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Sandy Hook Elementary: Searching for Answers

December 17, 2012
S. Michael Craven
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The brutal and senseless murder of twenty-seven people—including twenty children—at Sandy Hook Elementary has left the nation once again stunned and looking for answers. Beyond the obvious element of evil, we are all wondering, “What can possibly motivate someone to commit these heinous acts of violence?” “Why are such scenes becoming more and more frequent?” And, “What is the cause?”

Some will search for indications of mental illness as the principal cause. Others will look for systemic failures, whereby measures presumably could have been taken to prevent this tragedy—such as proper security or a better response to the early indicators of emotional instability. And to be sure these are all reasonable and necessary considerations.

However, many will quickly default to the presence and availability of guns in America. It is not my intention to enter into the gun-control debate, in large part because history doesn’t support this premise nor does it take seriously the very real cultural, social, and human factors involved. Regardless of where one stands on the Second Amendment and whether or not military-style assault weapons should be available for private use, guns have been a part of Western civilization since the fifteenth century and multi-shot handguns became widely available beginning in 1835. Put simply, guns have been a part of American society since its colonization and yet it is only within the last forty years that we have begun to see these despicable acts of mass and random killing of strangers.

Therefore, we must concede that the mere presence and availability of firearms cannot adequately explain these horrific shootings. As a Christian, I would certainly point to the reality and presence of evil in these situations, but this is too general to be useful.

Nonetheless, I would like to offer one plausible explanation, which reveals a growing social, psychological, and spiritual condition, the product of a determined worldview and its resulting culture. I would add this same worldview will leave its adherents wanting as they struggle to understand the horror of last Friday’s massacre. However, if addressed, I believe this social reality could be changed and hopefully inspire “meaningful action,” to use President Obama’s words, capable of actually reversing the conditions that may be breeding this growing number of deranged killers.

To begin with, let’s consider the short history of these type killings in the US and elsewhere. Howard Barton Unruh (age 28) is regarded as the first American mass murderer (defined as killing four or more people) when he shot and killed 13 people on September 6, 1949, in Camden, New Jersey. The next infamous incident took place almost two decades later in 1966, when Charles Whitman (25) shot and killed 14 people from the Tower at the University of Texas.

If you separate attacks like those at Sandy Hook Elementary and Aurora, Colorado, from personal revenge type shootings such as the Cal State killings in 1976 and those at the Edmond, Oklahoma, post office in 1986, in which disgruntled former employees targeted coworkers, you discover the following.

There was one only such shooting in the ’60s (the University of Texas, which I mentioned earlier), another in the 1970s, two in the ’80s, three in the ’90s, another three in the first decade of the millennium, and another three just since 2010. In other words, the numbers of incidents are increasing. Totaling these there have been approximately 223 people killed by “active shooters” in the United States since 1966. There have been nine similar shootings since 1987 across Europe and Australia (all Western societies) killing 188. In Finland there have been two occurrences just within the last five years, a percentage much higher than that of the United States, given Finland’s small population, and the deadliest incident occurred in Norway in 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik (32) killed 77 people.

Another feature that stands out is the age of these shooters. In almost every instance, the perpetrators have been young, all male, usually under 30 and mostly between the ages of 15 and 28, with an average age of 25 for the thirteen incidents cited since 1966. Those shootings containing the element of revenge, such as workplace violence (again, which I have excluded), almost always involve older perpetrators in their thirties and forties.

So here’s the situation: we have a recent and growing phenomenon—despite the longtime presence and availability of guns—involving suicidal perpetrators who are supremely selfish and young. This would indicate to me that there is a condition growing among young people that is driving them to increased acts of mass violence followed by suicide.

Recent social science seems to support this assertion. In 2003, The Commission on Children at Risk was formed to “investigate empirically the social, moral and spiritual foundations of child well-being.” The Commission included 33 of the nation’s leading doctors, research scientists, mental health and youth professionals representing notoriously secularized institutions, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. 

