Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mass shootings: Addressing the 'why' and not just the 'how'

As most people I'm sure are aware by now, on Friday, 28 people were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, including 20 children. This is a tragedy and my heart goes out to the victims and their families. It shouldn't have happened. And it could have been prevented.

As is to be expected, this latest shooting has revived the gun-control debate. Many people believe that it's further evidence that the US needs tougher gun laws. I agree. If this man did not have a gun, this shooting would not have happened. And mass shootings like this occur way too frequently in the US. They need to do something to stop them. And having stricter gun-control laws is a first step.

But I think it's important that it is treated only as a first step. If people have no access to guns, I believe it will prevent tragedies like the one we've just seen. But if people still would like to go around killing other people, but just don't have the means to do so, then this is still a tragedy.

Gun-control addresses the 'how' of mass shootings. And we need to get that sorted out. But we also need to ask questions about 'why'.

If a child is hitting another person over the head with a hammer, the first thing you do is take away the hammer. But the second thing you do is ask questions about why a child would want to hit someone over the head with a hammer in the first place.

Twenty-eight people being killed in a mass shooting is undeniably a tragedy. But so is the many people who commit suicide. In Australia, it is estimated that approximately 259 people aged between 15 and 24 commit suicide every year ( That's a tragedy too. Australia has tougher gun laws - which were enforced after a mass shooting. But although we may have prevented (quite rightly) the tragedy of mass shootings, the tragedy of people who want to take life (even if only their own) remains. In the US, 4,212 young people committed suicide in 2005 (

And even with suicide, I believe we often address the 'why' and not the 'how'. People are told to be on the lookout for suicidal signs, to ask people if they are okay and to get help for anyone that seems suicidal. All of this is good and must be done. But we also need to address the 'why'. We need to ask why so many people feel suicidal in the first place.

In relation to mass shootings, talking about gun control is definitely a 'how' question. It treats the symptoms, but not the disease. And those symptoms need to be treated - because they cause unbearable pain. But let's not forget to treat the disease itself. Let's not think that as long as we put in place tougher gun laws and see no more mass shootings, that the disease has been 'cured'. It hasn't. Let ask some serious questions about 'why' mass shootings happen in the first place.

Commenting on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Governor Dannel Malloy said, 'Evil visited this community today.'

Really? How did it come? Did it come through a person? Or through a gun? It's so easy to say things like this because it makes it sound like something that just happened. We can absolve ourselves of all responsibility. It doesn't ask the 'why' questions.

I don't agree with Governor Malloy. I don't think evil came to that community. I think that society itself is sick. And in this one place at this one time, that sickness manifested itself in a terrible way.

Jesus told us to have compassion for others. And it is very easy, as a Christian, to feel compassion for the 28 people that were killed, for the parents of those 20 children. I have two children. I find it hard even to imagine how those parents might be feeling because it hurts too much.

However, our compassion should not just be for those who are hurt. It should be for those who do the hurting. It should be for the gunman as well as the people he shot.

And true compassion does not just say 'I feel for you.' It enters into people's pain and tries to prevent it. When Jesus healed people with illnesses and diseases, he was not telling us we should try to perform miracles. He was showing us that not only does he care about people's pain, but he tries to heal it. We may not be able to perform miracles, but we should still do the same.

And so our compassion for the gunman should not just lead us to say 'let's take away access to guns'. Tougher gun laws would have prevented the pain of the people who were shot and their families, but it would not have prevented the pain of the gunman himself. If we truly have compassion for everyone, then his pain is important too. And so is the pain of people all over America (and Australia and many other countries) who feel that same type of pain but don't make it onto the news.

The high suicide rates in both Australia and the US is also a symptom of the disease. I don't know what the cure is. I'm not a sociologist or a psychologist. But I do know that we need to look for one. And we need to start looking for ways to treat the disease and not just the symptoms. 

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