Las Vegas, Orlando, Thousand Oaks: names of cities in which egregious acts of violence have been carried out. A total of 116 people, just in the cities mentioned, lost their lives as a result of 3 others’ disregard for the sanctity of life.
These events are so tragic; yet, they have become so commonplace that the very cities where the murders occur become metonyms. When one speaks of Columbine, few think of a small town of 24,000 people less than a mile south of Denver’s border. No, Columbine has become synonymous for a mass shooting. What’s worse is that political factions have formed over how to respond to these tragedies. Some favor the increased presence of guns; others find guns detestable, and the singular cause for mass shootings. With so much division in an already divided world, how should Christians respond to these issues?
Mass shootings are becoming more prevalent. At the time of this posting, the murder of 12 people in Thousand Oaks, California had just become a national headline. I’ll admit that when I first heard the news, I wasn’t surprised. We now live in a world where people are seemingly in competition to cause more destruction and wreak more havoc than their predecessors. The Washington Post recently updated an article written in 2012 which catalogs information about the thousands who have become victims of mass shootings since the Texas tower event of 1966. It is heartbreaking. And there is no longer any doubt that mass shootings are a part of American culture.
In response to the tension we feel concerning these mass shooting events, we have collectively adopted positions that, in our varied opinions, work to resolve the issue. Some suggest that using violence against those who are violent is the answer. If every willing and competent citizen carried a firearm, they say, mass shootings would occur less frequently. That suggestion is abhorrent to others who believe stricter gun laws and lower distribution of firearms would curb gun violence. These two varying views have become increasingly popular. And It’s important to remember that there are many well-meaning Christians on both sides of the debate. So, there isn’t necessarily an official Christian answer to the difficult questions raised by the problem of mass shootings.
The law – whether it be the law of Moses or Federal law – cannot destroy the lawlessness of evil hearts. What law (in a general sense) does, to some degree, is serve as a preventative measure. For example, I know I’ll get a speeding ticket if I get caught speeding. But I still speed from time to time. The speeding laws in Texas help me decide whether the risk of getting fined or imprisoned is worth the somewhat liberating act of pushing the pedal to the metal. Our laws do not eradicate law breaking; they curb it. Therefore, suggesting that legislation will provide a remedy for mass shootings is not helpful.
A similar argument can be made for increases in gun ownership and more legal rights for gun owners. More guns don’t necessarily equal more safety. Gun owners may feel safer – and they certainly are safer – while carrying a gun. However, what so many fail to realize is that lax guns laws would simply arm more potential killers. It’s illogical to think that more guns in circulation automatically equals less gun violence. More guns would probably equal more gun violence. Arming the “good guys” isn’t always effective because the knowledge that a person has a gun doesn’t always stop “bad guys” from carrying out acts of violence. That thought certainly did not thwart the plans of Parkland shooter, Nikola Cruz, who was fully aware that his school had a full-time student resource officer. Perhaps some people are brave enough to run into a building and save lives at the risk of losing their own. The resource officer in Parkland isn’t one of those people. In this case, a “good guy” with a gun wasn’t enough to stop a “bad guy” from killing many innocent people.
Perhaps greater accessibility to guns is a good solution. Maybe stricter laws and more regulation could help. My intention isn’t to provide suggestions for potential legislation. My intention is to remind us all about a foundational truth which points directly to the heart of gun violence. It has nothing to do with more regulation or deregulation. It has nothing to do with gun ownership. The problem I fear too many are overlooking cannot be legislated. There is a cause for all heinous acts of violence that reaches far beyond the political realm. The true culprit is not firearms or the lack of laws; the true culprit is sin.
Mass shooting events all have the same basic source: sin. Jesus had much to say about sin during His time on earth. It was, after all, what He came to rescue us from (Galatians 1:4). The source of violence isn’t mental illness, guns, or lack of laws. Jesus said that its “from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21). Murder is an inside job. When a gunman walks into a school and opens fire on innocent people, the thing which allows him to push his conscience and better judgment aside is his heart. The heart is “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). As the theologian Warren Wiersbe is fond of saying, “the heart of every problem is a problem in the heart.”
Murder is often the result of the heart-musings of people who have been hurt or disenfranchised. The only way to end gun violence is a fundamental change in those hearts. Therefore, I am thoroughly convinced that the way to eradicate instances of mass violence against innocent people is to uphold the efficacy of the Gospel. It was Thomas Chalmers who said, “The only way to break the hold of an object on the soul is to show it an object more beautiful.” Consequences aren’t enough to keep murderers from killing. The law can’t do it, or it would. The fear of being gunned down in the process of carrying out a mass shooting isn’t enough either. It is only Jesus – the one whose Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers – who can resolve this issue and end the violence. It is only when we see the glory of Jesus and the beauty of the Gospel that sins hold, by faith, can be broken.
This is too idealistic for some. I understand, but it is the answer. Will all murders cease? No. Will mass shootings continue to plague our country? Yes. Can the law be helpful? Absolutely. However, the ultimate answer to this problem isn’t political. The solution is and will always be Jesus Christ.