Tag Archives: gun violence

A Second Mass Murder this Weekend: now 30 killed, nearly 50 wounded in Two Attacks

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am shaking my head at the mass killing in Dayton, Ohio last night. Another nine people killed and 20 more wounded in the space of 30 seconds. Using a AR-15 type weapon equipped with a 100 round drum magazine while dressed in black clothing, and wearing body armor, the murderer was killed by Dayton police just before he could enter a crowded bar. Had he gotten in his already his already gruesome toll in human lives would have skyrocketed. He even killed his sister.

His history as a student in high school records that he was expelled once and re-admitted. At the same time he was reported as having been a bully, a misogynist, and to have had a “hit list” of people that he wanted to kill or rape. He also used social media to say that he was a “Satanist” and a “Leftist” who railed against the radicals of the extreme Right and President Trump, although he gloated over the death of Senator John McCain, which would be unusual for someone who despised Trump, McCain for his faults was admired by many on the left. So I wonder, if his was a false flag, especially with his earlier violent history.

However, violent sociopaths are not limited to the political Right. The Left, especially in Europe, Asia, and South and Central America his its share, not so many in the United States, especially since the end of Vietnam, but not unknown.

The killer obtained his weapons by mail from Texas through a local dealer. He drove his sister and others to the site of his massacre, then disappeared until he came back to kill. What is motivation was is undetermined, but he was a violent sociopath who masqueraded as a nice guy. Evil knows no boundaries. People forget that many of Stalin’s secret police and military officers had once been loyal servants of the Czar, and that many of Hitler’s most ruthless killers had at one time been Communists, Socialists, or members of the political Center. They just shifted their loyalties.

But the one common thing between the last two, and if you extend it to the killer at the Garlic Festival early last week, the real problem is not just the evil of these killers. But, that the problem also resides in our nation’s lax gun laws. There are so many loopholes that make it easy for any person to acquire military grade weapons, extended magazines, flash suppressors, silencers, body armor and Kevlar helmets, with little to no restrictions. In fact, these terrorists and criminals no matter what their persuasion or ideology are aided by the gun lobby and its army of lawyers, and are often more heavily armed and protected than law enforcement officers. Please, try to tell me how that makes any sense at all.  If you can I’ll give you a cookie.

Until we as a people, regardless of our political beliefs regarding the Second Amendment are willing to face that fact there will be more carnage. There will by hundreds, if not thousands of deaths. Empty words from the President or members Congress, without bipartisan legislation that gives law enforcement agencies the authority to enforce those laws is simple bullshit, regardless if it comes from a Republican or Democrat.

I have qualified or familiarized with almost every individual or team fired weapon in the current and past United States military inventory dating back to 1981. My favorites were the M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol, and the M203 Grenade Launcher. It was an M16A1 with a 40mm grenade launcher below the muzzle. I also used to call for fire for 155mm field artillery. To be sure putting those rounds on target gave me a woody. Once we finalize the final renovations to our townhome and move to a ranch house, my wife and I plan on getting matching bolt action carbines. She shoots like Annie Oakley, she’s a much better shot than me.

That being said neither of us needs an AR-15 or AK 47, or for that matter any of their derivatives. For that matter, I don’t believe anyone needs that kind of weaponry unless they are willing to use the basic 10 round magazines that were the original standard magazine for the M16 and AR15. My opinion, is that if you cannot protect yourself with such a weapon with the standard magazine you are either an incompetent, or have malevolent intentions. In fact most people could easily defend their home with a fully automatic and non-lethal paint gun rifle. The intruder would be immobilized and marked for law enforcement, even if he or she managed to flee the scene. Until I get my paint gun or bolt action carbine I will glades used any of my collection of baseball bats, swords, and cunning to defend my home against any intruder. I would be like the character played by Eli Roth in the film Inglorius Basterds, Donny Donowitz, the Bear Jew. My bat would knock their brains out of the park like “Teddy Fucking Williams.”  

I realize that such an attitude is inconsistent with my relatively passive interpretations of a Christian’s response to violence. But having been physically threatened by White Supremacists and neo-Nazis in the past, I have to say that if any showed up at my house, they better be prepared.

As far as assault weapons, magazines, and protective gear that gives a terrorist of any belief or ideology the ability to engage in mass killings and match up evenly or give them tactical superiority over law enforcement officers, I totally oppose it as I do believe the men who wrote the Second Amendment would of they could foresee the carnage of our time.

