Guns and God: A Strange Mix for Mass Murder

The growing and deadly tendency for American domestic terrorists to target members of various religions and their places of worship has reached a point where some parishioners are arming themselves before entering houses of God.

While God and guns may seem like an odd mix, two recent heinous crimes have spurred a growing call from religious institutions for better security and the right to carry weapons.

On Dec. 29, a gunman killed two parishioners in a church near Forth Worth Texas before armed worshippers, members of security at the West Freeway Church of Christ, shot the assailant to death.

On the seventh night of Hanukkah, the marking of the night Jews rose against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in 167 B.C., a man stabbed five people at a rabbi’s house in New York.

The Dec. 28 assault was the most violent of several anti-Semitic acts promulgated recently.

The assailant tried to enter a synagogue next door but those inside were able to stymie the attack by barricading the door.

Mass shootings, defined in the US as a crime where four or more people are killed, have entered the realm of routine in the United States.

According to database figures extracted by the Associated Press, USA Today media outlet and Northeastern University, there were 41 mass murdered recorded in 2019, taking a total of 211 lives. It is the most mass murders since records have been kept and 33 of the crimes involved firearms.

But even the record did not result in the largest death toll. That dubious honour belongs to 2017 when 224 people died in mass killings. It included the worst mass shooting in American history, with 59 shot to death and at least 500 injured at a music festival in Las Vegas.

Enough Americans have stood steadfast by their weapons, so much so that the majority who want stiffer gun control have a hapless task because politicians are afraid to rile the powerful gun lobby led by the National Rifle Association.

An illustration: Republican Party politicians – stiff proponents for guns – praised the armed security parishioner who gunned down the shooter at the West Freeway Church of Christ and said it was fortunate that Texas state laws allowed guns in houses of worship. Meanwhile the Democrats called for stricter guns laws that they claimed would help prevent such attacks.

And the gun proponents invariably cite the Second Amendment of the Constitution of United States, which states: A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

That was written in 1791, before automatic and semi-automatic weapons, when a single-shot musket was the most common firearm. Guns were also essential to life back then when people had to hunt and shoot dinner and protect themselves from Indian attacks.

President Barack Obama said after the Sandy Hook school massacre where 20 children and six educators were shot to death on Dec. 14, 2012 that stricter gun control was on the way. He admitted defeat five months later when Congress refused to act – it was a “shameful day” in Washington, Obama said.

But leaving the pros and cons of guns restrictions, there is a question both sides of the argument ask: What drives a person to commit a mass shooting?

An analysis of the Violence Project Database shows that shootings committed through hate have taken a sharp increase in the last five years.

Portrait of a mass killer

Two distinct groups emerge – those who were motivated by hate of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, blaming the religions for disappointments in their lives.

The other group attacks the place of worship because they had a grudge against someone worshipping there, such as a family member or girlfriend.

Of the 11 who killed, all were men and the southern United States is a prime breeding ground.

The perpetrator is likely to be white and a resident of Texas, where a third of the crimes took place.

He is as young as his early 20s and as old as early 40s.

The man is single and recently lost his job, most likely fired. He has a criminal history of violence and was in some crisis before the shooting. He also has a documented past of mental illness and substance abuse.

He has been online researching past mass shootings and probably studied white supremacist conspiracy theories. The internet material often pushes them to act.

In short, they are unhappy and hold a grudge against a group the perpetrator blames for disappointments he has suffered.

How to stop it, short of stricter gun control?

Prevention consists of not necessarily arming security personnel, but having paid staff and volunteers greeting worshippers at the church door who are trained to recognize potential problems and on how to de-escalate violence.

And then there is the Internet that has validated the hate and violence. Confronting and challenging hate face-to-face or on the Internet is essential in stopping future mass killings.

(The portrait of a mass murderer who attacks worshippers is based on research by Jillian Peterson, a psychologist and professor of criminal justice at Hamline University in Minnesota and James Densley, a sociologist and professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota.)