It’s a heart problem, not a gun or mental health problem

My wife, Gena, and my hearts broke in two with all Americans as we heard of the abominable massacre of 19 precious children and two amazing teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

We join the rest of the nation in sending our most heartfelt and deepest sympathy, sorrow and prayers to the victims and residents of Uvalde, who are suffering right now from such devastating losses. An additional 17 people were wounded in the attack.

The mere mention of the names and ages of those who were murdered brings tears to my eyes even now:

  1. Eva Mireles, 44
  2. Xavier Lopez, 10
  3. Jose Flores, 10
  4. Irma Garcia, 48
  5. Nevaeh Bravo, 10
  6. Ellie Garcia, 9
  7. Tess Mata, 10
  8. Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio, 10
  9. Jacklyn Cazares, 9
  10. Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10
  11. Jayce Luevanos, 10
  12. Miranda Mathis, 11
  13. Amerie Jo Garza, 10
  14. Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
  15. Layla Salazar, 10
  16. Maite Rodriguez, 10
  17. Annabell Rodriguez, 10
  18. Eliahana Cruz Torres, 10
  19. Rojelio Torres, 10
  20. Alithia Ramirez, 10
  21. Uziyah Garcia, 10

It makes me sick to my stomach that one of the most advanced and developed countries on the planet, the United States of America, has experienced a triple increase of mass shootings in the past few decades. Statistics are always too cold, but they call us to action.

Between 1966 and 2012, there were 90 mass shootings in the United States, according to CNN. However, according to an analysis by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University, the rate of mass shootings in the U.S. tripled from 2011 to 2014.

In 2018, the Cato Institute reported: “The number of deaths from mass shootings has been unusually high since 2007, because of five horrific incidents – Las Vegas (58), the Orlando nightclub (49), Virginia Tech (32), Sandy Hook (27), and the Texas First Baptist Church (26).

Schools have been the second‐​highest risk location. FBI data show that the largest number of active shooting incidents from 2000 to 2016 were in workplaces and other commercial buildings [like restaurants] (43%), followed by education facilities (22%), then open spaces (13%), government buildings (11%), residences (5%), health care facilities (3%) and houses of worship (4%).”

And the question that everyone continues to ask is: Why? Why are these mass shootings happening and increasing?

It’s interesting that Harvard researchers concluded: “the reason for the accelerating rate of mass shootings has not yet been identified.”

If it hasn’t, then why does the mainstream media and so many politicians blame mental illness and lack of gun control and legislation? Do they know something Harvard researchers don’t?

I’ve written many times on the rise and reasons for violent crime and mass shootings in the past 16 years that I’ve been writing my WND Culture Wars column. And the wisdom of Dr. Dewey Cornell bears repeating on the issue.

Dr. Cornell is a forensic clinical psychologist and professor of education in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, where he also is the director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project. Cornell developed threat assessment guidelines for Virginia colleges and is also the author of “School Violence: Fears Versus Facts” and “Guidelines for Responding to Student Threats of Violence.” If anyone is qualified to speak about mass shootings and youth in particular, it is Dr. Cornell.

First, here is what and who he says are not to blame for these shooting atrocities:

  1. “Gun violence is not due to mental illness.”

Despite what media and politicians say, Dr. Cornell explained, “Decades of mental health research show that only a small proportion of persons with mental illness commit violent acts, and together they account for only a fraction of violent crime. Some mass shooters have had a mental illness. Most do not.”

Dr. Cornell shared another fact that might surprise many:

  1. “Gun restrictions are not the answer.”

Again, Dr. Cornell explained, “To be clear, gun restrictions are not the answer, but one factor that could help [keep them out of the hands of felons and extreme mental illness cases]; effective prevention of violence is a multilevel process that requires an array of protective measures, not one of which is sufficient.”

Blaming guns for mass shootings is like blaming beds or back alleys for rapes, crowbars for burglaries and Slim Jims for car thefts. It’s not the weapon or tool used in the crime that’s to blame. The primary cause of mass shootings, like other violent crimes, is the corrupt character of the criminal.