I believe that more now than ever.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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A Mass Murder in My Town, and the Need to Reconsider Gun Restrictions

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I write about the mass murder that happened in my city, Virginia Beach. It is now my adopted home, I’ll retire from the Navy next year and stay here. Judy and I kind of live the live that Neil Diamond sand of in his classic I am I Said, which is about a man struggling to find home between two coasts:

But nowadays, I’m lost between two shores

L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home, New York’s home, But it ain’t mine no more…

For us the West Coast was home, we grew up there. We imagined that when I retired from the Navy we would go back to California, but after nearly four decades in the military we have found the closest thing we will have to home in Virginia Beach. Actually, it’s more like what Noel Diamond described, Virginia Beach is fine, but it’s not home, Stockton’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.

When Judy and I were dating we were held up at gunpoint with her parents in Stockton, after I left the active duty Army to go to seminary the elementary school my brother and I attended and Judy had her first job at was the target of one of the first mass school yard attacks. Stockton has long had a problem with violent crimes, Virginia Beach and other areas of Hampton Roads have their fair share of violence but we generally feel safe.

I have also been shot at in combat during my Iraq deployment, and as an unarmed Chaplain had to rely on others to protect me.

Of course because of my PTSD I am hyper vigilant, wherever I go I have a plan if a shooter was to enter a place I am at. I plan in advance what I will do if someone starts shooting.

What happened in Virginia Beach yesterday shocked us, these things don’t happen here, at least they didn’t. The victims were about to start their weekend, they were killed by a coworker, who many had known for years. The victims were a mix of races and genders, much like the neighborhood I live in. One thing about Virginia Beach is that many neighborhoods are mixed race middle class neighborhoods in which many residents are military veterans or retirees. Of course there are other neighborhoods exclusive areas of rich white privilege, and old money long time residents whose roots go back hundreds of years, but there is not the racial tension I have felt in other places I have lived.

All of the people killed were part of this community, I didn’t know any of them but the crime has increased my hyper vigilance, but I digress…

The more important thing is a series of questions, and please note that I am not anti-gun ownership, so long that background checks are done, and civilians do not have access to military grade weapons and accessories that can turn a defensive weapon into a instrument of mass murder, as was the case here. The murderer used a .45 caliber pistol, of itself my preferred caliber of handgun for personal defense. I qualified as an expert on a combat pop up range with the M1911A1 .45 pistol while in the Army, something that I could never do with its successor, the M9 Beretta 9mm pistol, the pistol grip was all wrong and anyone worth his salt knows that the grip makes all the difference.

Likewise, I plan on purchasing .22 caliber bolt action carbines for Judy and I to take to target ranges. As far as home defense I want a fully automatic paint gun rifle should someone break into our house. A massive number of hits from such a weapon on an assailant without protective gear would temporarily cripple them and if they tried to flee would make them stand out to the police, without killing them, as much as I might want.

But I have questions:

Why do civilians have access to military grade automatic weapons whose only use is to kill other human beings?

Why are extended ammunition clips allowed to be sold to civilians? Honestly, what is the need. If someone can’t defend themselves with a 9 or 11 round magazine in a semi-automatic pistol, or even a 10 round magazine for an AR-15 class weapon why should they have access to massive magazines which are only used for offensive purposes?

Why are silencers sold to civilians? These are tools of killers and assassins, not home defense.

Certainly this was not what the founders planned when they wrote the Second Amendment, which was designed to allow citizens to be armed and become part of a state authorized militia in a time when the standing Army was almost non-existent and the distrust of standing armies was rampant. But the late Big Tony Scalia completely overturned the original meaning of the Second Amendment which all previous courts had decided in the understanding of Second Amendment. Scalia simply that the clause regarding a well organized militia had no bearing, and the majority for which he wrote in District Of Columbia v. Heller opened the floodgates to the gun apocalypse we are seeing day after day.

Yesterday’s killing wasn’t directed at any particular religious or racial group, it was the work of a disturbed man who decided to kill coworkers he had known for years, using a weapon and accessories designed to kill large numbers of people using the surprise of silence to ensure he killed as many people as possible.

It is high time that we as Americans stand up against laws that enable mass murderers to do their work, and instead fight to overturn the Scalia interpretation of the Second Amendment and return the nation to a sane interpretation of gun rights, because our current system is insane. It allows people to weapons and accessories that are only suitable for mass murder.