The study was led by Dr. Kathleen Kline of Dartmouth Medical School. Among their findings, researchers reported, “at least one of every four adolescents in the U.S. is currently at serious risk of not achieving productive adulthood.” Additionally, researchers reported, “about 21 percent of U.S. children ages 9 to 17 have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder associated with at least minimum impairment.” There is, according to the research, “a serious crisis among young people today.” 

In summary, the researchers said, “We are witnessing high and rising rates of depression, anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other serious mental, emotional, and behavioral problems among U.S. children and adolescents.” As to the cause of this crisis, the researchers wrote, “What’s causing this crisis of American childhood is a lack of connectedness.” They went on to define this lack of connectedness as a lack of “close connections to other people, and deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.”

The unanimous recommendations of the commission were as follows: “For what may be the first time, a diverse group of scientists and other experts on children’s health is publicly recommending that our society pay considerably more attention to young people’s moral, spiritual, and religious needs” (Emphasis mine).

There are no doubt multitudes of contributing factors involved in these incomprehensible acts. However, is it reasonable to believe a society that removes all references to the transcendent, rejects the spiritual reality of man made in the image of God, and encourages a moral order based on our personal preferences is not going to experience rising rates of purposelessness, despair, and self-obsession?

If America’s public institutions continue in their determination for secularization, then every indication is that we will continue to see an increase in atrocities committed by these emotionally disconnected and narcissistic killers. Unfortunately, this is not an explanation that mainstream America is likely to consider.

© 2012 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Steve  

December 17, 2012 12:08 PM

Michael, I'm not sure things are really getting worse as you suggested. Most of the data I've seen suggests that the rate of mass killings has been very stable for decades:

Response from : Gregg  

December 17, 2012 12:14 PM

Good insight into the real problem. You might ask "How Long Oh God"

Isaiah 2:20-21 (NKJV) 20 In that day a man will cast away his idols of silver And his idols of gold, Which they made, each for himself to worship, 21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, And into the crags of the rugged rocks, From the terror of the Lord And the glory of His majesty, When He arises to shake the earth mightily.

For several days people across the world will be trying to make sense out of the grade school tragedy in Connecticut. The pundits are clamoring for face time on TV and telling us if only there were armed guards at schools, or if there were no guns then this would not have happened. Then there is the cry of where was God? How can a loving God let this happen?

There is also the insensitive verbiage from Christians proclaiming, what did you expect, you kicked God out of the schools and out of our nation and now you wonder where He is. They seem to be saying if only people went to church and prayed more; if only we spent more time with God, then He wouldnt allow things like this to happen.

The reality is, both sides are laying the blame at Gods feet and no one talking about the depraved nature of mankind. If you think about it, one side is blaming God as a willing participate and the other as a passive participate.

Blaming God is not valid from any point of view. But there is a minutia of validity in saying, if there were armed guards at schools, and if guns were outlawed, and if we did pray more, maybe, just maybe things like this wouldnt happen as often. Or on the other hand the maybe the crazies of the world would use bombs instead of guns and the carnage would be even greater. So, where do we find some consolation of understanding?

What we need to come to grips with is, God will not tolerate mans sins forever. There will be a time when He will step in and judge all of mankind for sin. When the Day of the Lord comes, as Isaiah says, there will be no place to hide, not a cave or even a small cleft in the rock will hide us from the face of God.

So, why in this time of great sorrow do we need to ask the question, how long oh God? Because it changes the focus from self-pity and stops us from blaming God for something He didnt do. It puts the focus on the depraved nature of man who is evil at his core. It helps us recognize the real problem lies at the core of mans sinful nature.
I think there are two issues worthy of consideration; first a nation without faith will exchange virtue for vice and good for evil. Ever since Cain slew Abel this has been a historical fact. It is faith in God that confronts us with the conviction to do good and not evil. Faith slows down the workings of evil because we focus more God and on each other than we focus on ourselves. The man who perpetrated this tragedy was apparently mentally disturbed; could someone have helped him through life and prevented this? Maybe, but when there is no one to stand in the gap, then all of us have a part in tragedies like this because we have allowed the business of life and our cloistering away in our own little virtual worlds to let those in spiritual need slip through the cracks.