It reminds me of a billboard I heard about in Arizona that points to the very first murder as recorded in the Bible. The billboard reads, “Cain killed Abel with a rock. It’s a heart problem, not a gun problem. Jeremiah 17:9.” Despite that we don’t know for sure if Cain’s weapon was a rock, the point is still taken. (Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”)

The truth is, mass shootings occur for the same reason that every other act of violent crime occurs: because human nature is bent to wrongdoing and evil, and when provided the right – or wrong – circumstances, human tragedy results.

And what contributes to the eroding character of human beings and hearts to turn them from law-abiding citizens into lawless criminals? A thousand things in society can and do exacerbate human depravity, including unhealthy, unloving, abusive or dysfunctional backgrounds or relationships. Bad modeling, mentoring and peer pressure easily influence and sway as well.

Culture itself with its demeaning of individuals and devaluing of humanity can contribute to the corroding of character, prizing possessions and positions over people. Personal insecurities, low self-esteem and selfishness can also lead to a toxic relationship with power. Even what we regard as liberties can easily morph into licentiousness in the wrong hands. When civility and morality are left solely to individual preference, rather than any societal standard or form of moral absolutes, can America avoid producing some narcissistic bad apples?

Unfortunately, the law of the jungle is what guides most people today. It used to be the Ten Commandments, but they were kicked out of U.S. courts, classrooms and most homes decades ago.

And what about the way our society today venerates villains instead of heroes? I’m absolutely appalled every time mainstream media posts a photo of a killer on headline news, especially right after their heinous crime. Why give them any press at all? That’s exactly what they want, and oftentimes at the heart of what motivates them.

Adam Lankford, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, said, “It’s harder to quantify it, but I’ve been struck by research that shows that being famous is one of this generation’s most important goals,” Lankford said. “It seems like Americans are growing in their desire for fame, and there is no doubt that that there is an association between media coverage that these offenders get and the likelihood that they will act.”

Tragically, mass shootings have become a quick road to celebrity. And why do these killers need that attention? Because they have a giant hole in their hearts. Remember, fame is fortune to them, and many of them feel at the bottom of the barrel, worthless, helpless victims who have been wronged by everyone else on the planet.

That is exactly how I heard it explained by the founder and president of a company that has provided decades of global dignitary protection as well as investigative and security consultative services. I asked him, “What might be an unspoken common denominator with all the perpetrators in these mass shootings?”

He explained: “Many observers will agree that multiple factors are involved when a horrific event like the one in [Texas] takes place. We know that many innocent people lost their lives and instantly became victims. But if we explore the minds and motives of the shooters, might we discover that they are convinced they are the victims? Have we perpetuated a societal culture that validates the victim mindset and which can be one of the factors that helps send a delusional person to the point of no return? When they become so convinced that everything and everybody is against them, they take their revenge and decide life is no longer worth living another day, or at the very least they seek the notoriety that they feel is long overdue and deserved. I don’t believe in every case you must be insane to carry out evil deeds. Are we now living in a society that is too quick to excuse bad behavior and label someone as a victim because life hasn’t been fair to them? I’m just asking the question.”

Bottom line, this expert on societal law and order isn’t describing mental illness, not in the technical sense. He’s describing a heart and character problem. It is also what Dr. Cornell described, when he wrote: “In most [mass shooting] cases … we find out that the attacker was depressed, angry, frustrated, embittered, and disillusioned. There is usually ample warning in the form of threats and desperate statements. Rarely are there no prior indications. … We have to do more to identify and intervene with persons who are depressed like this.”

Like the billboard said, it’s a heart and moral problem, not a gun or even mental health problem.

I’ll say it again, curbing violent crimes is still more about changing who we are and what we do, rather than what government does or doesn’t do. The solution to reduce them is still found more in God’s or Nature’s law within us rather than man’s law outside of us.

That is why America’s founders believed civility and morality could only be maintained in society and internally in the hearts of humans by the absolutes (or beliefs) in one’s religion – an ultimate standard of rights and wrongs as well a system of beliefs for finding purpose in life and a code of conduct for how we should treat others.

