Once more, an armed gunman comes onto a gun-free campus with multiple loaded weapons. Once more, innocents are brutally killed and maimed. Once more, the cowardly monster (whose name I refuse to write) kills himself when the sirens begin to sound. Once more, the police arrive in time to identify the dead and help paramedics treat the wounded. And once more, before the bodies are cold, our President goes on the air and demands tougher gun laws.
Then the Facebook wars begin.
I am a historian by training and an observer of humanity by choice. I'm an avid consumer of cinema of nearly all genres. I've been a pastor since I was 24 years old (I'm now 51.) I've taught school at the same campus for 20 years now; I also teach night classes at our local community college. I'm a navy vet and a published novelist. In short, all things considered, I have a variety of real world experience and would probably be considered "smarter than the average bear." But this phenomenon has me stumped.
Americans have ALWAYS been a heavily armed society. The founders wrote the Second Amendment into our Bill of Rights for a reason, and it certainly had nothing to do with hunting. They wanted our country to be an armed society, both to fend off possible foreign incursions, but also to protect liberty from the tyrannical overreach of government - something that they knew a thing or two about. So Americans have always owned guns. And America has always had a reputation for violence - a reputation that newspapers and the entertainment industry have always exaggerated in order to sell newspapers/books/movies. Every single movie about the Old West features a gunfight, if not multiple gunfights. But actual study shows that the Western frontier was considerably less violent than the cities back East were in the late 19th century. Even today, listening to the news, you would think we were in the middle of a horrific spike in violence, when in fact violent crime in America, according to official FBI crime statistics, is at a 40 year low. That's right - the 1970's were much more violent that the second decade of the twenty-first century. The number of gun deaths per 100,000 population is about 3 - in 1993 it was about 6. So we've cut gun homicides in half just in the last 20 years.
Something else to chew on: there were no restrictions whatsoever on the ownership of firearms in the 19th century. Yet to my knowledge - and I do know a thing or two about history - there was not a single mass shooting of school children during that time (black schools were the target of violence in the South during and after Reconstruction, but that violence was primarily directed at the teachers of black students and the school buildings themselves, which were often vandalized or torched). For the first half of the Twentieth Century, there were very few restrictions on gun ownership - and again, to the best of my knowledge, there was not a single case of a person coming onto a school campus and randomly shooting students.
Even in the 1980's, when I was in High School, there were guns everywhere. During hunting season, many of the pickup trucks in the High School parking lot had rifles or shotguns in the gunracks attached to the back window. We never worried about someone grabbing one of them and using us for target practice. We knew the story of Charles Whitaker, the 1964 University of Texas tower sniper (I knew it better than most because my parents and siblings were there that awful day), but we also regarded that as a crazy fluke that, God willing, would never happen again.
Then came Columbine, that horrible day when two evil Goth students came onto their campus and murdered 13 people, then killed themselves. And since then, with depressing regularity, these psychotic monsters have invaded our campuses, military bases, theaters, and churches, slaughtering innocents and then usually ending their own lives. And this week, the latest outrage. This fellow had a deep-seated hatred for organized religion and primarily targeted Christians. The Virginia Tech guy had it in for women. The Fort Hood shooter was out to kill American soldiers. The Columbine pair were out to avenge their lack of popularity on the "beautiful kids."
It's easy to blame the gun. Frankly, that's a cheap out. We've always had guns, but we haven't always had school shootings. No one has yet explained to me how more gun laws will prevent episodes like this from happening. I guess some folks want to ban handguns altogether, but there are two huge problems with that: 1. Addictive drugs are banned, but addicts get their hands on them anyway. How will a ban on handguns be any different? 2. It goes completely against the clear language of the Constitution. Our Founders were a pretty bright bunch, and setting aside their wishes is risky business.
On the other hand, it's much easier to envision how one student with a conceal and carry permit and a steady hand could have stopped this tragedy in its tracks. That being said, he could also hit an innocent bystander, get shot by the police by mistake, or simply miss his shot and get killed by return fire. Personally, I would argue that this theoretical gun owner has a better chance of stopping the next mass murder in progress than some legislative solution coming out of Washington. But who knows?
But both these standard talking point positions miss a larger point: What is making these evil young people (only the Fort Hood shooter was over 40) think that the best solution to their problem is to pick up a gun, kill a dozen innocent people, then shoot themselves or commit "suicide by cop"? Some point to psychotropic medications. It is true that many of these shooters were on meds, but were they psychotic because they were on meds, or were they on meds because they were psychotic? That's the problem - no one can distinguish between correlation and causation. It's easy to blame guns, because guns were used in all these cases. But guns don't fire themselves! Others point out the pathetic state of America's mental health care system - it's virtually impossible to have an individual involuntarily committed until AFTER they kill someone under current law. By then it's too late.
There simply are no easy solutions. If there were, we would have found them by now.
Some Americans simply have a sickness of the soul. That's the bottom line. There are wretched, evil people out there. Some of them need medical and psychiatric help, with which they can possibly lead normal lives. Some are so purely evil - or so deeply sick - that they simply need to be locked up for the safety of everyone else. But above all, what we need is a return to the values this country was based on, that all men are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights - especially the right to life. We have devalued life across the board in this country, in our politics, in our entertainment, and in our laws. If all of us cherished life more, there would be fewer tragedies like the events in Oregon. At least, that is this writer's opinion.