An Ugly Weekend

This weekend was heartbreaking. We saw evil rear it’s ugly head up close and personal in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH. Seeing those innocent lives taken and the shattered communities left to pick up the pieces is agonizing. These mass shootings have been a textbook example of why we need reasonable gun laws. They’ve also been a textbook example of why gun laws aren’t the answer. The issues in our a society that lead to tragedies like this run much, much deeper than that.

Reading the news stories about these shooters, it’s obvious they both had mental issues, not the least of which were their homicidal urges to commit mass murder. The loud cries for tighter gun control after shootings like this are understandable, though they carry with them an unreasonable expectation of efficacy. The tacit implication is that if we just had enough gun laws, these mass shootings could be prevented. A society completely free of gun violence is a noble goal and it’s good and right that we should head in that direction! But it’s completely unrealistic to expect that we will ever get to 0% gun violence in America, much less that gun laws alone will bring it about.

Are gun laws necessary? Absolutely. But we need to accept that they have a limited scope; laws can influence behavior to a great degree, but they cannot control it. The two evil men this past weekend are exhibits A and B in that argument. Both of these men wantonly broke numerous gun laws in committing their mass murders. Laws did not stop them. We can and should try to fashion reasonable gun laws that will help influence behavior while balancing the freedom of law-abiding citizens. At the same time, we need to recognize that there will always be a human element to be accounted for; whether it’s stupidity or evil or mental insanity. It’s a sad fact, but there are criminals and terrorists and mentally sick people who don’t give a rip about obeying the rules.

That’s why, in the real world, gun laws cannot keep guns out of the wrong hands 100% of the time. In that horrific moment when circumstances have allowed a gun to fall into the wrong person’s hands, and the shooter is standing in a crowded room full of innocent people with a loaded weapon and homicidal intentions, gun laws are utterly useless. Society in that scenario is ruled by an entirely different law: the law of survival.

This is why I am opposed to sweeping gun laws that penalize law-abiding citizens and undermine their ability to protect themselves and their families.  And it’s also why I am a proponent of concealed carry. Citizens who took training classes, passed a background check, have no history of mental illness, and met proficiency standards with a weapon should not only be allowed to carry a gun, they should be encouraged to do so.

It’s tempting to dismiss it as a cliché, but in a do-or-die scenario, the old adage remains true: the best option for stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Of course, certain events prove it’s not the only option. For example, last year’s Waffle House incident in Nashville and the heroic efforts of James Shaw, Jr. But his bravery doesn’t disprove the general rule. If I was in Mr. Shaw’s position and my options were to fight off an armed lunatic with my bare hands or armed with a gun, I would choose the gun every time. In an ideal situation, of course, the good guy with a gun would be a trained, professional law enforcement officer, like we saw this past weekend.  (God bless those brave officers who ran toward the gunfire and saved lives!) But in real life, it’s uncommon that the police are able to intervene in an active shooter situation in time.

That said, armed citizens with concealed carry permits are not the ultimate answer to this problem any more than reasonable gun laws are. Both are necessary elements of an effective solution, but neither will solve the problem. Ultimately what’s needed in this nation is a heart change. America has been a nation of gun owners since it’s birth. Yet these mass shootings are a relatively new phenomenon. So what’s changed?  The biggest difference in modern America is our values as a society. We’re becoming a secular, relativistic country where moral virtue is no longer valued and life is no longer considered sacred. No longer are honor, dignity, and self-sacrifice considered dominant American virtues. They’re being replaced by tolerance, moral relativism, and celebrity of self. Within such a culture is it surprising that rampant violence has become a viable option for the evil, lost and disturbed among us?

For the past 60 years, America has become increasingly more rebellious to the idea of an objective right and wrong, an objective truth. We’ve been pushing God into the margins of society. And if there is no God who acts as the ultimate standard of morality and reigns as Supreme Judge, it’s easy to adopt specious ideas like “what’s true for you isn’t true for me” and “all roads lead to God”. These untenable positions are the logical outworkings of a foundational shift of belief in this country. America was founded on the conviction that the ultimate source of all our rights and duties is God, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that, as a nation, we should rely on the protection of divine Providence.  To our founding fathers, faith and virtue were two corners of the golden triangle of freedom, which states, “Freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; faith requires freedom”.

But that was way back in the olden days before modern science enlightened us, right? Back then we didn’t have civil rights or the Internet or even cell phone video.  Well, we also didn’t have mass shootings.  Don’t get me wrong; I am very much in support of science, civil rights, and cell phones! But those things do not come at the expense of God. (In fact, they are only possible because of God, but I’ll save that argument for another blog.) It’s no coincidence that as America becomes increasingly steeped in a secular, naturalistic worldview, we are becoming more violent. We used to teach our young citizens about virtue, right and wrong, and the truth that there is something out there bigger than themselves. But God is no longer welcome in our schools. Instead, our children are now fed a steady diet of secularism, materialism, and ersatz tolerance.

Add to that the fact that mass shootings are a proven way to instantly achieve international fame in our celebrity-obsessed world, and the fact that people are now less likely to report someone showing unusual behavior for fear of being labeled intolerant, and you start to get a sense of the existential mess in which these mass shooters are living. Given that cultural milieu, what’s to stop a few angry, evil or disturbed people from deciding to make a big statement by killing a bunch of people?

So, yes, let’s be wise in how we deal with these mass shootings as a society. Let’s earnestly pray for the victims, the survivors and the shattered communities. And let’s be sober and wise as we discuss gun laws, mental illness, media, and all the other societal factors that play a role in these tragedies. But let’s not forget that without God, it all falls apart. There is no way to sustain freedom, peace, justice or hope short of Him. Our ultimate hope is only found in God, through His Son, Jesus, who came to save us, so that we may have life.

“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

—John 16:33