The second issue is we dont think about or understand the eternal consequences of our evil actions. We arent asking the question on a personal level, how long the Lord will tolerate our evil. How long will it be before He puts a final stop to the pain and sorrow coming from the evil man does? If we add to this the understanding that each of us will be held personally accountable for what we do here on earth, only then will we come to grips with the magnitude of our personal sins. Is this not motivation to control our emotions and passions?
The president and the media are quick to say the losers are the loved ones left behind. It is true there seems to be nothing that can mend the hole left in the heart of one who has lost a child, age of the child making no difference. A child dying before their parents is not the proper order of life. But again, the greater loss is endured by us who are left behind in the realization we failed to meet our obligations and take advantage of our opportunities to serve one another. This forces us to ask the conscience searing question, should I have done more.

Sadly the greatest losers are those who died while still in their sins; those who died without knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. It makes no difference how young or old they are, if they are accountable to God to know Jesus and dont, their soul is lost for eternity. When we understand this we will begin to focus on the important issue of, how much longer will the Lord wait before He judges mankind? The timing is eternally critical.

As we ponder this tragedy our prayer should now be, Lord, be longsuffering so we can find the lost and introduce them to You and Your Son Jesus Christ.

Response from : Martin Van Dyk  

December 17, 2012 12:30 PM

Yes you seem to stimulate thinking; may fermentation of the thought continue in this direction.

As Americans we most often view patriotic nationalism in terms of either dependence or independence. Holidays continue to be celebrated similarly.

What if we viewed reality differently? We need to recognize reality as it is. Not dependent - not independent but may the good Lord open our eyes permitting us to see the need to be interdependent in our relationships, interdependent in our thoughts, interdependent our behaviour, interdependent in our politics, interdependent in our families, interdependent in our marriages....etc-etc

Interdependence creates sound relationships...they are not necessarily equal, but relationships are created. Namely, that of trust.

I have been encourage myself to define the word 'spiritual'. What is the next nearest synonym? .....relationship?
Any suggestions?

Response from : John Daniels  

December 17, 2012 12:42 PM

The conclusion you offer - increased secularisation - while certainly relevant, is insufficient when you look at other statistics which were carefully ignored. Any statistical search will reveal that the USA has around 9,000 - 10,000 gun related homicides annually. A country like the UK has under 50 annually. It has every bit of the history you referred to, is much further down the path of "post christianisation" and has a population around one quarter to one fifth of the USA (do the math!!). The situation is similar in most other Western democracies. 'Long term' statistics show that secularisation is NOT the driver of this. Gun control will not prevent everything, but it will reduce the senseless gun related deaths in this country to at least comparable levels. You may or may not be aware that most committed Christians in other countries - let alone secularists - see the USA's stance on gun control as somewhat crazy.

You gloss over America's love affair with guns in a way that, to me, belies the Christian maturity and wisdom that you obviously have. I mean no disrespect, as your opinion is in the majority here among Christians in the Bible Belt. Why, I have absolutely no idea! Spiritual reasons aside, I fail to see how Christians can come remotely near to defending the casual owning of military grade weaponry which is only designed for one thing - to kill, and to kill 'massacre style' but they do!

Michael, I respect a lot of what you say in your blog, but I raise this because first you said you didn't want to enter the gun debate, but then proceeded to dismiss America's continuing love affair with guns as (if I understand you correctly) having virtually no bearing on this issue.

