America seems to constantly be on the entrance or exit of a repeated conversation about guns and violence, which proves we are experiencing far too many mass shootings. Everyone—survivors and bystanders—looks to engage in the conversation, but tragedy has a sporadic way of leading a conversation.
The problem is not the idea of conversation, but how we look at the topic and how we converse about it. When catastrophe strikes, the first thing we should look for is the source. To come to any logical resolution, though resolution rarely equates peace and comfort, we must discover and pinpoint the source.
So let’s look into one of the more recent shootings, the one that happened in Florida. The source is Nikolas Cruz, but what preceded and proceeded this act of violence can so blur out the source that we lose sight of the conversation.
Concerning what preceded the shooting is how miserably the law enforcement agencies of Florida—the FBI branch and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office—failed the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and its immediate community. The Miami Herald points out these failures in this timeline of Cruz’s outright declaration to be a serious threat to others and those of his former high school in particular. It mentions numerous calls, social media posts, and tips indicating that Cruz was a real threat.
In defense of the law enforcement officials, specifically the FBI, The Miami Herald also addressed how difficult it is to pinpoint a mass shooter, something that is not an exact science like terrorism or hate crimes. This is Florida’s third mass shooting in two years. Two of those shootings were mishandled in different ways by the Broward Sheriff’s Office. These issues—the failures and the difficulties—are and must be part of our conversation.
BUT IS IT ABOUT THE SHOOTING OR THE SHOOTER?
There is plenty of blame to go around for why school shootings take place: lack of initiative from law enforcement, laws bridling school officials from taking action against troubled students, schools being a soft-target, not having enough security at schools, old schools not being equipped for lockdown protocols, and the list is practically endless.
But what about the source: the shooter? There rarely seems to be enough blame placed on the shooters themselves, and there is hardly ever any blame placed on the parents for raising such a child (if the parents are even around at all). One can point to the fact that Cruz’s mother died before the shooting, but two things stand out: he was identified as a threat long before she passed and there are countless children whose parents pass and they don’t fly off into a murderous rage.
We call the boy “sick.” What never is pointed out is the source of their “sickness”: the sin and wickedness in their lives. Without peering into the source (the person), we assume that one can maneuver through life living in the vilest of ways without it hindering themselves or anyone else. As I had quoted in a different article regarding objective and subjective morality, Dr. Hobart Mowrer, the well-known American psychologist, wrote this in his 1960 study called Sin: The Lesser of Two Evils:
“For several decades we psychologists looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and acclaimed our liberation from it as epoch-making. But at length we have discovered that to be ‘free’ in this sense, i.e., to have the excuse of being ‘sick’ rather than sinful, is to court the danger of also becoming lost. This danger is, I believe, betokened by the widespread interest in Existentialism which we are presently witnessing. In becoming amoral, ethically neutral, and ‘free,’ we have cut the very roots of our being.”
WHAT CAN AND CAN’T BE SEPARATED
I thought it only appropriate to utilize this quote once again because it points to the fact that sin and the person are not and should not be mutually exclusive. You cannot successfully separate the two if one has embraced the sin. A sin, such as lying, can stand alone and be viewed individually as if through a microscope. But if a person is a liar, then the person and the sin are one and the same. It is not so much that if a person tells a lie that he is labeled a liar, but it is when a person would rather lie than tell the truth that they must be identified as such, and should be encouraged to change who they are. That encouragement, however, can only take place when others identify the person as synonymous with the sin.
Unfortunately, the waves of modernism and post-modernism has done an efficient job of keeping the two separate by suggesting that sin (though never labeled as such) is not part of the human heart, but a sickness that can be cured, as if it were small pox.
When it comes to the shooting in Florida (or any shooting) we cannot separate the shooter from the shooting, but we can separate the shooting from the shooter. We are able to look at the shooting as its own entity—separate and distinct from the shooter. We can dissect the route, the method, and the outcome without invoking the shooter himself. But when we look at the shooter, we must also look at the shooting—the act of violence—as one and the same because without the shooter, the shooting never takes place.
The reason this is possible is based on the questions we ask. When we look at the shooting, we ask “How did this happen?” But we can’t ask “Why did this happen?” That question can only be directed to the shooter. If we try to explain "why" a shooting happened by pointing to lack of security, soft targets, and semi-assault weapons, we ignore the actual source and end up only answering "how".
Another reason this is possible is because the act itself is now in the past and will always be moving further in that direction. The person who committed it, however, keeps the act in the present because they live. This is why we say, “That moment will live on in our hearts and minds.” The act becomes a memory, but the person becomes the embodiment of it. In a word, we call this responsibility.
THE DEFERMENT OF RESPONSIBILITY
Over the past few years, however, psychologists, psychiatrists, scientists, politicians, activists, and the like continue to engage in the former way of thinking by separating the shooter from the shooting instead of linking them together as one. Along with blaming intangible sickness, this has led us to become engaged in another self-defeating argument: the accusation of inanimate objects. It is the latest method of alleviating responsibility from the person who committed the act.
When any good deed or heinous crime takes place, the responsibility should be levied on one person: the one who committed it. We do not praise flowers for showing up at a door unannounced because flowers can only grow after being planted. They cannot cut their stems, wrap themselves up in a bouquet, and ring the doorbell. It must be in someone’s heart to cause those things to happen.
All those steps to getting the flowers from their flowerbed into the hands of a loved one, however, takes assistance. The flowers have to be delivered to the flower shop. One must call the flower shop and order a bouquet of those flowers. An employee of the flower shop must bundle them together and make the bouquet look pretty. Unless the purchaser picks up the flowers, a delivery person must deliver the bouquet. None of these acts are an issue unless the person receiving the flowers has placed a restraining order on the person who sent them. But even when this happens, the flowers are never to blame. (Although it might be helpful if flower shops had a list of people who had a restraining order along with those who had issued them.)
Blaming guns for murder is in the same vein as praising flowers for being thoughtful. It is not logical to blame inanimate objects for outcomes required by human hands.
THE ONLY WAY TO START THE CONVERSATION
If we truly wish to diminish these acts of violence (elimination is not possible), we must unequivocally start at the source: the human heart. We must address wickedness not as a sickness that has somehow been transmitted through involuntary means, but as sin embraced voluntarily and with the intention to either destroy the self, others, or both. Defining human wickedness as some kind of substantive disease only allows the subject to separate themselves from their actions as if they have no control over them and does nothing to change the heart of man because they are no longer responsible for it.
When the next act of mass violence erupts, there will be multiple perspectives given on “why” it took place. Before reaching deep into all the political and psychological analyses, first be sure to reach deep into the source of the issue: sin and the heart of man. That’s the only true way to start this conversation. After that, everything else will follow.