Our first president, George Washington (1732-1799), even warned Americans as he left eight years in office: “[Do not suppose] that morality can be maintained without religion. … Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

That is also why America’s second president, John Adams (1735-1826), emphatically declared: “We have no government armed in power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

This was to be the case especially for youth and even in public schools, at least according to America’s Founding Fathers and one of their biggest patriots, physician Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813). According to Daniel N. Robinson, professor of psychology at Georgetown University and later fellow of the faculty of philosophy at Oxford University, Dr. Rush was a Pennsylvania signer of the Declaration of Independence, the surgeon general for the Continental Army, a leader in Pennsylvania’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788, the founder of Dickenson College and a professor of chemistry, medical theory and clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania. And if those credentials aren’t enough, he was also the Founding Father who sought improved education for women and an enhanced penal system for criminals. He was essentially the founder of psychiatry in the new world, who also teamed with James Pemberton in the creation of the most influential anti-slavery association of the time.

Dr. Rush, also a close friend of America’s second and third presidents (Adams and Jefferson), spoke for most founders when he advocated the “mode” of public education, beginning with his core assumption: “that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this, there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”

So convinced was Dr. Rush that morality and civility could not be built or maintained in young people without religion, he would, “rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is the religion of Jesus Christ.”

To put it in another way, America’s founders’ creation of the First Amendment (the foundation and freedom of religion) gave the moral and civil basis for handling and managing the Second Amendment (freedom to bear arms). Without the former, the latter could turn into a tool of anarchy, just as the rest of the liberties. Exactly what’s at the root of mass shootings.

Could modern America’s moral and civil decay, including its escalation in hatred and violence, be a result of abandoning the Founding Fathers’ instruction and wisdom for bolstering human hearts by religious conviction and practice? I believe so. We’ve audaciously accepted George Washington’s challenge to maintain “national morality in exclusion of religious principle,” and we are far worst for it. We’ve abandoned God’s love, compassion and moral absolutes, and our divisive and malicious treatment of others proves it.

If we are to see civility and morality restored in America, we must return to a nation where love is preeminent and mutual respect is king – where I am my brother’s keeper and we can again agree to disagree agreeably, where all people are valued as being made in the image of God.

It’s time to renew our commitment to the basic premises of the American republic and of our humanity: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and love your neighbor as yourself.

I might play a tough guy who protects victims from bad guys on screen, but in real life I’m also an advocate for those who are at-risk, too, particularly through our Kickstart Kids foundation. Gena and I consider Kickstart Kids our life’s mission.

Kickstart Kids’ purpose is to build strong moral character in our youth through the martial arts. Our goal is to help raise self-esteem, instill discipline and build the character that so many adolescents are lacking today.

Two other warriors who are raising the bar of societal and youth decency and character are our dear friends, Darrell and Sandy Scott, who spearhead Rachel’s Challenge in memory of their beautiful and compassionate daughter, Rachel, who was murdered at Columbine High School 23 years ago.

Rachel said, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same.”

“I Am Not Ashamed: The Rachel Joy Scott Columbine Story” is a movie that recounts the Columbine Massacre that occurred April 20, 1999, and particularly the courage and faith of its first victim, Rachel Scott. The film uses Rachel’s own words from her journals and family to tell her story, and how her strong faith in God also made her a target of other’s animosity. Please watch this inspiring movie with your older kids, but preview it first of course.

Kickstart Kids and Rachel’s Challenge have many common goals to further help American youth and families by implementing practices that reinstate character, self-esteem, civility and decency back into the souls of youth and, hence, the soul of society.

Darrell Scott once told me, “You can do one of two things with a wayward society: Curse the darkness or light a candle.”

On May 27, 1999, a month after the tragic shootings at Columbine, Darrell appeared before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee to discuss what he believed could reduce violent crime in our country. In the midst of his eloquent and moving statement, he cited a poem he wrote that perfectly describes where the blame lies and our answer must come:

Your laws ignore our deepest needs
Your words are empty air
You’ve stripped our heritage,
You’ve outlawed simple prayer
Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere,
And ask the question, “Why?”
You regulate restrictive laws,
Through legislative creed,
And you fail to understand
That God is what we need.

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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