By the time someone is reading this, the news cycle may already be onto something else. But seeing as how this topic continues to act like a burr in my side, I felt compelled to weigh in among the other voices — as there are plenty.
The topic being mass shootings, or rather, senseless murders at large. The stats on mass shootings (murders), specifically in America, are staggering. As of the time I’m writing this, there have been 250 in America alone. And that’s just this year. I don’t say these things lightly either. As someone who has grown up through the Columbines and now the El Paso’s, it’s hard to get a strong grasp on what to do or say about these events.
Which, by all accounts, is part of the problem — not knowing the right response because of a) their frequency and b) the competing passions of those seeking to resolve it.
The simple fact is real people have been affected. Not numbers, actual people. Neighbors. Coworkers. Friends and family. It’s easy to push these things aside, even forget, in the wake of these murders. For the ones involved, it’s a grieving process I have not known and pray I will never have to. For the fortunate and removed person like myself, the aftermath can feel like standing in a foggy chasm. So when the fog dissipates and I can see clearly again, I find a bevy of competing narratives all jockeying for what to do to fix the issue.
This is the part most everyone who is reading this will be familiar with too. One side says we ought to ban all guns. Another says that’s a road to total government control. Another side says it’s mental health, while another blames the rise of violence in console video games. All the while, parents and children are grieving, and within a week or so, the national news cycle will be on to the next cultural hot button. We will have forgotten that real, living people lost their lives for a yet-to-be determined reason.
Can The Blame Rightfully Be Placed Anywhere?
The first response will be to assign blame. Anywhere we can. As a Christian, I know we live in a “fallen world” and are still dealing with the corruption of mankind’s original purpose. And though these are both true, they do not account for the exponential rise in attacks over the past 20 years. Clearly something hovering on the surface of spiritual deadness has aided and abetted this generation’s ilk in their quest to become mass murderers.
So the question remains: what is it?
Some time after the Las Vegas shooting, I recall watching video of a governor defending the 2nd Amendment at a public Q&A. When asked why he thought the epidemic of mass shootings was not about guns solely and why he felt justified in defending such an amendment, he responded, “we no longer know the value of human life.” The guns, as he explained, were merely an extension of a more deeply rooted problem. And though I’d agree with that assessment, the response of a new law — one that holds severe punishment for those who would break it — might act as a solid deterrent. At least in the short-term.
But then there’s another obvious lie we tend to believe: make a law and everyone suddenly abides by it, right? No, not exactly. Consider the narcotics industry. Cocaine is illegal and yet, 20 tons of the substance was recently seized from an oil tanker. If 20 tons is captured there, then how much more is perusing the streets of America? Keep in mind, cocaine is illegal and regulated by the CSA (Controlled Substances Act).
Blame can’t be so easily placed upon inadequate laws. The lawless will simply find ways around it.
Has Anything Actually Changed in 20 Years?
Flash forward to the present. America is waking up to the news of mass murders in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH. Once again, the same song and dance begins. Statistics come pouring in from every major news outlet, highlighting America’s chronic problem. In the age of social media, thoughts and opinions come gushing forth on what to do (and not do).
It was at this time that I found an article that resonated with me. The article’s author, Matt Walsh, claimed that although many of the major talking points were somewhat valid — such as banning certain guns, attributing escalation to mental illness, or an overloading on video game violence — none of these, even when pieced together collectively, could ever hold a true and definitive blueprint as to “what makes a senseless mass murderer.”
Rather, he argued, that we now live in a culture that not only struggles to understand the value of human life, it’s becoming increasingly disconnected from it as well. These shooters don’t know the value of life because they view their own lives as not being valuable. And if they don’t view themselves as valuable, then how expendable do their chosen enemies become? Their acts are senseless because the sense of self is lost — disconnected, disjointed and disillusioned with human interaction.
Communities Suffer When They Are Disconnected
Case in point, I was reading another story about a mother whose three-year old escaped from home and drowned in the neighbor’s pool. The mother had left her 10-year old in charge while she went out to McDonald’s. Tragically, hindsight of the situation was even more heartbreaking. There had been a 9–1–1 call placed about a toddler “wandering the sidewalks alone” and apparently, the little girl had a history of elopement-style behavior.
Horrible as this story was, the online comments were equally terrible. “Her other kids should be taken from her”; “She should have known better”; “How could anyone leave their child alone like that?”
Granted, outrage typically follows when something seems to have been preventable. Yet our initial thoughts and feelings are not always in the best interest of the victim. Nor are they the most compassionate. A grieving mother, just like any grieving family, does not want to hear about solutions in retrospect. What they need (and want) is comfort. They need support. They need to know that actual, living, breathing people care. And what’s happening, as we step back and take a look above the haze, is a culture that is swiftly disconnecting itself from this fundamental necessity of joint compassion.
Our culture is digging into a strange desire to be individual, closed-off entities. And we finally have the tools to make it possible, e.g. our obsession with bolstering our online personas.
Selfishness, Disconnectedness and Lack of Compassion — They Are All Connected
A few weeks ago I wrote an article on the minimizing of Sin and the maximizing of the Self. My argument was essentially this: as we detach from the vantage point of believing in a higher power, we simultaneously detach ourselves from the idea of everyone being on equal ground. We look around at one another other and cast judgment from our personal pedestals and then build anti-emotional walls to further justify our positions — no matter what those positions may be. This idea of disconnectedness seems to be running right alongside the sin issue. Our lack of compassion is a blanketed ideal; hidden and rarely discussed amid all the other talking points. We forget that there are real, living people on the other end of a vicious tweet, just as there are real, living people on the other end of an inspiring Instagram post. Just as there are real, living people on the other end of a tragic situation.
Oddly enough, there are efforts to stretch the gap of compassion even wider. “Bots” with fake accounts disenchant us further as we surf our social media browser. That’s probably a bot, not a person, we may tell ourselves, and thus, seal another agreement that our opponents are made of plastic and wire, not flesh and blood.
The appeal for more compassion will require more than new legislation. It will require a shift in culture. These are ideals highly capable of being cultivated at the community level. Churches, schools, businesses — all can be sledgehammers against the growing number of ideological silos we have formulating in America’s communities.
Only then might we be able to bring people out of the pit of nihilism. Numbers can become faces with actual heartbeats. For it’s harder to hate someone when we connect with them. It’s harder to hate someone when we see their lives like our own — difficult, pursuant, and seeking a connection.