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Friday, December 28, 2012

Mass Shootings in Today's America

From the November-December 2012 issue of Forerunner.

The end of 2012 came with a bang. Many bangs, a reported 152 of them. The December 14 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, not only took the lives of 27 people, including 20 children, but the horror of the mass murder also reverberated across America, immediately spawning a national debate on school safety, mental illness, and of course, guns and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Occurring less than six months after the Aurora, Colorado, "Batman" shooting, which killed 12 and injured 58, the Sandy Hook tragedy seems to have caused many Americans to say, "Enough is enough."

Such a reaction is natural. It is upsetting and disheartening to learn of the deaths of so many children, realizing that they were mercilessly slain by an assailant whose demons were his own. Without defense against the young man's murderous and insane rage, they died essentially alone and without comfort. It chills the heart of any parent or of any feeling person.

The death of anyone at the hands of another is cause for grief and consternation. It should cause law enforcement, government, and those involved to review what happened and ask the hard questions: Did the school, the school system, local police, and government do enough to provide a safe learning environment? Were there lapses in the safety protocols? Were reaction times fast enough? Was the school sufficiently hardened against assault? Were school employees trained in how to react? What additional measures could prevent such atrocities in the future? Responsible citizens consider it a solemn duty to undertake such an investigation to prevent anything like this massacre from happening again.

Some of these questions have been asked, but the final one on prevention has received the most ink. From what appears on the news, it seems as if the only "additional measure" that many in public office want to discuss is banning so-called assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, not to mention tightening licensing guidelines and limiting ammunition sales. Their fellow travelers in the mainstream media also jumped to this conclusion almost immediately, inaugurating a gun-control campaign as soon as the news hit the wires.

In an instant, progressive forces in America decided that the tragedy in Newtown was the perfect crisis to help erase over two centuries of constitutionally unrestricted freedom to own firearms. In defense of their crusade, they also downplayed and dismissed suggestions from Second Amendment advocates to place more armed guards in schools or to arm teachers themselves, as occurs in Israel. Gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association were marginalized, with many in the media rolling their eyes in disbelief that anyone could defend the ownership and use of firearms.

However, they are the ones who are out of touch. According to a Harvard study, the average gun-owning American household contains about five firearms. America's more than 300 million citizens own more guns than there are cars on its streets. As a whole, these firearms collections comprise nearly half of the world's guns, a real deterrent to both internal tyranny and foreign invasion, as the Founding Fathers intended by including the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights. It is not surprising, then, that those who favor greater governmental control—as progressive political thought advocates—would desire to limit further gun sales and even reduce the number of firearms in private hands. Middle America, though, stands in their way.

Knowing a little about the reported mental state of the Sandy Hook shooter, a thinking person might wonder if some sort of mental-health measure could be effective in preventing similar tragedies. Some have suggested that a psychological checkup be added to the background check required for licensing a gun, but this idea has been dismissed as overly intrusive and open to both wild subjectivity and easy corruption. Besides, a mentally unhinged individual will find a weapon if he wants one badly enough, no matter how illegal it is for him to possess one.

Another factor that is only just beginning to be discussed is the known link of psychiatric drugs to mass killings. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights International reports in "School Shooters Under the Influence of Psychiatric Drugs" (http://www.cchrint.org/school-shooters):
Between 2004 and 2011, there have been over 11,000 reports to the U.S. FDA's MedWatch system of psychiatric drug side effects related to violence. These include 300 cases of homicide, nearly 3,000 cases of mania and over 7,000 cases of aggression. Note: By the FDA's own admission, only 1-10% of side effects are ever reported to the FDA, so the actual number of side effects occurring are most certainly higher. (See also, "A Brief History of Psychotropic Drugs Prescribed to Mass Murderers"; http://www.ladailypost.com/content/brief-history-psychotropic-drugs-prescribed-mass-murderers.)
The article links to 31 school shootings in which such drugs played a part, resulting in 72 dead and 162 wounded. Its findings do not include the Sandy Hook shooting, but its perpetrator had been prescribed Fanapt® (iloperidone), a controversial anti-psychotic medicine used to treat schizophrenia.

In all this finger-pointing, do we, as Christians, see anything missing from the discussion? To most of the politicians and pundits pontificating on the issue, the problem is inadequate safety measures, firearms, mental health, or drugs—or other factors like violent video games, a violent culture, or societal inequalities. We see that, yet again, they have left God entirely out of the picture. America's once staunchly Christian value system is fast eroding, and in its breakdown, its citizens have lost most of the internal controls that keep atrocities like these from occurring so often.

So comes to pass in modern America a fulfillment of one of the most horrifying of the Bible's prophecies: "Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children" (Hosea 4:6).