There have been lots of blog posts and articles written following the horrific murders committed in Newtown, Connecticut. Criminal acts such as these are often co-opted by people who want to capitalize on a tragedy to make a point about a specific social issue that has been of interest to them for some time prior to the crime. Joel Furches properly warns us that we ought to be careful not to exploit this sad act of evil for personal gain, even if that gain is simply an opportunistic platform for our favorite issue. Now is not the time to make a point at the expense of those who are hurting and need our prayers and compassion. But there are certainly questions that have been raised by these murders and questions that ought to be balanced in the wake of Newtown. Here are the issues I would want to address (in no particular order):
The Question of Gun Control
Some will now argue that all gun ownership should be eliminated; some will argue that guns are not the problem and nothing should change. The truth is that we need a realistic compromise in the middle here. I am a police officer. I own guns; I carry them on-duty and off-duty. But I do think there are some reasonable restrictions that will not violate the spirit of the Second Amendment. Here are some questions we need to start asking: How many guns does each person need to own? What laws ought to be required related to the security of gun collections (i.e. safes etc.)? What consequences should we enact for those who allow their guns to fall into the hands of someone other than the owner (i.e. their children or strangers)? What kinds of guns are essential for hunting or self-defense, and what kinds of guns are not? These are difficult and sometimes controversial questions, but the conversation must begin and seek a “middle ground” response.
The Question of Mental Illness
This issue simply cannot be ignored, although it typically is. Many killers who commit mass murders of this kind are simply crazy. Let’s be honest. We look for motives in some of these cases and discover that there aren’t any. Why not? Because the killer was mentally ill. We live in a society that is struggling to decide what to do about mental illness. We don’t want to lock people up unnecessarily and we don’t want to dedicate the financial resources that would be required if we did. Unless a mentally ill person commits a crime, there is no institution that seems prepared to respond. A blogger who calls herself the “Anarchist Soccer Mom” wrote a post about her son that is both compelling and heartbreaking. It describes the dilemma that parents of mentally ill children face every day. Go read it. Now. We simply must address the issue of mental illness. In times like this, it’s easy to say that this killing would never have occurred if the killer didn’t have access to guns. But it’s just as accurate to say that this killing would never have occurred if the mentally ill killer had been institutionalized. Our response needs to be balanced here. It’s going to involve answers to questions of gun control and mental illness.
The Question of God’s Sovereignty
Finally, each of us, as Christian Case Makers, will have to address the question of God’s sovereignty and goodness. Some will use this crime as a personal platform to rant against the existence of God (“Events like this demonstrate that there is no God”). Some will use it as a platform to complain about the removal of prayer or God from public schools (“We should be surprised that God has turned his back on us since we turned our back on him”). While these arguments and causes certainly must be addressed and are worthy of our examination, they seem wholly inappropriate in the immediate wake of the murders. While there is certainly a consequence that awaits any culture that denies a transcendent source of objective morality, this particular crime may have little to do with that particular reality. And while there are many sound academic and philosophical responses to the problem of evil, few seem powerful (or even appropriate) when parents are mourning. Melinda Penner said it best when she wrote that “we may not know why God has allowed this evil thing to happen. But we do know that He has provided the answer for it: His Son Jesus.”
My concern, in the days following the mass murders in Newtown, is that our national discourse is uneven. The questions before us are seldom held in balance. Instead, some are raging about gun control, some are ranting about mental illness and same are complaining about the removal of God from our cultural worldview. All of these issues are important and should not be examined in isolation. We need to see the connected nature of these questions if we ever hope to properly address the issues that challenge us as a nation.
J. Warner Wallace is the author of Cold Case Christianity