Clearly, the number of mass shootings in the United States has been increasing dramatically. There was one mass shooting during the Johnson administration, three during President Reagan’s terms in office, four during the first President Bush’s tenure in office, eight during President Clinton’s administration, and another eight during the second President Bush’s time. During President Obama’s time in office there were 24 mass shootings. Even without counting the recent shootings during the Trump administration, it’s plain that these kinds of horrific events are on the rise in the United States. How can we explain this?
Of course our first impulse is to blame the gun laws of the United States. But I live in a city which has some of the strictest gun laws and some of the most shootings on a regular basis. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t consider more common sense gun restrictions. Perhaps we should. But I’m still not convinced that access to guns is causing this surge in shootings nor will restricting gun ownership really stop it.
A second response is to blame the President for his careless and divisive way of speaking about racial issues. I believe President Trump should be more circumspect in his speech and in his use of social media, but he’s not responsible for the recent shootings—the shooters are. The shooter in El Paso clearly had an anti-Mexican agenda but the shooter in Dayton seemed enthralled with radical left wing ideologies. No one blamed Bernie Sanders when one of his supporters shot up a Republican congressional baseball practice, killing several people and nearly killing House Minority Whip, Steve Scalise. No, it’s too easy and expedient to one’s own political views to blame politicians for shootings.
So what are the reasons for these shootings? The most basic one is human depravity. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We’re all born with sinful natures. Years ago, I was addressing a group of American students studying in the Palestinian territories. It was during the early 2000s, when Palestinians were frequently blowing up buses, coffee shops, restaurants, night clubs and hotels in Israel. One of the students sympathized with the difficulties Palestinians faced and asked if I really understood why these terrorists were committing suicide murders. My answer was a simple “Yes, I understand, it’s called total depravity.” She felt the perceived difficulties of the Palestinians justified mass murder—I believe killing of this sort is a sinful way to achieve political aims. Another one of the students in the group finally spoke up and said, “I think the Bible agrees with the speaker, it’s total depravity.”
But total depravity means that human sinfulness extends to all humanity not that we are all as sinful as we can be. It is extensive, not intensive. So why do some choose to become mass shooters? A second factor is that our culture has done so much to remove God and faith from our communities. Then we wonder why people act as if they’re not answerable to God. It was Dostoevsky who said, “Without God, everything is permissible.” When we neglect God and faith, we remove moral restraint from society. That isn’t to say that all atheists are immoral murderers—plainly they’re not. But it does mean that fewer people are recognizing our accountability before God for our sinful behavior. People forget that all people are made in God’s image, even those we may disagree with or feel threatened by or whatever wicked justification shooters give for their mass shootings.
Furthermore, I believe we’ve failed to teach the young men in our society the biblical values of manhood. Our culture has devalued raising boys to be men. No longer are the virtues of courage, and character and sacrifice being imparted to our boys. How can a culture teach virtues and values to its young men when they are repeatedly told that there is no right or wrong? Living in a relativized culture leads to angry young men expressing that anger with horrific actions.
My only comfort is that God will ultimately step in and put a stop to this. While “the whole creation has been groaning” (Romans 8:22), longing to be “free from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21) of this world, also “the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s Son to be revealed” (Romans 8:19). That’s our hope and our comfort when we experience the evil of mass shootings.