In my country, the United States, we’re suffering through a horrific epidemic of deadly gun violence. Mass shootings occur nearly every day.
As a non-violent person, I’ll admit that I’m having a really hard time understanding this growing epidemic. Most of the mass shootings, terrorist incidents and multiple murders seem to happen without any real discernable motive—instead, the killers compete in a sick, twisted way with one another to see how much carnage they can cause.
Like the original teachings of all major religions, my Faith forbids such violence and killing:
… rendering assistance unto God, in this day, doth not and shall never consist in contending or disputing with any soul; nay rather, what is preferable in the sight of God is that the cities of men’s hearts, which are ruled by the hosts of self and passion, should be subdued by the sword of utterance, of wisdom and of understanding. Thus, whoso seeketh to assist God must, before all else, conquer, with the sword of inner meaning and explanation, the city of his own heart and guard it from the remembrance of all save God, and only then set out to subdue the cities of the hearts of others.
Such is the true meaning of rendering assistance unto God. Sedition hath never been pleasing unto God, nor were the acts committed in the past by certain foolish ones acceptable in His sight. Know ye that to be killed in the path of His good pleasure is better for you than to kill. – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, pp. 109-110.
O ye lovers of God! In this, the cycle of Almighty God, violence and force, constraint and oppression, are one and all condemned. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 149.
Frustrated and in tears after the latest mass shooting—at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas—I asked my wife the same unanswerable question so many people are asking: When will this stop?
We both know the answer: not anytime soon.
According to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), the independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization that reports on firearms-related violent incidents in the United States, on November 8—the 312th day of the year—there had been 308 mass shootings so far in 2017. In 2016, there were 383 mass shootings in the U.S.—more than one a day for the entire year.
GVA defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot or killed in a single incident, not including the shooter. No other country in the world has this problem at this out-of-control level. Citizens of other countries are amazed and aghast. Most rational people would agree that these senseless massacres have reached an absolutely insane level.
But can we actually blame it on insanity? Many elected officials, the gun lobby and multiple state and local governments point toward mental illness as the proximate cause of these mass killings.
Certainly, there is anecdotal evidence to indicate that mental illness does play a part in some mass shootings. We all like to think that no one in their right mind would take a lethal weapon and kill men, women and children randomly, so plain common sense tells us that mental illness is probably a factor.
But more and more, experts and mental health professionals have pushed back against that easy explanation:
In the wake of a string of horrific mass shootings by people who in many cases had emotional problems, it has become fashionable to blame mental illness for violent crimes. It has even been suggested that these crimes justify not only banning people with a history of mental illness from buying weapons but also arming those without such diagnoses so that they may protect themselves from the dangerous mentally ill. This fundamentally misrepresents where the danger lies.
Violence is not a product of mental illness. Nor is violence generally the action of ordinary, stable individuals who suddenly “break” and commit crimes of passion. Violent crimes are committed by violent people, those who do not have the skills to manage their anger. Most homicides are committed by people with a history of violence. Murderers are rarely ordinary, law-abiding citizens, and they are also rarely mentally ill. Violence is a product of compromised anger management skills. – Laura L. Hayes, How to Stop Violence, Slate Magazine, April 9, 2014.
The research backs this assertion up—strongly. Dr. Seena Fazel, a psychiatrist and senior researcher at Oxford University’s Forensic Psychiatry Division, concluded after many years of research:
… that the proportion of violent crimes attributable to patients with these diagnoses [schizophrenia and bipolar disorder] is less than 5%, a finding which has been used by mental health charities to address patient stigma. Our investigations on the association of mental illness with specific violent crimes suggests the need for much closer collaboration of criminal justice and mental health services. – Forensic Psychiatry
Do you know anyone with “compromised anger management skills”? Of course, no matter where you live, angry people exist. That anger, the Baha’i teachings say, can be managed and mollified by love:
… as the days go by, increase thy store of love for His beloved ones. Bend thou with tenderness over the servitors of the All-Merciful, that thou mayest hoist the sail of love upon the ark of peace that moveth across the seas of life. Let nothing grieve thee, and be thou angered at none. It behoveth thee to be content with the Will of God, and a true and loving and trusted friend to all the peoples of the earth, without any exceptions whatever. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 25-26.
If you do know people with compromised anger management skills, and if you’d like to help reduce the incidence of these terrible crimes against humanity, please follow along in this series of essays. We’ll examine the causes and explore the potential remedies for these terrible crimes, and see if we can draw on the wisdom of the Baha’i teachings to “hoist the sail of love upon the ark of peace …”