Another mass shooting

by D.C. Innes

Posted on Monday, October 5, 2015, at 5:03 pm

It was a couple of days before we could piece together the details surrounding the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore.: the shooter’s identity; his background, motives, and mental health; the number and names of the slain and wounded; and the murder weapons and how the killer obtained them. But it was just a few hours after the first shots that President Obama was scolding the nation with his fatherly displeasure over our unwillingness to support stricter gun control laws.

He expressed the puzzled anger that many of us feel: “Somehow this has become routine.” But for Obama, the “somehow” is not a question. He believes Americans frequently massacre each other because our easy access to guns, unique in the industrialized world (if you ignore Switzerland), allows it. If we tighten gun access, he says, we will disarm the mentally ill and the emotionally disturbed “angry young men.”

But the “somehow” is much more complicated. Why are these mass murderers largely white young men? Why these white young men? Why now and not 50 years ago? We have always had guns but we have not always had gun massacres. What kind of family lives, community lives, and religious lives did these killers have? Is there a significant pattern in their mental health or criminal or disciplinary records? How many of them used illegally obtained weapons or did not personally own their weapons? How many used handguns or rifles, automatic or semi-automatic guns? How many incidents occurred in states with strict gun control laws or in “gun-free zones”?

If we ban guns, will killers bent on slaughter use explosives? The Columbine killers came prepared with a 20-pound propane bomb, and the Colorado cinema killer rigged his apartment with homemade devices.

After the UC Santa Barbara killings, Obama expressed his frustration that society was not willing to take the “basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage.” But identifying those sociopathic needles in the national haystack is impossible short of totalitarian government control. They look a lot like hay. The president’s dry-up-the-guns approach would require a New York City–style virtual ban on legal gun ownership, as in the massacre-free countries that Obama recommended for our consideration.

What strikes me in this sad regularity of public shootings is not any generic gun violence but the extremely unstable people who want to kill crowds of strangers. Whether it is by guns (legal or illegal), knives, or explosives is secondary. W. Bradford Wilcox at National Review sees a pattern of fatherless homes among these killers: divorces, absent fathers, and mothers never having married. That’s something to consider before depriving law-abiding Americans of their right to self-defense.

Political leaders would be wiser to focus on the family, to make a habit of examining more closely the nation’s laws and policies for their effect on that cradle of character, community, and religion. Even marginally good families are much less likely to produce isolated, angry, murderous young men and much more likely to intervene successfully in ways that are impossible for a government of a free people.

D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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