Gun Violence: Let’s Stop Blaming Evil When People Do Bad Things

People are scrambling to find words to best describe the murderous actions of Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas last Sunday. What is known so far is that Paddock was a rich white guy who liked to gamble and was, at times, verbally abusive towards his girlfriend. At a loss to figure out why Paddock did what he did, the talking heads on Fox News have searched high and low for the answer, going so far as to blame his actions on his lack of religious faith. Other talking heads, missing the forest for the trees, wondered brainlessly out loud about whether it was time to increase security in hotels. How in the world did Paddock get so many guns into the hotel? they ask. Duh, geniuses, in his luggage and bags. Sean Hannity blamed the lack of firearms in the country concert crowd, not thinking about how having loaded handguns would have stopped Paddock from spraying the crowd with bullets shot from semi-automatic/automatic weapons hundreds of yards away. Blame. Blame everyone and everything except the one common denominator in EVERY mass shooting — handguns, assault rifles, and high-capacity magazines. Guns don’t kill people, people do. Or so goes the droning NRA mantra, anyway.

The latest person being blamed for the Las Vegas carnage is an entity called EVIL. Evil, much like Satan/Lucifer/Devil, is a religious construct meant to explain why people do bad things. Evangelicals believe all of us, from the moment our father’s sperm united with our mother’s egg, are sinners. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. Thanks to Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God by eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil®, all of us, by nature, are sinners. But when it comes to really, really bad shit — gays getting married, women having abortion, Bill Clinton getting blow jobs in the White House, and Steven Paddock killing and maiming hundreds of people — many Evangelicals blame evil. It’s evil, not guns, that commits mass murder. Of course, Evangelicals — who are overwhelmingly Republicans — forget Mr. Evil when people fly planes into buildings. Then it is Muslims doing all the killing. They seem to have no problem determining who or what is behind such terrorism. However, when it comes to gun violence, many Evangelicals are deaf, dumb, and blind.

matt bevin you cant regulate evil

Tweet by right-wing Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin

Evil is not to blame for America’s problem with mass shootings — guns are. Jesse Berney, a writer for Rolling Stonehad this to say about blaming evil for what happened in Las Vegas:

It’s easy to call acts of horror “evil.” It’s comforting to ascribe an external, unknowable motive to events so terrible we can’t imagine a motivation.

The human mind is incapable of imagining what would drive a man to haul an arsenal of high-powered weapons into a hotel room, knock out a couple windows, murder dozens of people and injure hundreds more by spraying them with gunfire. So we call it evil. That settles that.

President Trump called the shooting in Las Vegas that left at least 59 dead and more than 500 injured “an act of pure evil,” and who’s to argue with him? If evil exists in this world, surely indiscriminately murdering faceless strangers from 300 yards away qualifies. Whatever drove Stephen Paddock to that hotel room that night would fall under any reasonable definition of evil.

But what if evil doesn’t exist in this world?

Of course people do terrible things. Examples are easy to find, from our own regrets to the most unimaginable cruelties. Paddock murdered dozens of people. The government of Myanmar, led by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is engaged in a brutal genocide against an ethnic minority. Every day children are exploited and abused. The world is an abattoir of violence and cruelty if you choose to do nothing but focus on the terror we visit on each other.

But evil? Evil as an independent reality, a thing-in-itself that urges people to action? “Evil” not as judgment of Paddock’s actions but as an explanation of them? That’s a fantasy, and it absolutely will lead to more shootings like these, more deaths.

When elected officials like Trump rely on “evil” to explain away mass shootings, they are following a deliberate strategy. Republicans know wall-to-wall coverage of these events are the best opportunity gun control advocates have to draw attention to the issue and save lives. But the GOP – beholden to the overhyped power of the National Rifle Association – have just one goal: pass zero bills restricting gun sales in any way. (In fact, the Republican leadership in the House is currently considering a bill that would make it easier to purchase both silencers and armor-piercing bullets.) They follow a few strategies like clockwork.

There are calls not to “politicize” these tragedies. They say it’s too soon, that it dishonors the victims and their families to bring politics into the discussion.