It is high time the excuse "people kill, guns don't" or however it goes, was shown the door! Accidents happen, cars kill, trains kill, machinery kills etc. and they can be used to kill. The big difference is this. None of those were ever designed to kill. GUNS ARE!

Response from : JW Worcester  

December 17, 2012 12:56 PM

We could do a better job in getting drugs off the streets. The demand from our country is a significant factor in the dominance of drug cartels in other countries (including Taliban). I don't believe drug laws are evenly enforced throughout our society. And what race are the shooters? Why is the death from overdoses 5 times for whites as it is for blacks and Latinos? Only one factor in many for mass shootings - but one that deserves attention in its own right.

Response from : JW Worcester  

December 17, 2012 1:03 PM

Before I saw your article I had responded as follows on FaceBook: Three things. 1. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. 2. Chances are that fewer people would die if mass killers only had knives and not guns. 3. 50,000 people who were not legal to own guns were prevented from doing so during the first year of the Brady Bill enforcement. Bottom line - black and white portrayals of what's proposed do not adequately address how a society deals with an increasing number of disconnected people in a decadent society. Restore the complete health of American families and 90% of the problem is solved.

Response from : JW Worcester  

December 17, 2012 1:15 PM

My response to Governor Huckabee who started by reviewing prayer being taken out of schools is as follows: I believe President Kennedy said that we should pray at home when the Supreme Court banned prayers in public schools. Sooo - have we been praying at home??? Perhaps we simply forgot to tell God Thanks in our rush to shop on Thanksgiving Day. Maybe we've failed - not just those "other people"!

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

December 17, 2012 1:21 PM

Dear John [Daniels],

I appreciate your thoughts however despite your assertions to the contrary I offer no defense or condemnation of gun ownership and I think I make that case quite clearly. Furthermore, you suggest that this is an "American" phenomenon that derives from our "love affair with guns." However, there are more of these type shootings in Europe per capita, where guns are far more regulated, than there are in America.

It is true that there are more gun murders in the US but the vast majority of these are drug related between criminals, which is another problem altogether. Nonetheless, the greater presence of guns does not necessarily equate to an increase in social violence.

In fact, the overall violent crime is much higher in Europe and worse in those countries where gun ownership is most restricted. For example: "The United Kingdom is the violent crime capital of Europe and has one of the highest rates of violence in the world, worse even than America, according to new research" (The Telegraph, 2 Jul, 2009).

There are over 2,000 violent crimes recorded per 100,000 population in the UK, making it the most violent place in Europe. Austria is second, with a rate of 1,677 per 100,000 people, followed by Sweden, Belgium, Finland and Holland. By comparison, America has an estimated rate of 466 violent crimes per 100,000 population. France recorded 324,765 violent crimes in 2007 a 67 per cent increase in the past decade at a rate of 504 per 100,000 population. More recent statistics indicate that these rising trends remain unabated.

I am simply offering what I believe is a reasonable alternative rooted in a broader understanding of human nature, culture and theological reality than the default position: guns are to blame. This is far too simplistic to be helpful in solving a very complex and serious problem. That should be the concern of every Christian who seeks to spread the peace of Christ on earth.

Again, I appreciate your comments but respectfully disagree.

S. Michael Craven

Response from : Sam Jones  

December 17, 2012 1:38 PM

I could not agree more. As a 72 year old granddad, I grew up in an era without this type of violence. There were crimes, and we had many, many men who were taught to kill, and did, in WWII and Korea, but mass murder was unheard of. We also did not have the massive entitlement system prevalent today, and 50-75% of children did not grow up in a "single parent" household, or to unwed parents. You know and have stated the problem. As our Nation moves further and further away from God, Church, Family, and Morality, we will continue to decline.
May God have mercy on our Nation, and lead us back to His Way.
Sam Jones

Response from : Martin Tampier  

December 17, 2012 3:46 PM

Very interesting thoughts indeed. Surely, taking away ALL guns would probably help - unless the killers then turn to TNT as a weapon? The question of education and childhood experience certainly is very important to locate some reasons for what we see happening. I would also refer to the very high incidence (higher than in Europe) of mind-altering prescription drug use in the US, where we also see most school shootings. I examined this a little here:
So problem a) would be the general disorientation and failing educational system (starting with the parents), and problem b) are the drugs, which exacerbate the problem - too often with violent outcomes.

