The Profile of a Mass Shooter

photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc
photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc

Once again, the United States has been rocked by a mass shooting in which mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, siblings, children, and grandparents have been brutally murdered. The shooting at the Washington Naval Yard was serious enough (meaning that enough people were killed) to give our nation collective pause—to take a momentary break from our daily pursuits, to express sadness for the senseless loss of life, and to express our continued sense of bewilderment over the escalating number of mass shooting events.

Guns are a factor, for sure, but as I’ve written before, the problem runs much deeper than the availability of weapons. Indeed, we have seen enough of these events to identify common themes at play in the lives of those who commit such acts of violence.

Most mass shooters have been men with identity issues (sometimes to the point of mental instability). Their struggles with insecurity may stem from broken or dysfunctional family environments, or from the systematic mistreatment by peers. Often, detectives uncover a pain-filled combination of the two factors. Immersed in a toxic environment of violent TV shows, movies, and video games that desensitize a heart to the value of human life, their emotions are like dry tinder just waiting for a spark—any spark—to ignite a wildfire.

photo credit: Ansel Edwards Photography via photopin cc
photo credit: Ansel Edwards Photography via photopin cc

In addition, there is another theme that is all too common in our increasingly fractured society—isolation. Don’t get me wrong—there is such a thing as good isolation, such as those times when we withdraw from the daily clamor of life to seek God and to recharge. This, however, is not that. The isolated world of a shooter is full of dark, brooding, life-stealing thoughts. In such situations, the human mind left to its own musings will come to no good conclusions.

What many of us fail to realize is that a shooting rampage is merely the culmination of an ongoing process. For every mass shooter, there are thousands, perhaps even millions of people living in their own isolated worlds, brooding over mistreatment, abandonment, betrayal, and a host of other unjust acts against their persons. Each bitter thought is an act of violence in its own right, and if allowed to run its course, some form of damage will certainly result.

This form of dangerous isolation is a type of “spiritual wilderness”—desolate territory where God appears to be absent and people uncaring. Most of us have these types of experiences to one degree or another; what marks the difference between life and death is the manner in which we process the adversity we face.

God is greater than any difficulty—even injustice—that any of us will ever face. But only those who trust Him, who learn to process their circumstances through the eye of faith, will emerge as champions over darkness and hate. No matter how bleak the horizon may appear, the eye of faith will look beyond the storm clouds to see dazzling rays of hope.

photo credit: Ashley Pollak via photopin cc
photo credit: Ashley Pollak via photopin cc

Though a wilderness experience of this sort may be nothing of our own choosing, how we process such circumstances is entirely ours. May we never forget that the sovereign Creator of the Universe is able to turn even sinful human choices toward His eternal purposes. That, after all, is one of the things that makes Him God. But what about us—will we believe?

(This post is loosely based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is now available for sale through Amazon and through our new SfMe Media website. This searchforme.wordpress.com site is now being phased out with this final post. All future blog entries will be posted to our new ministry website, searchforme.info. You can subscribe by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

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Why Gun Control Misses the Point

photo credit: John Steven Fernandez via photopin cc
photo credit: John Steven Fernandez via photopin cc

“The findings were disturbing….” So goes the beginning of a paragraph in an article about the Pulitzer Prize winning report (Assault on Learning) by the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding violence in the Philadelphia school system. After reading further, I could not help but agree—it is all very disturbing!

More than 30,000 serious incidents were reported in the district over a five-year period. On an average day, 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or made victims of other violent crime. As large as those numbers seem, they didn’t represent the full gravity of the problem. Many violent incidents went unreported. Some attacks were carried out by children in the earliest grades.[1]

How many students are there in the district? According Susan Snyder—one of the lead journalists in the story—we are talking about only 146,000 students.[2] The significance of the problem becomes even greater when we recognize that schools are gun-free zones. In other words, very little of this violence had anything to do with firearms.

In one particularly sad case, more than 30 Asian students were brutally beaten by their fellow classmates—most of whom were African American. This type of situation was identity related and it stems from the third primary root of our fallen natures that contributes to violence—our quest for glory. Of the three roots mentioned—self-centered lust, the desire for control, and the quest for glory—the quest for glory is probably the most difficult for us to comprehend.

Adam & Eve had been created in the very image of God, and, being clothed in His glory, they were naked and unashamed. However, by choosing to seek a sense of goodness independent from their Creator, our ancient ancestors quickly found themselves naked and very much ashamed. Painfully separated from the King of Glory, the unhappy result was a glory deficiency which is now inherent to the entire human race.

Glory is fleeting . . .
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From a very young age, it becomes every person’s goal to find a sense of significance through his or her performance, appearance, possessions, etc. It is in the fickle court of human approval that we seek to find significance. As we enter the world of comparisons and judgments, our value as human beings depends upon our ability to measure up to the ever-changing standards of our individual subcultures. In the high school scene, for example, those who meet current standards of beauty and athletic performance become wildly popular, while those who fall far short of the standards find themselves condemned as objects of scorn.

