School Shootings – Why All the Violence?
December 19, 2012 Blogs, Life's Tough Questions by: Tim Jennings, M.D.

Seeing that shootings like this and gun violence in general is much higher in the United States than other Western countries, what does that say about the psychological state of many Americans? Why is this happening so much in America as opposed to other places?

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting of 20 children and 6 adults, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut people are searching for answers – why? Why did this tragedy happen? Why all the shootings – Columbine, Nickel Mines Village, Clackamas Town Center Mall, Virginia Tech, a movie theater in Colorado and far too many more – why?

Something is terribly wrong – but what? Do we have too many guns, or not enough gun control laws? Perhaps, but multiple laws were broken in every one of these tragedies. Will new legislation really stop someone on a suicidal killing spree? Will new legislation fix what is wrong with people who do such heinous acts?  Is the problem in defective laws, or in defective hearts and minds?

The Bible describes two competing motives currently operating within the hearts of human beings. Altruistic love, the principle of other-centeredness, as demonstrated by the heroic staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary school, who gave their lives protecting the children, and another principle, one that will hurt, exploit and even kill others for one’s own purposes.

The motive of love, originates in our God of love, who created us in His image to be living temples where He dwells by His Spirit. As we grow in our experience with Him, we open our hearts, experience His healing presence and find our capacity for love expanding daily. But, as we close our hearts to Him, as we embrace the values of the world, we close the Spirit out and not only do our hearts harden, but the restraining power of the Holy Spirit is slowly withdrawn from the earth. When this happens the bonds of love, which hold together the fabric of humanity, slowly unravel.

Paul wrote to Timothy and warned that in the end of time “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:1-5)

Recent research confirms Paul’s prediction. A joint research project conducted by San Diego State University and the University of South Alabama, published in the January 2010 issue of the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, examined the level of narcissism amongst college freshman over the past 15 years. Using a standardized measure of narcissism, in which a score of 21 reflects high narcissism, the researchers found a marked increase in narcissism from 1994-2009. In 1994, 18 percent of students scored 21 or higher, but by 2009 34 percent of students scored over 21. The love of many is waxing cold.

But why is this happening? Why do people become lovers of themselves instead of loving others? According to Paul it is because the truth about God and his methods of love have been lost, even among those who claim to still believe in God. (Rom 1:18-31) We can pass as many laws as we want, but it is only by returning to the truth of God’s character of love, as revealed in Jesus, that genuine heart transformation is experienced.

We can either grow in love for God and others, or we can grow in fear-driven selfishness – narcissism. As love grows cold, we withdraw our support for those less fortunate. We become socially isolated, we stop giving to help, and instead seek to get our own. As fear and insecurity rise we see threats rather than friends. We disengage helping those in need, including those struggling with mental health problems. Rather than loving those with mental illness, we fear them, shun them, and avoid them.

Today, I had a patient in my office whose son suffers with schizophrenia. She was distraught over the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting and called her son telling him her confusion over how anyone could do such a thing to innocent children. Her son answered, “People wonder why this happened. It is because people call out for help and no one is there, no one listens, no one is available. And the shooter didn’t think of the children as children or people, he probably thought they were aliens or demons or zombies and was saving society from them.”

My patient cried as she looked at me and said, “My son understood. My son could have done that.” Her heart was aching because her son cannot afford the costly medications and he has struggled throughout his life to find effective treatment. When on the right meds, she said he seems normal, but when not on meds, or when on cheaper ineffective meds, he struggles to hold onto reality and often fades into delusions and hallucinations.

I am not drawing any specific conclusions regarding Adam Lanza. There isn’t enough information for that at this time. What I am saying is that when love fades in society, exploitation of others increases. Adam may have suffered with an illness that caused irrational thinking. He may not have been in touch with reality, he might have been suffering a psychotic episode, but if so, why didn’t someone notice? If he was delusional, why wasn’t he lovingly intervened with to restore him to wellness? Do we need more laws – or do we need more love?

But violent crime attributable to mental illness accounts for only 4-5% of total violent crime occurring in the US each year.[ii] Even if it is proved that Adam suffered a mental breakdown, violence in society is most often not perpetrated by the mentally ill. Then by whom? Those who fail to love; those who have lost empathy and compassion for others.

From this tragedy we will surely hear voices advocating for a variety of societal fixes: less violence on TV, less violent video games, less availability of guns, better mental health access, etc. While each of these interventions may have merit, do any actually address the root problem?

Martin Luther King, Jr. had it exactly right when he said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

The only solution is love – unabashed, unafraid, uncompromising love – and that love is found only in Jesus. It is time for people the world over to throw off the distortions about God, embrace the reality of His unceasing love and begin living lives that love others more than self. The answer society needs, the solution the world craves, the remedy humanity requires is the unconditional, unwavering, relentless love of God! And that love was born 2000 years ago in a manger in Bethlehem. This Christmas, in the face of such cruelty, embrace the Love, rejoice in the Love and share the Love with others.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the US homicide rate is 4.2 per 100,000, while most of the European nations ranged from 0.7 – 2.8 per 100,000. The highest rate of over 30 homicides per 100,000 occurred in countries in Africa, while Polynesia had the lowest rate of 0.1 per 100,000.

[ii] Swanson JW (1994). Mental disorder, substance abuse, and community violence: An epidemiological approach. In Monahan J and Steadman H (Eds.), Violence and Mental Disorder. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 101-136.

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Tim Jennings, M.D. Timothy R. Jennings, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist, master psychopharmacologist, Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Fellow of the Southern Psychiatric Association, and an international speaker. He served as president of the Southern and Tennessee Psychiatric Associations and is president and founder of Come and Reason Ministries. Dr. Jennings has authored many books, including The God-Shaped Brain, The God-Shaped Heart, and The Aging Brain.
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