Many believe the epidemic of mass public killings largely stems from easy access to guns.
But that can’t be right, because mass killings — whether carried out with guns, bombs, planes or other weapons — used to be a rarity in America even though guns were easy to come by.
What changed in America? What led to the era of mass killings?
Scratch guns off the list, because they have always been around.
In fact, it used to be even easier to buy a gun than it is now — no background checks required — yet people didn’t go around massacring just for the sake of it.
Preventing them from doing so was a stronger sense of morals, propriety, decency, respect for family, respect for life, and respect for God.
The 1960s are widely viewed as a time of accelerated moral decline in America.
Recreational drug use, divorce, premarital sex, pornography, vulgarity, and violence shot up — in everyday life as well as in movies and TV. There was less of a sense of community and a sense of trust among citizens, and less involvement in civic and church groups.
It’s no coincidence that the 1960s were the beginning of the era of mass public killings, when in 1966 Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded 31 with a high-powered rifle from atop a tower at the University of Texas.
The declining morals of that decade resulted in more widespread depression, anger, resentment, and mental illness; and less respect for and sacredness of life. The more people affected by such ills of society, the more likely a tiny minority of them do what Charles Whitman did.
There had been mass killings in previous decades, but those typically were associated with simultaneous criminal activity (such as killings during robberies or gang killings) or with familicides.
Those crimes are heinous enough. But there’s something even more heinous, even more evil about mass public killings of people who are unknown to the assailant.
While violent crime overall declined since 1980 (until this year, when homicides started to go back up in many cities), mass public killings have increased. In the 1970s there were an average of 1.1 mass public shootings per year, according to the Congressional Research Service. They rose to 2.7 in the 1980s, 4 in the 1990s, and 4.1 per year in the 2000s. (And these numbers don’t include the Timothy McVeigh or 9/11 terrorist attacks.)
Such shootings have risen dramatically in the last five years, happening every 172 days on average since 1982, but every 64 days since mid-2011.
There is of course a confluence of factors behind the rise in mass public killings. They include the influence of violent movies, TV shows, and video games.
The desire for fame — or more accurately infamy — is another motivation. The high divorce rate is a factor; most shooters come from broken homes. Another contributor is higher rates of mental illness — and since the 1970s — a greater tendency to let dangerously mentally ill people roam free rather than commit them to institutions.
But I believe the biggest factor is the declining prevalence of Christianity and Judaism in America. In 1955 Christians constituted 92 percent of the U.S. population and Jews 4 percent. By 2014 the numbers had declined to 72 percent and 2 percent respectively.
Far fewer of them attend religious services regularly.
In tandem with the retreat of Judeo-Christianity is the retreat of Judeo-Christian values. They include forgiveness, compassion, humility, generosity, self-control, nonviolence, love of God, love of neighbor, love of enemies; and renunciation of worldly values such as pleasure, status, and fame.
An absence of Judeo-Christianity is associated with a cheapening of human life. The atheist and agnostic worldview presupposes that life arose by pure chance; that we’re merely animals in a more evolved form, living on a tiny, insignificant planet amid the vast universe.
Many are led to believe, what’s the point of life? So mass killers seek to end their own life, along with as many other lives as they can.
While mass public killings are correlated with a declining prevalence of Judeo-Christianity, such is not the case of course vis-à-vis all religions. Islam shares many of the same values as that of Christianity and Judaism such as charity, honesty, generosity, purity, and self-restraint.
Unfortunately for some practitioners of that religion, exhortations to kill the “infidel” often win out.
The only way to curb the rise in mass public killings, in addition to slowed immigration, is a return to the aforementioned virtues that were once widely held in America.
Patrick D. Chisholm is a writer and editor whose articles have appeared in many publications including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Baltimore Sun, San Francisco Chronicle, National Review, and Christian Science Monitor. Previously he worked for financial and business publications, and in the State Department's Office of Mexican Affairs. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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