Like yours, my heart was so heavy last week as the news unfolded of yet another shooting in our American schools. Because I have a 14-year-old freshman daughter, the shooting at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida hit closer to home than usual. Parkland, Florida was recently rated as one of the safest cities in Florida. I like to believe that we also live in a safe community; however, the realization that this could happen to our school and to your school settled in. Visions of buying my child a bulletproof vest rolled through my head. I began to ask myself the same questions that you are: What is going on? What do we do about it?
Then there were the images coming in of the students from Stoneman Douglas on the news demanding action and change. They were talking about their friends and teachers who died and how they were not going to let their memories die without some meaning. They declared that they wouldn’t allow things to continue as they were and their bravery and courage has inspired me. Children are the ones who feel the full repercussions of our adult choices. They have the least amount of power in our society, and I applaud their efforts to regain it.
With the patience of the American people waning, it is clear that change is on the horizon, but what kind of change? I have heard many ideas from mental health reform to increased school security to improved background check processes, to elimination of “assault-type” weapons, to a ban on all guns. Being unsettled by the ongoing discussion surrounding rights, sometimes dismissive remarks by gun advocates, discussions of evil and heart conditions by Christians, I set out to do two things: informally investigate for myself what correlations exist between mass shootings and shooters in order to draw helpful conclusions and to give a theological argument for a Christian response.
Part 1: Correlations between Mass Shootings
I recorded as much data as I could find regarding the largest mass shootings within the last two years. The full spreadsheet can be found at the end of this article.
- 2018 Stoneman Douglas Shooting
- 2017 Sutherland Springs Church Shooting
- 2017 Las Vegas Massacre
- 2017 Orlando Disgruntled Workplace Shooting
- 2016 Dallas Police Sniper Shooting
- 2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting
Only one of the shootings in the last two years took place at a school. The others occurred at a church, at a music festival, at a protest, at a workplace, and a nightclub. This causes me to think that instead of focusing solely on schools, if we really want a safer society, perhaps we need to broaden the discussion to include factors that will make everyone safer all the time. Anytime you are watching a movie, listening to a speaker, you are not paying attention to what is happening around you, and you are a more vulnerable target. The element of surprise is a mass shooters best weapon. This is why one of the first things you are taught in a self-defense class is to be aware of your surroundings. Because the feasibility of doing that is impossible 100 percent of the time, we should invest in ensuring that other trusted people are being aware for us. For instance, the schools could increase security measures to ensure that someone is always aware of the school’s safety status. Churches should have someone watching at all times that are trained in active shooter scenarios. Of course, there will always be situations that we cannot plan for, but the goal is to mitigate the damage and lower the risk.
Interestingly, 4 out of the 6 shooters had either a military background or a policing type of job. Two of them were veterans, one was an army reservist, and one was a security guard. Obviously, we love our veterans and we need our police, but the question must be raised, is this significant? Most military trained people will never become a mass shooter, but the fact that within our small sample, the mass shooters have been trained to kill people is relevant. A quick review of other mass shooters reveals that others have also been trained in military or policing tactics. This fact demands further investigation. We must be willing to dig deep and find answers in order to make meaningful reform.
All six of the shootings occurred in the states of Florida, Texas and Nevada. These states have lenient gun laws, however, there are many other states that also have lenient gun laws and haven’t had any mass shootings. In addition, they aren’t even the states that have the most gun possession. So, it seems that either there are other factors that might explain this correlation, or it might be a host of factors working together to explain the geography.
One significant factor is that four of the shooters legally obtained their weapons, and one lied on their background check. Therefore, if the purpose of gun laws is to keep guns in the hands of responsible gun owners and out of the hands of criminals, then it seems they are ineffective. A review of the procedures to gain access to guns is necessary. The Pulse Nightclub shooter purchased his weapons legally only one week prior to the shooting, though the FBI had interviewed him twice. Perhaps having a waiting period would have deterred him or given others time to recognize red flags. However, many of the shooters had been stockpiling weapons for a year or more. Upon further investigations, police found ballistic vests, additional ammunition and clips, more guns, and even bomb-making materials. The Las Vegas shooter had 47 guns seized and used bump stocks to make the guns fire faster. Is there ever a reason for a person to have access to that much firepower? Collecting or stockpiling should be illegal. Perhaps even having a limit on how many guns a person can own would be a reasonable sacrifice to lower our risk of massacres.
Types of Firepower
There has been much discussion on the role of the AR-15 in recent days. Many gun enthusiasts proclaim that this gun is not to blame. They insist that it’s not even a high-powered rifle. However, in every shooting, except for the disgruntled worker, an AR-15 (Armalite Rifle) or a similar model gun was used. This seems to be the gun of choice for mass shooters. I have read descriptions of it being light–weight, an accurate shot without even a scope, having a low recoil, is easy to reload, and carries large capacity clips. This gun was developed by the military and has been controversial every since. It can be purchased by adults 18 years and older, unlike handguns where the law requires an adult to be 21 years of age. The main issue with the gun is that it can reload very fast, enabling one to inflict a vast amount of carnage in a very short amount of time. In fact, the Vegas shooter was able to shoot 1100 rounds in ten minutes using multiple guns outfitted with bump stocks. In Sutherland Springs, the shooter expended vast amounts of bullets, killing 27 people in a very short period of time, perhaps within 4 minutes. Similarly, the Stoneman Douglas shooter entered a high school, walked upstairs, and walked downstairs and out the door, all within 6 minutes. In that time, he shot hundreds, if not more, rounds, shooting 32 people. The amount of trauma that a mass shooter is able to inflict in just minutes is staggering when they have access to a gun that will allow them to shoot up to 30 rounds at a time. Experts say 45 rounds in one minute is typical. There has been a lot of discussion surrounding other instruments of murder, but to ignore the fact that mass carnage is inflicted upon human lives within minutes, is undeniable. There is simply no other way to kill that many people in that short of time. Sacrificing certain guns and/or the high capacity clips is a small price to pay to keep us safer.