They claim specific gun laws wouldn’t have stopped this individual tragedy, because it’s not the right gun, or the perpetrator would have passed a background check – as though stopping some future mass shootings isn’t worthwhile if we can’t stop them all.

They claim criminals intent on breaking the law will just ignore gun laws anyway, as though that doesn’t apply to every law ever passed.

And they call these events “evil” to make them seem random and unpreventable. You can’t fight evil, after all. It’s invisible, incorporeal. It’s the perfect foil for politicians who don’t want to do anything. What are we going to do, pass a law to make evil illegal?

….

But the problem here isn’t evil. It’s not the devil. It’s us: human beings. We have motivations and justifications and rationalizations and reasons for everything we do. We don’t know why Stephen Paddock murdered those people. Maybe we never will. And maybe the sensible laws we could pass, like universal background checks and a ban on all assault weapons, wouldn’t have stopped someone so wealthy and motivated to commit horror. But it could stop someone else. It would save lives.

Blaming evil is an excuse to do nothing in the face of tens of thousands of gun deaths a year. Only a fraction of those deaths are the result of mass shootings like in Las Vegas. We can and should work to reduce all gun deaths, from suicides to accidents to crime-related deaths to massacres like Sunday’s. That means passing laws that keeps guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. The only other option is to do nothing.

….

Almost 35 000 people a year are killed with firearms in the United States (and thousands more are wounded). Many of these deaths are suicides. Nineteen children a day are killed or maimed by gunfire. More people are killed by guns each year than are killed in automobile accidents. Government at every level has seen fit to regulate automobile use, hoping to reduce deaths and injuries from auto accidents. Remove automobiles from the equation and what happens? (Think real hard on that one, gun-lovers.) If guns are removed from the gun violence equation or restricted, guess what happens? Less gun violence, as Australia will attest.

What follows is a list of mass shootings I compiled from several recent news articles:

  • Fort Hood, November 5, 2009 — 13 dead, 30 wounded
  • Edmond, Oklahoma, August 20, 1986 — 14 dead, 6 wounded
  • San Bernardino,California December 2, 2015 — 14 dead, 22 wounded
  • San Ysidro, California, July 18, 1984 — 21 dead, 19 wounded
  • Killeen, Texas, October 16, 1991 — 23 dead, 27 wounded
  • Sandy Hook Elementary School, December 14, 2012 — 26 dead, 2 wounded
  • Virginia Tech University, April 16, 2007 — 32 dead, 17 wounded
  • Orlando,Florida June 12, 2016 — 49 dead, 58 wounded
  • Las Vegas,Nevada October 1, 2017 — 59 dead, 527 wounded
  • Tucson, Arizona, January 8, 2011 — 6 dead, 11 wounded
  • Seal Beach, California, October 12, 2011 — 8 dead, 1 wounded
  • Oakland, California, April 2, 2012 — 7 dead, 1 wounded
  • Aurora, Colorado, July 20, 2012, 12 dead, 58 wounded
  • Oak Creek, Wisconsin, August 5, 2012, 6 dead, 3 wounded
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 28, 2012 — 6 dead, 2 wounded
  • Brookfield, Wisconsin, October 21, 2012 — 3 dead, 4 wounded
  • Washington, DC, September 16, 2013 — 12 dead, 3 injured
  • Isla Vista, California, May 23, 2014, 6 dead , 7 wounded
  • Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2015, 9 dead
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee, July 16, 2015, 5 dead, 3 wounded
  • Roseburg, Oregon, October 1, 2015, 9 dead, 9 injured
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 29, 2015, 3 dead, 9 wounded

What’s the common denominator is these stories? Evil? White guys? Buildings? No! Guns — handguns, long guns, assault rifles, high-capacity clips. And what has Congress done about these mass shootings? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Fearing being primaried by right-wing, NRA-moneyed, Jesus-loving, flag-waving challengers, Republicans refuse to even talk about passing meaningful gun law reform. And sadly, many Democrats are no better. Fearing losing their seats to Republican challengers, Democrats cower in shameful silence before the gun lobby.

