn into a shooter? The Times makes another disturbing claim, “With many of the killers, the signs are of anger and disappointment and solitude.”

Anger, disappointment, and solitude. Those emotions are universal. We all feel them. How do we make sense of that? There’s a darkness that creeps up within all of us – and if we are honest with ourselves, we might just admit the horrifying truth that there’s not a lot that separates us from them.

Desire and Resentment

We are all united with a common desire for fame, notoriety, and love. We fear solitude. Everyone wants to be known. We gain a sense of value and worth in our lives through obtaining more likes and tweets on social media. As mimetic theory teaches us, we inevitably compare ourselves with others who become our models for success.

But what happens when we don’t gain the success, fame, or the love that we all desire? When others don’t validate us, when we don’t achieve the success we desire, we become resentful of our models. As Stefan Tomelleri states in his book Resentment: Reflections on Mimetic Desire and Society,“We live in a world where many people, rightly or wrongly, feel blocked, or paralyzed, in all their aspirations, obstructed from achieving their most legitimate goals” (ix).The more we fall behind our models, the more resentful we become. Our model then becomes our rival and we seek some form of revenge against them for enflaming our desire for something we cannot have. Whenever we feel as if the path to fulfillment of our aspirations is being blocked by the ones who make those desires seem desirable, we risk becoming verbally, emotionally, or physically violent.

Typically, no one ever teaches us how to manage our feelings of resentment in nonviolent and healthy ways. In fact, we are taught the opposite. 9/11 taught us that if someone hits you, you hit them back. Only, you don’t just hit them back, you up the ante. You hit them with “Shock and Awe” to destroy the enemy’s will to fight back.

But Shock and Awe has only “worked” to embed violence deeper within our culture. Violence isn’t just “their” problem; it’s our problem. It infects all of us. Almost every day we hear about another violent attack. For example, just two days after the horrific shooting in Oregon last week, the United States bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, killing 12 medical staff personnel and 10 patients, including three children. The U.S. has defended the bombing, while Doctors Without Borders calls it a war crime.

What’s the truth? The truth is that as long as our nation responds to violence with violence, we will continue to sow the seeds of violence and resentment within our nation and around the world.

What’s the Answer?

We need stricter gun control laws, no doubt. But we need so much more than gun control. We need models who will lead us toward a massive shift in our culture. Resentment and violence infects us all and we need to learn better ways to take responsibility to manage our anger, disappointment, and hatred.

God tells Cain that, “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). God speaks those words to all of us. The truth is that there’s a little bit of Cain within everyone. The darkness is within us all. Unfortunately, many of us are too afraid to look at it. We’d much rather ignore our pain than examine it. But the way to master the “sin that is lurking at the door” is to acknowledge it, but like Cain, we typically suppress it. We bury our resentment and anger deep within ourselves, only for it to manifest through violence.

That’s why the ancient spiritual practice of confession is so important. It’s much healthier to talk out our emotions than it is to bottle them up. Without the ability to talk about our frustrations, we externalize our emotions by blaming others. Our shared desire for fame and admiration can then lead us to commit acts of violence when they become frustrated.

Much more than gun control, we must shift our culture of violence to a culture of peace. We need models who will lead us to move beyond resentment and towards an ethic of love, a love that embraces even our enemies.

The answer is to work through our resentment and come out the other side into love. More than anything, we need to be challenged with a daring and challenging mission. In the face of a culture that responds to violence with more violence, we need more people who will step up and model how to return love for hatred, forgiveness for anger, kindness for hostility, violence for peace.

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  • Brandon Roberts

    honestly in addition to keeping guns out of the wrong hands we must also speak up if we know someone’s planning something

    • Thanks for this very good point, Brandon. I just heard that some teenagers at a school in California overheard other students talking about their plans for an attack and turned them in. Thank God.

  • Kevin Kidd

    Not sure about more gun control laws (the factual evidence reveals that more gun control leads to more violent deaths by guns…see Detroit, Chicago, and every other American city with stringent gun control laws), but I agree there is a significant problem with a lack of discipleship, mentoring, fathering, leadership in our body. While we have more megachurches than ever before, we have less authentic, Jesus-like discipleship than ever before.

    • I appreciate this comment, Kevin. Often prohibitions only enhance our desires for the prohibited object. At the same time, I think legislation is required, but more importantly we need a change in hearts and minds, starting everywhere, from the top down and the bottom up. Discipleship, as you point out, is an important place to start. Thanks for that!

      • shediac

        That unfortunately is crap. Few people mention prohibition. Sensible background checks. Education on storage of firearms. Kids kill kids just about everyday. Sensible control on the type of guns available and the arsenal that individuals should have available. Or not! Let everyone arm themselves to the max while we sit back and watch the horror!

        • Shediac, I agree that legislation is important. Sensible background checks – yes! All of that. We need it! I don’t understand why you are saying my comment was crap…Throughout history we have seen that prohibition can often increase desire for the object prohibited. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pass sensible gun legislation – it means we also need a change of heart about violence in our culture.

          Take care,

    • Jan
  • Mark

    I would replace “solitude” with “isolation.” Solitude is a place of internal spiritual connection. Isolation is disconnection and alienation. As our culture becomes larger in number and more impersonal, the structures of family, community and connection break down, electronic pseudo intimacy replaces face to face intimacy, and diversity expands to the point that people find it difficult to connect because they have so little in common, the human personality will become isolated and distorted. The powerlessness and/or pain/anger will look for an outlet against self, others or both. This has little to do with mentally healthy, law biding people keeping arms for self defense to protect themselves and their families from those who would do them harm, even a tyrranical government (not taught in schools any more). Self protection is a natural right of creation (Locke) not given by mankind or government. I know dozens of people who carry. None of them ever wants to have to use it.

    • Thank you, Mark. I really appreciate your distinction between solitude and isolation. I agree. I have friends too who have guns and hope to never use them.

      Peace to you,

  • Mark

    As a therapist through the years, I have known either children or teens who have died from either suicide or accidents by guns or parents who have lost children. In every one of the cases had a parent locked the weapon in a lock box or safe, the accident as it happened never would have come to pass. The solution is simple: parents wake up and lock them up!