A few weeks ago a friend of mine got married on Mount Hood, and I spent the weekend staying at a cabin without cell reception. As I was driving down from the mountain on Sunday afternoon, I turned on the radio to catch up with the world. And that’s when I started to hear the words Kenya…mall…shooting…hostages.
And my heart sank. Not again. Not another major news story involving significant loss of life from gun violence.
Days before the Kenya story broke, I was trying to wrap my mind around the Navy shipyard killing spree, where a man armed with a shotgun “hunted” victims and ended up killing 12 people before dying in a shootout with police.
Shortly before the Navy killings was the trial of Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army major and psychiatrist who went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood, killing 13 people and injuring 30 before he was shot and paralyzed.
Then on September 21, al-Shabab terrorists stormed the mall in Kenya with grenades and machine guns, killing at least 66 people and taking more than a hundred civilians hostage.
I was talking about these events with a friend yesterday afternoon. He shook his head as he said, “There’s absolutely no question that we need gun control now more than ever, ” he said.
I nodded in agreement. Absolutely. Gun control seems the obvious solution to this kind of violence. Ban assault rifles, strictly regulate the other guns. Keep the maniacs and fanatics and terrorists from getting their hands on weapons that kill innocent people. That would fix a lot of what’s broken in our world — wouldn’t it?
And then I started thinking about cultures whose people have perpetrated significant violence in the past. Like the French Revolution, where more than 16, 000 people were executed at the guillotine. But I realized that when I reflect on that period, also known as the Reign of Terror, I don’t think about the method of execution as much as the motive behind it. I think about the politics, the poverty, the anger, and the mob mentality. In other words, I think about the people who committed the violence; I don’t shake my head and say, “If only they’d had stricter guillotine laws back then, innocent people wouldn’t have died.”
When I remember the ancient Romans who invented the sword, which killed more people than any other weapon in history until the invention of the gun, I think about geopolitics and power plays by insecure leaders and all the hate that emanated from the men who wielded those deadly weapons. I don’t think to myself, “Geez. If only the Roman Senate had enforced stricter sword control…”
In the rush to create solutions to heal our broken world and protect innocent lives, we tend to focus our attention, and our debates, on what to do with the weapons that were used to commit the recent acts of violence. But in focusing on the weapon, I think we miss the bigger issue.
What about the person behind the weapon?
What factors led to them becoming murderers — and, if we can identify the cause of their hate, can we use that going forward to try to prevent violence rather than cleaning up its aftermath?
I’m actually an advocate for gun control — I think legislation and background checks are a sort of common grace that we can use to protect innocent lives. But if we limit the conversation to gun control, we miss a much bigger issue, and a much bigger opportunity, to dilute the ignorance and anger that drive the violence of our day.
Maybe it’s not the weapon, but the heart behind it, that matters most.