The United States has been fighting the war on terror for sixteen years. Congress has seen fit to give the US military trillions of dollars to fund the war on terrorism, all because 3,000 people died on 9/11. Yet, during this same time period, almost 500,000 people have died through gun violence and over a 1,000,000 people have been wounded. And Congress has done what, exactly?  Nothing. If Trump and congressional Republicans have their way, current gun laws will be loosened, making it easier for people who shouldn’t own firearms to have them Earlier this year, Congress made it easier for people with mental illness to purchase a gun. Even worse, Congress is contemplating abolishing the law that makes silencers illegal. Imagine how much damage Paddock could have done if his guns were equipped with shot-muffling silencers.

I am done listening to people who won’t or can’t see that we have a huge problem with gun violence in this country. I refuse to spend one more moment listening to people who think less regulation and more guns is the answer. Call me a pinko liberal or a Communist, I don’t care. I plan to do everything in my power to force government at every level to restrict gun sales and ownership. Some currently available firearms should be made illegal — assault rifles in particular. People shouldn’t be permitted to hoard firearms as Stephen Paddock did. LIBERALS ARE COMING FOR OUR GUNS! Gun rights activists scream, and my response is this: YES, WE ARE! It is high time we put an end to the gun culture in America with its attendant violence, carnage, and death. If Western nations such as Britain and Australia can strictly regulate firearms and drastically reduce gun violence, so can the United States. Whether we have the courage to do so, remains to be seen.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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16 Comments

  1. Jada

    Hannity claimed he would have been an asset in that attack, Captain Marveling around with his gun, saving the day like the imaginary hero he dreams of being. I posit that he would have stomped over women and children to get out of there.

    Reply
  2. Robert Wynn

    You insist on granting moral agency to a block of metal, insisting that the same inanimate object will not regulate itself, that it’s up to people (although people don’t bear the blame for the crime).

    I propose a different common thread:

    Eric Harris age 17 (first on Zoloft then Luvox) and Dylan Klebold aged 18 (Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colorado), killed 12 students and 1 teacher, and wounded 23 others, before killing themselves. Klebold’s medical records have never been made available to the public.

    • Jeff Weise, age 16, had been prescribed 60 mg/day of Prozac (three times the average starting dose for adults!) when he shot his grandfather, his grandfather’s girlfriend and many fellow students at Red Lake, Minnesota. He then shot himself. 10 dead, 12 wounded.

    • Cory Baadsgaard, age 16, Wahluke (Washington state) High School, was on Paxil (which caused him to have hallucinations) when he took a rifle to his high school and held 23 classmates hostage. He has no memory of the event.

    • Chris Fetters, age 13, killed his favorite aunt while taking Prozac.

    • Christopher Pittman, age 12, murdered both his grandparents while taking Zoloft.

    • Mathew Miller, age 13, hung himself in his bedroom closet after taking Zoloft for 6 days.

    • Kip Kinkel, age 15, (on Prozac and Ritalin) shot his parents while they slept then went to school and opened fire killing 2 classmates and injuring 22 shortly after beginning Prozac treatment.

    • Luke Woodham, age 16 (Prozac) killed his mother and then killed two students, wounding six others.

    • Michael Carneal (Ritalin), age 14, opened fire on students at a high school prayer meeting in West Paducah, Kentucky. Three teenagers were killed, five others were wounded..

    • A young man in Huntsville, Alabama (Ritalin) went psychotic chopping up his parents with an ax and also killing one sibling and almost murdering another. (*oops* not a gun)

    • Andrew Golden, age 11, (Ritalin) and Mitchell Johnson, aged 14, (Ritalin) shot 15 people, killing four students, one teacher, and wounding 10 others.

    • TJ Solomon, age 15, (Ritalin) high school student in Conyers, Georgia opened fire on and wounded six of his class mates.

    • James Wilson, age 19, (various psychiatric drugs) from Breenwood, South Carolina, took a .22 caliber revolver into an elementary school killing two young girls, and wounding seven other children and two teachers.

    • Elizabeth Bush, age 13, (Paxil) was responsible for a school shooting in Pennsylvania

    • Jason Hoffman (Effexor and Celexa) – school shooting in El Cajon, California

    • Jarred Viktor, age 15, (Paxil), after five days on Paxil he stabbed his grandmother 61 times.

