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We don’t have a gun violence problem

Yes, you heard me.

It’s time everyone stops saying that America has a gun violence problem. Our situation is nowhere near as superficial as that.

Robin Schumacher
Courtesy of Robin Schumacher

We have a violence problem, period, irrespective of what instrument is used in the commission of a crime. That, in turn, is just one part of the overall ethical crisis being experienced in the country; a climax of having our morals siphoned off, slowly but surely, through the rejection and removal of God and value for human life from society.  

This comes as no surprise for anyone familiar with how Scripture characterizes our times: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

The Bible, as usual, correctly diagnoses the problem and focuses on the efficient cause of violence and evil vs. any instrumental cause.

Instrumental vs. efficient causes of violence

Aristotle was right when he separated the “cause” of something into four different buckets back in the fourth century: efficient, formal, final, and material causes. He didn’t explicitly call out an instrumental cause, but the others formed the basis for its idea.

An instrumental cause is the means by which something takes place. For example, a carpenter uses various tools (instruments) to build a table, but the efficient cause by which the table comes about is the carpenter him/herself.

When it comes to violence, history has shown that a wrong-headed focus on the instrumental cause of bloodshed vs. the efficient cause accomplishes little to nothing in the end.  

For example, we hear impassioned cries today to deep-six so-called “assault rifles” even though more people are beaten to death each year than are killed by such rifles. Further, government analysis done on the 1994 assault weapon ban showed no meaningful reduction in homicides from its enactment.

Some want to outlaw “high capacity” gun magazines even though each year’s statistics show only 3-5 rounds of ammunition are fired in nearly 99% of armed confrontations. Moreover, the 3rd worst mass shooting in America was committed with a handgun where the killer used 10-round magazines.

Also ignored is the reality that guns actually save magnitudes more lives each year in self-defense situations than those taken through firearms-related homicides[1].

In my work-related travels each year to EMEA where guns are highly restricted, the front page of papers left at my hotel room door routinely trumpet the most recent knife attacks, the monthly carnage of which sometimes exceeds homicide totals in major U.S. cities. In response, the governments of those countries have gone so far as to propose legislation banning any sold knife from having a tip / point, even including those used for culinary purposes.

The truth is, taking away or modifying the chosen instruments of a ‘carpenter’ rarely stops them from accomplishing what they intend if they’re dedicated and/or creative.

Sometimes the instrument is indeed a gun like the one employed in the recent shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. Other times it’s a knife such as the weapon used at the Osaka school massacre (8 children dead, 15 seriously wounded) and similar ones utilized in attacks at various Chinese schools some years ago. And let’s not forget about the fertilizer bomb used in Oklahoma City or the airplanes hijacked during 9-11.

The sad truth is that evil – the efficient cause of violence – usually finds a way. The cure for violence, therefore, is to remove the evil itself instead of sophomorically thinking it’s the instruments that are to blame.

Beating the efficient cause of violence  

While mental illness comes into play in many violence-related tragedies, there is definitely more to the story. It was noted Christian philosopher and theologian Francis Schaeffer who labeled the real issue “man’s dilemma”, writing, “Man is able both to rise to great heights and to sink to great depths of cruelty and tragedy.”

Schaeffer asked what hope we have, in and of ourselves, that we will get any better, especially since the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history. The answer is, none, since our current culture has never preached more about tolerance and morality yet shown less acceptance and kindness towards others.

The author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (not a Christian), agrees with Schaeffer in a scene she depicts where her monster confronts doctor Frankenstein about all the evil he sees. People could be kind, but also evil, it notes. The creation tells the doctor that the conclusion it has come to is, you were created in the image of a perfect being, and you’ve fallen away from it. 

Theologian R. C. Sproul relays an important observation in this vein when he says, “If each one of us is born without a sinful nature, how do we account for the universality of sin? If four billion people were born with no inclination to sin, with no corruption to their nature, we would reasonably expect that at least some of them would refrain from falling. . .But if everybody does it, without exception, then we begin to wonder why.”

The Bible tells us why – each of us is born with an evil heart capable of the most terrible things imaginable:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

“The hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live” (Ecc. 9:3).

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21–22).

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:1–2).

The sin disease present in every human heart is the efficient cause of events like the recent one in Indianapolis, 9-11, Sandy Hook, Oklahoma City, etc. It won’t respond to more restrictive gun legislation, counseling, or anything similar.

It needs a more powerful cure. The Bible is unequivocal in its diagnosis of humanity’s efficient cause of evil actions: “You must be born again” (John 3:7).

When the human heart no longer aims to harm their neighbor, but instead seeks to love their neighbor, then we’ll have the real change we all seek with one end result being the instant dismissal of all useless demands for gun, knife, etc., bans to the trash heap.


[1] For an interesting and balanced view on this and other gun control assertions, see statistician Leah Libresco’s Washington Post article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/i-used-to-think-gun-control-was-the-answer-my-research-told-me-otherwise/2017/10/03/d33edca6-a851-11e7-92d1-58c702d2d975_story.html

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