How to respond to terrorism, bombings,
and mass shootings
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Massacres are happening all too often. Increasingly so. The December 14, 2012, murders of twenty 6- and 7-year olds, and the six adults who tried to protect them in the Newton, Connecticut, shootings remind me of the massacre of the Holy Innocents that took place around the time Jesus Christ was born.
No doubt the parents of those children grieved as today’s parents in Newton are grieving. No doubt the whole town of Bethlehem grieved, as today the whole nation as well as people around the world are grieving. Our world today is experiencing a collective cry of pain over the loss of twenty innocent little children who were cheated of the plans that God had intended for them, their lives cut terribly short. We are collectively horrified that it could even happen at all.
I believe that the key for stopping such massacres is hidden in our collective grief.
When the news of the elementary school massacre first came to our attention, still fresh in our memories is the appalling shooting rampage in the Colorado movie theater. But this time, it seems even worse because we wonder how anyone could aim a gun and pull the trigger against a child and then another and another and more.
After the movie theater slayings, we prayed for the victims and their families. And we listened to stories of the heroes of that incident, hoping this would provide us with a bit of healing and a reminder that goodness still abounds in our increasingly violent society. Then we put our focus back onto our own lives, dealing with our own relatively minor violences (economic stresses, job loss, broken relationships, and other hardships).
Trying to get back to normal, we naively hoped that we’d seen the last of insane shooters who massacre innocent bystanders.
The FBI describe a “mass shooting” as any incident in which a perpetrator shoots four or more people, not including him or herself. Under that definition, 19 mass shootings have taken place since April 16, 2007, the date of the Virginia Tech massacre. Most of them – 12! – have occurred in 2012 alone.
- Feb. 21: Norcross, Georgia A 59-year-old man, who had been asked to leave the family’s spa, returned later and killed 4 relatives (his sisters and their husbands) before shooting himself.
- Feb. 27: Chardon, Ohio A 17-year-old high school student walked into a school cafeteria and fired 10 shots at four students sitting at a table. Three were killed, two survived their injuries.
- March 8: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania A former Duquesne University teaching assistant, who had been banned from campus, began shooting random victims as he marched through a psychiatric hospital. He was shot dead by police after shooting eight people, killing one of them.
- April 2: Oakland, California A nursing school drop-out returned to the school, lined up students against the wall and began shooting them. Seven were killed, four injured.
- April 6: Tulsa, Oklahoma A 19-year-old and a 33-year-old partner randomly targeted black men as they drove around town in an Easter weekend shooting spree. Three died, two survived.
- May 30: Seattle, Washington A man with a history of mental and behavioral problems was asked to leave a coffee shop. He responded by shooting at everyone, killing five and injuring one.
- July 20: Aurora, Colorado A 24-year-old man entered a movie theater, set off gas canisters and opened fire, killing twelve and injuring fifty-eight.
- Aug. 5: Oak Creek, Wisconsin A white supremacist walked into a Sikh temple and opened fire just before Sunday services, killing six and injuring three before he fatally shot himself.
- Sept. 27: Minneapolis, Minnesota A man who was fired from his job shot his two managers, the owner, other employees and a UPS driver, killing six and injuring three before shooting himself.
- Oct. 21: Brookfield, Wisconsin A former Marine, whose wife had obtained a restraining order against him, entered her place of work and shot her plus six other women, killing three before killing himself.
- Dec. 11: Happy Valley, Oregon A 22-year-old man, who had lost his job, fired at random shoppers in a mall, killing two and injuring one before his gun jammed; he killed himself with a final shot.
- Dec. 14: Newtown, Connecticut A 20-year-old killed his mother and then shot his way into an elementary school where he massacred twenty little children and six adults, and then himself.
- UPDATE: October 21, 2013, two people are dead and two boys are in critical condition after a shooting Monday at a middle school in Nevada.
We wonder: “When will it end? Where will be the next mass shooting? Are my children safe when they go to school? Is it safe to go to the mall?”
Immediately after the Newtown massacre, a firestorm of anguished tweets and Facebook posts and blog comments pointed proverbial fingers at whatever or whomever might be to blame. But hopefully it won’t stop there. Hopefully our collective grief and pain will lead to a collective examination of conscience.
First, we need to realize that we are indeed a community and that the troubles that happen in one family has a ripple effect that affects all of us and is rooted in the troubles of the whole society. Our world is not a large bunch of individuals milling around, minding our own business, impacting nothing beyond our personal sphere of awareness. We who never heard of Newtown, Connecticut, before the children were slaughtered are not disconnected from the factors that contributed to the massacre.
However, that’s how we try to live. We’ve spent the past few decades convincing ourselves and our children that the highest value is “Me first” (selfishness) and “I can decide what’s right for me” (moral relativism) and “It’s my body and I can choose whether the pregnancy should be terminated” (devaluing the lives of human fetuses).
Why should we be surprised that a person could be without a conscience and so easily kill random, multiple people in one shooting spree? And why should it shock us that anyone could target little children? Our collective society has been growing a culture of disrespect for anyone who makes our individual lives less convenient. Since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, nearly 50 million human beings have been aborted, their lives cut short before they even had a chance to draw their first breath. (This number is based on data from both the Centers for Disease Control and the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, a former Planned Parenthood research arm that receives numbers directly from abortion centers).
What will it take for the tide to turn from individualism and self-centeredness to collective concern and other-centeredness? How many more young children can we tolerate being slaughtered before we as a society examine our culture honestly? Do we – collectively – really not see a connection between the killing of unborn babies and the killing of elementary school children?
Of course there are many other factors – many other ills of society – that led up to the elementary school massacre. For example, the acceptance of violent video games that have become more and more realistic. The high number of children who grow up with divorced parents, never learning how to make relationships work. The loss of self-sacrifice as an important value, resulting in abortions and divorces and the glorification of convenience and self-satisfaction. I could go on and on, but my point is this: Individually, we can do nothing to prevent the next mass shooting. Collectively, however, there’s a lot we can do.
Collectively, there’s a lot we must do. It begins with realizing that we must put aside self-centered thinking for the sake of becoming community oriented. Then, finally, we can collectively build a culture in which a troubled and angry young man does not deal with his own pain by causing incurable pain in others by violently stealing from them their loved ones. We need to collectively build a society where he would be absorbed into the fabric of societal caring. We must collectively analyze, reform, and rebuild what’s broken in our world. We must collectively value each other’s lives so highly that would-be murderers are rescued at a very early age from the factors that otherwise contribute to massacres.