    • Jeff Franklin (Prozac and Ritalin), Huntsville, AL, killed his parents as they came home from work using a sledge hammer, hatchet, butcher knife and mechanic’s file, then attacked his younger brothers and sister.

    • Neal Furrow (Prozac) in LA Jewish school shooting reported to have been court-ordered to be on Prozac along with several other medications.

    • Kevin Rider, age 14, was withdrawing from Prozac when he died from a gunshot wound to his head. Initially it was ruled a suicide, but two years later, the investigation into his death was opened as a possible homicide. The prime suspect, also age 14, had been taking Zoloft and other SSRI antidepressants.

    • Alex Kim, age 13, hung himself shortly after his Lexapro prescription had been doubled.

    • Diane Routhier was prescribed Welbutrin for gallstone problems. Six days later, after suffering many adverse effects of the drug, she shot herself.

    • Billy Willkomm, an accomplished wrestler and a University of Florida student, was prescribed Prozac at the age of 17. His family found him dead of suicide – hanging from a tall ladder at the family’s Gulf Shore Boulevard home in July 2002.

    • Kara Jaye Anne Fuller-Otter, age 12, was on Paxil when she hung herself from a hook in her closet. Kara’s parents said “…. the damn doctor wouldn’t take her off it and I asked him to when we went in on the second visit. I told him I thought she was having some sort of reaction to Paxil…”)

    • Gareth Christian, Vancouver, age 18, was on Paxil when he committed suicide in 2002, (Gareth’s father could not accept his son’s death and killed himself.)

    • Matthew Miller was 13 when he saw a psychiatrist because he was having difficulty at school. The psychiatrist gave him samples of Zoloft. Seven days later his mother found him dead, hanging by a belt from a laundry hook in his closet.

    • Kurt Danysh, age 18, and on Prozac, killed his father with a shotgun. He is now behind prison bars, and writes letters, trying to warn the world that SSRI drugs can kill.

    • A boy from Houston, age 10, shot and killed his father after his Prozac dosage was increased.

    • Hammad Memon, age 15, shot and killed a fellow middle school student. He had been diagnosed with ADHD and depression and was taking Zoloft and “other drugs for the conditions.”

    • Matti Saari, a 22-year-old culinary student, shot and killed 9 students and a teacher, and wounded another student, before killing himself. Saari was taking an SSRI and a benzodiazapine.

    • Steven Kazmierczak, age 27, shot and killed five people and wounded 21 others before killing himself in a Northern Illinois University auditorium. According to his girlfriend, he had recently been taking Prozac, Xanax and Ambien. Toxicology results showed that he still had trace amounts of Xanax in his system.

    • Finnish gunman Pekka-Eric Auvinen, age 18, had been taking antidepressants before he killed eight people and wounded a dozen more at Jokela High School – then he committed suicide.

    • Jon Romano, age 16, on medication for depression, fired a shotgun at a teacher in his New York high school.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I do no such thing. Inanimate objects do not commit crimes, people do. We regulate the use of inanimate objects because they can be used to harm/kill. As far as your list is concerned, I have no idea what your point is. That anti-depressants can cause people to do bad things? This is a known fact, so what’s your point?

      Reply
      1. Geoff

        I can’t see why guns can’t be treated in the same way as cars and trucks. A registry of ownership, documented change of ownership, insurance, age limits, compulsory testing etc.

        The statistics for gun violence in the US are grim; it’s a country that should be ashamed of itself over the issue, yet the only response when a mass shooting occurs is ‘we need more guns’. I live in the UK, where gun crime exists but is a tiny blot on the landscape. I’ve never seen or handled a gun, other than an air gun, or shotguns used for grouse shooting. Not having guns is a great way of stopping shooting; reading people’s minds is much harder.

        Reply
      2. Robert Wynn

        From the 3rd Paragraph:
        “Evil is not to blame for America’s problem with mass shootings — guns are.”

        So what is “to blame for… mass shootings”?

        After the list of events:
        “What’s the common denominator is these stories? Evil? White guys? Buildings? No! Guns — handguns, long guns, assault rifles, high-capacity clips.