The pursuit of glory is so ingrained in the human psyche that for the most part we find it to be entirely natural. But the division it creates and the destruction it wreaks! A group of black students viciously beat 30 Asian students in Philadelphia schools simply because the Asians did not meet the standards of a black identity. Ironically, it was the same mindset used by whites to justify the horrors of slavery for so many years. We can see that at its roots this type of violence has nothing to do with black or white or any other skin color—it’s rooted in an all-encompassing effort to achieve a glory-based identity.

The tree of identity-based violence springs from the seed of contempt. Any time we despise someone who fails to meet our particular standards we commit an act of spiritual violence toward that individual. Physical violence ultimately erupts as we nourish seeds of contempt with the right (or wrong, depending on one’s perspective) environmental conditions.

At its core, the Gospel is an identity message.[3] We find our true significance through our relationship with God, not by our performance, but in our lofty status as sons and daughters of the eternal King of Glory. To abide in Christ is to be clothed once again in God’s greatness, secure in identity and free to be humble.

photo credit: Good Eye Might via photopin cc
photo credit: Good Eye Might via photopin cc

 Will fewer people be killed if our government implements gun control measures? Possibly. Violence and its resulting pain, however, will continue to plague American society until we strike the problem at its evil roots. Once again, the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides the most powerful solution to what ails us!


[1] Susan Snyder, The Press, the Passion, and the Prize, as found in the IUP Magazine, VOL. XXX, NO.3, p. 17

[3] Check out our Search for Me Identity Study for a much more in-depth explanation.

Why Government Leaders Ignore the Root Causes of Violence

U.S. Capitol
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Every time a mass shooting occurs in the U.S., our government leaders rise to the occasion by proclaiming the need for change. Those who are sincere will usually push hard for gun control while ignoring the root causes that have brought such sickness upon our society.

Why are our politicians so slow to look at the real issues? There are times when gazing into a mirror can be very unsettling.

In examining the Scriptures we find that the primary problem with human nature is an innate desire to be like God apart from God. This defining drive of the human heart finds its expression through three primary roots—self-centeredness, the lust for power and control, and a constant yearning for self-glorification. All three fallen tendencies drive the world of politics, but rather than potentially implicating themselves by addressing the real issues, our leaders and legislators will look for any scapegoat to deflect the attention from their own shortcomings. It is all simply a matter of human nature.

We the people
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I share these thoughts not as a disgruntled American full of disdain for our government leaders, but as a Christian who fully recognizes that these self-absorbed tendencies are common to the entire human race. If ours is a government for the people and by the people, at least to some degree, our government leaders serve as a reflection of the general populace.

All of this brings us to yet another factor in the rise of gun violence in the United States—the declining influence of a vital Christian Church in America. I cannot agree with those conservative historians who try to paint virtually all of our Founding Fathers as devoted Christians, but I can say that the men who fought for freedom from tyranny and who framed our Constitution were profoundly influenced by Christianity.

The First Great Awakening was a move of the Holy Spirit that changed the fabric of the American colonies in the 1730s and 40s. That experience, combined with longtime frustration with authoritarian monarchies, deeply impacted the hearts of America’s 2.4 million residents. The result was a new form of democracy replete with freedoms of all sorts, including an emphasis on the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and, of course, the freedom of religious practice.

Founding Fathers
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Even though the Founding Fathers may not have all been Christians, they all lived in a culture that had been colored by the Christian faith. The result was an ideal—the belief that if all pursued the greater good, they could build a society like none other. In the process, men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington established a system of checks and balances to protect this new ideal from the self-absorbed tendencies of human nature. Almost amazingly, the social experiment that we call the United States of America worked quite well until the moral influence of a vital Christian Church began to wane. With the decline of the Church came the lifting of the societal standards which stood against self-centeredness, the lust for power and control, and the constant yearning for self-glorification. Human nature, in other words, has become increasingly free to run its course. And just as it was when Cain killed his brother Abel, grief, tears, and extreme heartache are now our lot.

Church Building
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Again, I want to be clear that my primary criticism is not of our government but of the Church at large in the U.S. Non-Christians will do what non-Christians will do—and all the more so without the steadying influence of a vibrant Christian Church. For those who profess Christ, we are now left with a choice. We can whine and complain and lament the loss of what once was, or we can lift up our heads, bow our knees, and pursue Christ with our whole hearts. Instead of being selfish, we can walk in love. Instead of seeking power and control, we can seek the advance of God’s kingdom. Instead of seeking our own glory, we can proclaim His through both word and lifestyle.

Will we be able to turn our nation back to the point where freedom truly thrives? In all honesty, I don’t know. But I do know that one life fully surrendered to the King of Glory can have a powerful impact on the lives of untold others. If even one potential mass murderer is won to Christ, not only is his life saved, the lives of all of his potential victims are also spared.

No matter who you are and no matter what your status, if you are truly alive in Christ, you will make a profound difference in the lives of others. What better legacy can we leave for our children, grandchildren, and the others who follow after us?