Communication, Follow Up, and Background Checks
Three out of the six shooters were known by some sort of governmental agency. The Sutherland Springs shooter was charged with domestic violence and discharged by the Air Force. In fact, he gave a baby a skull fracture, but the Air Force never reported this to the Federal Background Check System, NICS. In addition, the FBI interviewed the Pulse Nightclub shooter, and they also received two tips about the Stoneman Douglas High School shooter. Mental hospitals and the Florida Department of Child and Family ignored the red flags found in the behavior of the Florida shooter. At least 5 of the shooters prepared for the shooting by researching online, many posting on social media sites. We need to push our governmental agencies to communicate better, to follow through on tips, and to be more vigilant. At the very least, as has been already stated, the background check system needs great improvement and expansion. At this time, there is not a universal background check. States have their own laws on whether they require unlicensed gun sellers to require them, and there is ample possibility of getting a gun if you want one. The NICS database is only as good as the information that is put into it. Governmental agencies and mental hospitals must report. If it makes us safer, lets consider having a thorough background check for every gun that is sold, whether in a store or at a gun show. Though a background check is not a failsafe, it can be a deterrent.
Having a mental illness is not a crime. I am thankful that so many people are getting diagnosed and getting the medicines and therapies that they need. However, three out of the six shooters exhibited some sort of mental health issues. Most mentally unstable people do not turn into mass shooters, but mass shooters often have a mental illness. This issue is a complicated one. It is difficult to say that if you have struggled with depression, you are never allowed to own a gun. Add to this that our mental health records are private. So, I am not certain what the angle should be here. Perhaps in order to purchase a gun, you must have clearance from a doctor, just as our kids have to have clearance to play sports. There is a lot of vague discussion surrounding mental illness, but what the solution should be, I honestly do not know.
These are my thoughts based on my informal research regarding the latest mass shootings. I do not believe for a moment that I have the answers. This is a starting point for me. I believe in our Constitution, and I believe in basic human rights. However, the right to life trumps every other right. Once my right to own a gun takes away the life of a child, I am willing to lay down my sword (John 18:1), and work together to come up with solutions.
Spreadsheet Part 1:
|Date||Place||Number of Victims||Shooter Bio||Guns Used||Possible Motive||Other Factors|
|5-Nov-17||Sutherland Springs, Texas||27 Killed, 20 Injured||AirForce Veteran bad conduct discharge; was a domestic abuser, gave a baby a skull fracture||223 Rem, AR-15, Ruger AR-556; wore a ballistic vest; 15 magazines with 30 rounds were collected;||Family Dispute||lied to get a security guard permit; social media presence showed intrest in mass shootings|
|1-Oct-17||Las Vegas, Nevada||59 Killed, 441 Injured||Loosing gambler, retired accountant||47 Guns seized, bump stocks used,||Still uncertain||Had child abuse on his computer; researched mass shootings at legnth, prepared well|
|5-Jun-17||Orlando, Florida||5 Killed||Army Vetran fired from work place||No Concealed Handgun Permit for his semi-automatic pistol||Disgruntled Employee||Singled out his victims|
|7-Jul-16||Dallas, Texas||5 Killed, 9 Injured||Army Reserverist||AK-74, 25 Auto, 9MM||Wanted revenge on white cops||Sniper shooting at protest gathering; found bomb-making materials, ballistic vests, rifles and ammunition and a personal journal of combat tactics|
|12-Jun||Orlando, Florida||49 Killed, 53 Injured||Armed Security Officer||.223 SIG Sauer MCX rifle (AR-15) 9MM||Allegiance to ISIS||legally purchased the firearms in the week leading up to shooting; wife knowingly helped; bipolar|
|14-Feb-18||Parkland, Florida||17 Killed, 15 Injured||19 year old student||AR-15 and a handgun; countless magazines; purchased 10 firearms legally within the last year||unconfirmed||Had been flagged by teachers as a threat; Mother recently passed away; pulled firealarm; hid his gun in an athletic duffel bag|
Spreadsheet Part 2:
|Place||Time to Kill||Known Mental Illness||Governmental Agency Knowledge||Other Criminal Behavior|
|Sutherland Springs, Texas||Unclear, at least 4 minutes||Air Force discharged him after being prosecuted for domestic abuse; did not report to FBI||Domestic Abuse|
|Las Vegas, Nevada||1100 bullets in 10 minutes||Bipolar||None reported||Possible child pornography|
|Orlando, Florida||DUI and Marijuana possession|
|Orlando, Florida||3 hours for whole hostage situation||Bipolar||Had been interviewed twice by FBI||Domestic Abuser|
|Parkland, Florida||5-6 minutes, at least 100 shots||Depression||Mental Health Hospital chose not to admit him; Florida Dept of Child and Family Services; 2 Tips to the FBI Hotline number not persued|