        And what has Congress done about these mass shootings?”

        You’re not giving moral agency to guns? You’re not blaming inanimate objects?

        Please clarify, as a plain reading of your post seems to contradict your denial.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          I assume my readers are literate enough to understand that when I talk about guns I am talking about what is done with them, not the inanimate object itself. Morality requires human action. Now that I have settled that issue, are you done?

          Reply
    2. Becky Wiren

      This looks bad. But until scientific studies prove that mood altering meds cause violence, correlation is not causation. If you have any links I’d like to see it. Thank you. Not really trying to be too snarky! I’d actually like to see it proven one way or another.

      Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Why are you dragging this subject into the discussion?

          Reply
          1. Becky Wiren

            Because I commented on it. And I’m not reading the links.

          2. Becky Wiren

            I meant I’m NOW reading the links. I’m done so you can delete both these short comments to you. 🙂

          3. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            Oh no, they remain written in digital stone, forever. 🙂

        2. Becky Wiren

          Thanks for the links. I read fast. Not one of the links shows double blind studies have PROVEN that antidepressants cause gun violence. “Researchers suggest” is not a double blind study. I admit that the literature shows cause for concern. All the more reason to have that multi-year double blind study covering a statistically significant sample.

          Even using the term “more prone to violence in young people” is not statistically quantifiable. And in the last link, experts are slamming the movie that claims that an antidepressant caused James Holmes to go off. Very click baity title of movie, but not grounded in a scientific double blind study. THAT is what people need to make judgments on.

          Reply
          1. Robert Wynn

            Becky,
            Of course a double blind study would be a knockout blow. With the politicization of science and future funding at stake, I don’t know who has the fortitude to take on Big Pharma (certainly neither the GOP nor the Democrats).

            While I’ll stipulate that blaming “evil” isn’t actionable to prevent the next attack, studying the similarities between violent people and finding SSRIs culpable is at least ONE lead.

            Firearms have been around for centuries, but now we see an uptick in violence. SSRIs are being prescribed more and more often in America. Increased utilization of mind altering drugs seems more plausible to me than assigning moral agency to inanimate objects.

            Attacking Big Pharma after an public massacre doesn’t bring clicks or satisfy the outrage of the masses, especially when more and more of the outraged masses are relying on Big Pharma.

          2. Geoff

            This is more directed at Robert Wynn but there’s no reply button.

            I’m not even sure what relevance this issue with anti depressants has to gun crime. Even if one were to concede a link, so what? Ban everyone on anti depressants from gun ownership? Then if they stop taking the pills can they have a gun? What about people who need to take them, but deliberately avoid treatment so as to avoid the gun restrictions.

            It’s a smoke and mirrors argument. And nobody’s saying that guns have moral agency, any more than North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has moral agency.

  3. Robert Wynn

    Geoff,
    Everyone seems to want to blame government for not banning weapons. How about doing further research into the safety of these anti-depressants or the corruption as it relates to regulations on Big Pharma?

    The problem seems to be self perpetuating. People who turn to chemical solutions to deal with negative emotions are given pills that make them more violent and suddenly we have hundreds more families dealing with negative emotions, many of which will be prescribed mind altering drugs and perhaps become violent themselves in a moment of weakness.

    The people in Congress (with their single digit approval ratings) are swapping money and influence constantly with Big Pharma, regardless of their place on the political spectrum. So many of the violent criminals and especially the school shooters are on SSRIs similar chemical cocktails. This is something that people could rally behind, because it unites the nation against a common enemy instead of pitting gun owners against people who don’t understand guns.

    I comprehend that this is far from your radar because the instant distraction after a mass shooting is for all the comedians to stop telling jokes and give policy opinions. You want a smoke screen? Whip up the furor at your neighbors and you’ll not even consider the root of the problem. If guns have no moral agency, why become so enraged about them? It’s the perfect smoke screen. One side attacks, the other defends, and neither focus on the driver of the conflict.

    And even Salon says that gun control is racist. http://tinyurl.com/yb6vehr5
    Unless you’re talking about taking guns away from the cops and military, liberals are contradicting themselves constantly regarding guns.

    Reply

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