Response from : Adam  

December 18, 2012 2:10 AM

Michael Craven is right. Guns are not the problem: Godless society is the problem.
If we took away all the guns, mass killings would stop for a while, but the general curve of violent attack statistics would keep rising anyway, until, in two or three generations from now, teenagers will be regularly killing each other with knives and bare-hand combat. They already do this in England today (I am English).
So in fact, easy gun-ownership in America has done us a favour, because it has provided us with an early-warning of the juggernaut of godless violence which is to come, whether people have guns or not. You see, because guns make it easy to kill, these incidents of massacre by gun are the early indicators of how the general population will soon behave, even without guns. These gun-using mass-murderers are therefor the 'pioneers' of the new ungodly society which is to follow in their tracks. They are the frontiersmen of Satan.
So we must use these early warning signs as our impetus, not to eradicate guns, but to eradicate atheism.
As has already been said, Americans have always owned guns, but in the past era, when church-going Christianity was the mass-culture, those guns were hardly ever needed except for sport and game. Today, it is not gun-owners who threaten the harmony of society, but atheists. For the past twenty years, and even more so in the last five years, it is hardened rank atheists and libidinous fornicators who have framed our current legislation in all areas of life, and revelled in enforcing not just the letter of that law, but also the spirit of it, right down to local levels, to the point of empowering thirteen year-olds with abortion-on-demand, yet banning another child from mentioning God in an elementary school graduation speech. These godless officials are the public enemy, not gun-owners. We don't need gun-control: We need atheism-control. Atheism is the real killer.

Response from : Chris Janelli  

December 18, 2012 6:33 AM

We have lost our way in a world losing it's "spirit" in more ways than belief in God. I ask you, how many of the guns that Obama and Eric Holder arranged to "walk over" to Mexico that got into the hands of the drug cartel armies ended up killing hundreds of innocent Mexican children and adults. The carnage and destruction of life and families far and away exceeds the "223 people killed by active shooters in the United States since 1966." Our president and attorney general sicken me more with their hypocracy.

Response from : Simon Ndirangu  

December 18, 2012 8:48 AM

The article is relevant to times. The bible tells us that the world situation will get worse and not only in America but also all over the world. All the same something has to be done to control the escalation-- check other countries where the phenomena percentage wise is low. Population has also grown, shifting the masses from traditional dwellings where character was ones reigned whether through religion observation or just natural moral law applicable in an upright social community. As a Christian l have to say that there is a lot happening on the spiritual side that we are not aware of. Ephesians 6 tells us about the other side where the Evil is better at the game especially towards the ignorant. It is good to note that the Evil is pleased when people die without salvation. In salvation death is immaterial other than a lost soldier who would at one time or other won a soul to Christ otherwise it is a call back to base. In this argument l do understand that there is a physical view as well as spiritual one and each sounds Greek to the other although one is correct to the understanding. I would suggest that for the spiritual let us bring up our children in the way they should go the godly way, on the physical, let us put bumps on the killing roads to slow down traffic as this is the most populated or loved way to interpretation.

Response from : John Daniels  

December 18, 2012 9:28 AM


You are in all probability correct when widening the debate to "violence", I haven't personally researched data on that but the point in question is gun violence. However many gun deaths are or are not related to drugs or gang shootings does not change the argument. The greater presence of guns does indeed equate to an increase in gun violence. No one, least of all me, is advocating gun control as a panacea for any society's - or individual's - baser instincts. Only the Prince Of Peace revealed through the Holy Spirit's presence personally has any power to change that. But I would beg to differ with you, again respectfully, in that as simplistic as it obviously seems to you and the majority of your contributors, gun control will curb - although never eradicate - gun crime. Why, when we know we live in a fallen world, where the propensity to personal and societal evil are all around, would a Christian response to this issue be to want to ignore, dismiss or even - as others seem to do - denigrate one of key elements in considerably lowering the number of gun related deaths?

