This week we were reminded, yet again, of the darker side of our human nature. Dozens of innocents, mostly small children, were mowed down by a madman equipped with awesome firepower. And once again we are left to ask, what happened? And how can we keep it from happening again?
Well, I don’t know. But this incident brings to mind a profound lesson from my adolescence:
I must have been about seventeen years old, when I set out to the local hardware store (remember those?) to buy a lock for the front door of my house. (OK, it was my parents’ house, but this was my assigned task that day.) Once there, I beheld the wide array of options and the broad range of prices, anywhere from $5.00 to $50.00. (Yes, I’m that old; things were cheap back then.)
Bewildered, I asked the department manager (again, back when stores had such things), “What’s the difference? What makes one lock ten times as valuable as another?”
His body language was obvious; I could tell that he was about to give me the rehearsed “official” speech, to tell me why I should buy a higher-end product. Surely he wants the sale, right? But then he paused, and looked me straight in the eye. “Look, son, it doesn’t really matter.”
He explained. “Let me guess, the door has a wooden frame, right?”
“Yes, but why does that matt--?”
“About ninety percent of all burglars don’t bother to tamper with the lock; they just kick the door in, or break a window. Your house has glass windows, right?”
“Um…yeah.” I was stunned. “Then…why bother to have a lock at all?”
“If someone really wants to break into your house, they will find a way, no matter what you do. But a lock keeps honest people honest.”
I was speechless. But in retrospect, I know he was right: Most people, when faced with the slightest resistance, will walk away. They will be deterred either by their conscience, or by their fear of getting caught if they linger too long at the door. But for the hardened professional, armed with confidence from past successes, no obstacle will be too great.
So, what does this have to do with preventing gun violence?
For some, the answer lies in ever-stricter gun control laws. But I’m not so sure; for if it was possible to legislate our way out of this problem, wouldn't we have found the perfect formula by now? Such regulations serve to keep honest people honest, but a truly determined felon will always find a way to get his hands on his weapon of choice.
According to the FBI, over 4,000 homicides in 2011 were committed without a firearm. This statistic suggests to me that even if we eliminated every gun from the planet, people would still find a way to kill each other.
For others, the solution is to lock up and/or medicate legions of mentally ill (yet law-abiding) citizens proactively, because they might do something stupid someday. (Remember the Tom Cruise film, Minority Report?) Yet by this amateur observer’s reckoning, our nation will never have enough hospital beds, nor pills, nor prison cells, nor doctors, nor nurses, to achieve what some have suggested in recent days. Oh, and did I mention the money, and the civil rights considerations? I’m all in favor of crime prevention, but in our advanced enlightened nation, we don’t treat people this way.
So what’s the answer? I won’t claim to know, but perhaps it lies somewhere in the mishmash of “all of the above.” Surely firearms serve a useful purpose for hunting or self-defense, but no one really needs a machine gun. Now might be a good time to re-examine that infamous gun-show exemption. And if a particular patient can benefit from treatment or medication, by all means bring it on. Yet if the headlines of this past decade can teach us anything, it is that these simplistic approaches only go so far.
We are all proud to proclaim that we live in a free society, and we preach these values to the world to show ’em how it’s done. I, for one, would have it no other way. Even so, this freedom isn’t free; it comes at a price, with the risk that some of our citizens will abuse this liberty for evil purposes.
Jesus told us that war and crime will only increase as we approach the End of Days. That we will never know a world without poverty. As Christians, we are never promised immunity from worldly troubles. This will ever be so; if someone ever tries to tell you differently, that our political system actually has the power to undo such social ills, don’t believe it.
Governments can surely compel conformity, withhold weapons and avenge crimes, but only God can change the hearts of men.
What are you waiting for?