Don’t Blame the Gun

Nobody blamed the “truck” when a 29-year-old Uzbek national rented a pickup from Home Depot 18 months ago and deliberately “mowed down” a dozen pedestrians and bicyclists in New York City, killing eight. There was no lobbying for “background checks” or more vehicle “rental laws.”

Yet every time there’s a “mass” shooting, political leaders call for more “gun” laws. More laws won’t fix the problem.

I understand the necessity for political posturing. The President tweets and governors issue statements condemning the heinous crime. They assure the nation of their “thoughts and prayers” and the need to stop the violence. Lawmakers and those vying for office insist that we need more legislation.

Some call for more drastic measures. Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg told Fox News that “we cannot allow the Second Amendment to be a death sentence for thousands of Americans a year.”

We should expect as much from him.

Surely, I thought, faith leaders will cut to the heart of the problem. During Sunday morning Mass, a deacon read a statement about the weekend shootings in El Paso and Dayton from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and Bishop Frank Dewane, chairman of their Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“Once again, we call for effective legislation that addresses why these unimaginable and repeated occurrences of murderous gun violence continue to take place in our communities,” the cardinal wrote. “As people of faith, we continue to pray for all the victims, and for healing in all these stricken communities. But action is also needed to end these abhorrent acts.”

We should expect more from our bishops.

Sure, we must “pray” for the victims and their families. That’s essential. But we also need to “pray” for the mentally disturbed individuals who may contemplate “violence” in the future. As followers of Jesus, we know that our prayers are efficacious. We must beg God’s “grace” for these men. They’re out there, and their numbers are growing.

These young, lonely, disaffected young men often had “abusive, distant or absent” fathers. The breakdown of the family and the isolation exacerbated by technology is affecting the mental health of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.

Some bishops get it. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who buried victims of the Columbine High School massacre 20 years ago, wrote that unless “hearts” are changed, mass murder like we witnessed will continue. He puts the blame squarely on the culture and each of us:

“Only a fool can believe that gun control will solve the problem of mass violence. The people using the guns in these loathsome incidents are moral agents with twisted hearts. And the twisting is done by the culture of sexual anarchy, personal excess, political hatreds, intellectual dishonesty, and perverted freedoms that we’ve systematically created over the past half-century.”

The vast majority of these shooters, bombers, and truck-driving killers come from “broken or abusive” families. The sobering thread running through the lives of all these perpetrators is “fatherlessness.” The late rapper Tupac Shakur once famously said, “I know for a fact that, had I had a father, I’d have some discipline. I’d have more confidence. Your mother can’t calm you down the way a man can. You need a man to teach you how to be a man.”

Things haven’t improved since Tupac was murdered in 1996. Today, despite a roaring economy, Americans are unhappy. Fortune reports that the 2019 “World Happiness Report” pegs the U.S. at No. 19—its worst ranking ever.

Like Chaput, one of the report’s co-authors points to Americans’ appetite for addiction including “gambling, social media use, video gaming, shopping, consuming unhealthy foods, exercising, and engaging in extreme sports or risky sexual behaviors.”

These addictions are coping mechanisms for isolation. Millennial’s are among the loneliest and most isolated generation in our nation’s history, according to a new YouGov survey. Nearly a third say they always feel lonely.

“Millennial’s are also more likely than older generations to report that they have no acquaintances (25% of Millennial’s say this is the case), no friends (22%), no close friends (27%), and no best friends (30%),” according to the report.

These are the issues we expect our faith leaders to address. We expect politicians to pass legislation that keeps weapons out of the hands of mentally unstable individuals, even though that won’t solve the problem. Troubled, angry men will then use a “knife, a bomb, or a truck” to lash out at the innocent.

Politicians and faith leaders need to understand once and for all: “it’s a heart problem, not a gun problem.” At the heart of the problem are the three “B’s”: “beliefs, bonds, and boundaries.”

It is not people of “faith” who are the most likely to go on a shooting rampage; it is those who have no “religious” convictions. This does not mean that simply being an agnostic or an atheist is sufficient to cause someone to become a mass murderer. That’s nonsense. But to discount the role of religion in examining the lives of young men who are “socially dysfunctional” is also nonsense, and this is especially true of mass murderers.

“Bonds” matter greatly. If someone has a strong relationship with his family and his friends, not to mention God, he is considerably less likely to become a mass killer. This does not mean that all loners are likely to wind up like the El Paso and Dayton killers. But it does mean that this characteristic, when coupled with the other two “B’s,” is an important variable.

Not respecting “boundaries” is also associated with criminal behavior. All of us cross the line once in a while, but to those who find it easy to do so, and who do so with regularity, beware: “They are more likely to hurt someone than the rest of us.”

From what we know about the El Paso killer, he was a classic loner. A former neighbor, called him an “extreme” loner who sat alone on the school bus. “He wouldn’t talk to people,” she said. “No one really knew him.”

The Dayton killer, was described by one of his band mates as a “loner.” Another person who knew him said “he was a quiet kid who kept to himself.”

It is not clear what “religious” affiliation, if any, they had. But we know that one worshipped Satan and wore “satanic” patches on his jacket.

Much too much is being made of the political leanings of these men. One was upset with the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and in the eyes of some that makes him a white nationalist. But he was also an extreme environmentalist, a critic of big corporations, and a proponent of universal health care. The other was a self-described leftist who “championed the cause of left-wing terrorists.”

There are many things that can be done to lessen the likelihood of “mass” shootings, but not to address “rootlessness” is a serious mistake. Last year a Cigna study showed that the most likely persons to be lonely were young people, not the elderly. Most of them, of course, will not become mass murderers, but it is from their ranks, not the well adjusted, where the next mass shooter is likely to come from.

A study published in the “Journal of Abnormal Psychology” found a significant increase of “mental distress, depression, and suicidal thoughts” among adults. The greatest increase was among young people.

The lack of social interaction is a real problem. By 2012, it was evident that smart phones and social media had overtaken the lives of millions of young people. The authors of this study concluded that there was a direct relationship between “the increase in loneliness among young people and the use of smart phones and social media.” It’s the amount of time that young people spend on their phones that is most disturbing. Indeed, the more time spent with these devices, the greater the risk of depression.

Of course, most young persons who are addicted to their phone are not likely to murder. But again, we would be remiss not to study the forces that create the milieu in which “anti-social behavior” is more likely to occur.

It is irresponsible to allow “ideologues” to drive the discussion of mass shootings. This problem will not be curbed by “blaming” white nationalists or Christian nationalists, which are the new “bad guys” in the left-wing playbook. After all, young black men who kill each other in the inner city with abandon have nothing to do with white nationalists or Christian nationalists. That they are given less attention by the media than violent white men smacks of “racism.”

Cities, towns and villages across the nation should institute “hot lines” for the public to call when they suspect that a young person is seriously in need of help. The hot lines would not involve the police: “they would be staffed by the clergy, guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists.” After fielding a call, they would make an assessment and, if necessary, contact those who know the individual. If the troubled youth cooperates, he would be given the help he needs.

There won’t be any major progress until we focus on what can be done about the lack of “beliefs, bonds and boundaries” that are characteristic of mass killers.

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