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

December 18, 2012 10:10 AM

Dear John [Daniels],

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions. Dialogue in this matter is helpful, I think.

I understand your point however one could easily argue the reverse: because we do in fact live in a fallen world, we would be reasonable to arms ourselves, not just for personal defense but also the defense of others. Is this not also an expression of love, to protect others even by force if necessary? The Apostle Peter carried a weapon (sword) and upon using it wrongly, our Lord did not tell him to throw it away but to put it back in its sheath. In Luke chapter 22, the Lord is explaining the conditions that will follow his departure. In verse 36, he instructs those who have no sword to sell his cloak and buy one. While there does remain some disagreement in regards to the interpretation, the objection to the idea that Jesus was advocating armed self-defense is based on his rebuke of Peter in the aforementioned use of his sword. However, this seems unlikely given the fact that Jesus could have issued a much clearer rebuke of weaponry and its use but instead only told Peter to place his sword back in its sheath. I would take that to mean, this was not the appropriate time to defend by force but you must remain prepared by keeping your sword.

Finally, I would offer one last example: the genocide in Rwanda in which more than 800,000 people were killed, mostly by machetes and not guns. Evil men will always find a way to murder. Eliminating every other means except the most primitive doesnt limit the scale in which they can do so. I am concerned that by fixating on the gun issue we will never help the world see the truth: that evil is real, man is inclined to sin and capable of the worst depravity and therefore is in desperate need of salvation through Gods gracious act on the cross!

In Him,

Response from : KJQ  

December 18, 2012 1:17 PM

I agree with what others have said about our becoming a godless society. I think that the increase in suicide and mass shootings are symptomatic of the inevitable despair and nihilism that is the fruit of Darwinism. We have been teaching children/youth for decades that there is oblivion, followed by a brief, painful, and meaningless existence, followed by oblivion. There life has no meaning, nor does anything they do matter. Is it any wonder people who believe that kill themselves and/or go out "in a blaze of glory"? The gospel is as important now as it every was or will be, but our impact is blunted at best if we in the church have ourselves been deceived by the lies about evolution and old ages. We need to both believe and share the whole Word of God.

Response from : Taz  

December 18, 2012 9:09 PM

Wow, those are some really compelling statistics. Very well-written article.

Response from : Ralph  

December 24, 2012 6:43 PM

Your discussion about guns seems to say since we've always had guns, and mass shootings is a recent phenomenon, then we have to look at another factor besides guns. This just seems a very significant oversight, given the number of guns has dramatically increased, not to mention how deadly and accurate those guns have become in the last few decades. Also with the rise of the internet, gun shows, and even Wal-Mart becoming a top firearm seller, it is easier than ever to purchase body armor, hand guns, and assault weapons. This type of convenient oversight of logic can signal to non-religious folks that religious people are ignoring evidence to confirm their existing biases.

You also are not going to convince me secularization is responsible for a declining civil society until you can explain why Denmark (the most atheistic western nation) has far less violence and has healthier, more educated, and more generous citizens. This is especially true when you compare Denmark to the most religious states in the United States, where things like violence, poverty, racism, and teen pregnancy are particularly high.

Response from : Betsy  

December 26, 2012 4:09 PM

Of late, I have delved quite a bit into the journal of JOhn Wesley. Time and time again he would go into an undesirable community rife with violence and sinful living, offer Christ, followed up with support and accountability for those that were converted. He would later go back to the community and report how changed it was: violence and sinful living had disappeared. So yes, I agree with Michael.


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