Virginia Beach police killed the murderer after an extended gun battle, in which one was wounded and his life saved by his body armor.

It is time to change the laws that enable people like this killer to conduct their massacres. It is called sensible gun laws and regulation. It is not about banning guns, but interpreting the Second Amendment as the founders intended and banning weapons and accessories which only serve to kill other citizens without regard to any other law or morality.

So, at risk of pissing off a lot of people, I wish you a good nigh, or a sleepless and unsettled one if you support laws that allowed this killer and others to obtain the weapons they needed to commit the mass murders which they are responsible for, and the rest of us sit back as bystanders.

Please remember, the victims were not just numbers or names, but real people, with real families and friends who contributed to their communities. They leave behind husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, children, grandchildren and friends. It is tie for all of us to wake up and stop worshipping the cult of the gun.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Note: Article updated to replace the word clip or clips with magazines when a critic questioned my qualifications to discuss weapons, and my military service, even though I used the word magazines later in the paragraph. This is a common tactic among people who want no restrictions on guns. They attack your character and qualification to write such things. Standard NRA talk.

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Thoughts and Prayers but No Action…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am at loss for words when I hear members of Congress, the media, and others react to yet another massacre by men using military grade killing machines with the words “praying for the victims” or expressing their thoughts and sympathy for them while refusing to take any action I grow weary. Mind you, I do pray but I am reminded of how many times that the prophets of the Old Testament condemned people who prayed but did nothing about injustice, or the injustices that they themselves condoned, abetted, and took part in. Likewise, I am reminded of the words of James in his epistle that “faith without works is dead.”

Speaking of dead there are another seventeen people, including 14 children dead in Parkland, Florida, just the latest casualties in a speaking epidemic of gun violence where the perpetrators used various models of the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, including weapons modified to fire on full automatic, and the vast majority of these crimes have been committed by Americans with no connection to Muslim terrorists. Targets have included schools, churches and other places of worship, movie theaters, concert venues, and businesses.

The number of attacks, their frequency, and their deadliness are all increasing, and all that happens in response from the politicians whose pockets are lined by the National Rifle Association, is to offer thoughts and prayers while loosening existing restrictions on gun ownership and weapon types, ammunition, and magazines. Likewise, the same politicians who turn the issue from guns to the mental health of the shooters are the same men and women who seek to reduce access to mental health care. The same politicians, pundits, and preachers that blame the crisis on the breakdown of American families are the ones who support economic policies that force both parents to have to work. The ones who,lay the blame on the educational system are those that reduce funding and eliminate the programs like music, art, literature, as well as vocational classes, and after school programs that broadened the minds and hopes of students.

All we get is thoughts and prayers coupled with an idolatrous worship of the Second Amendment which has been so twisted by its current supporters in ways that the men who wrote it would be appalled. Conservative columnist Brett Stephens recommended repealing the Second Amendment because of how the advances in weapons, and the difference between the situation of our country in 1787 versus today make it obsolete in its current form and interpretation.

Now I am not against guns nor gun ownership. I actually plan on getting my wife and I bolt-action carbines at some point for target shooting. That being said having served in the military for over 36 years and have qualified or familiarized on almost all of the personal or crew served weapons up to the .50 caliber machine gun the LAW, or Light Anti-Tank Weapon; of course that includes the M-16 and M-4 variants of the AR-15. I’m actually pretty good with them. Likewise, as a trauma department chaplain in two U.S. trauma centers, including Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, and having seen the wounded in Iraq, I know the killing power of these weapons; I have seen the dead and mutilated bodies of adults and children. These weapons turn bones into dust and internal organs into jelly. The wounds created by the .223 caliber bullets of the AR 15 and its clones are ghastly. I have seen them up close and personal.

I fully agree with novelist Stephen King who remarked:

“Semi-automatics have only two purposes. One is so owners can take them to the shooting range once in awhile, yell yeehaw, and get all horny at the rapid fire and the burning vapor spurting from the end of the barrel. Their other use – their only other use – is to kill people”

I fully agree, I love shooting them on a rifle range and I love the smell of freshly expended 5.57 or .223 rounds. I like disassembling them, cleaning out the carbon, and putting them back together. When I was going through pre-deployment training on the way to Iraq I had no weapon because I was a chaplain, but I spent my time teaching other Navy and Air Force officers how to use and maintain their weapons. My assistant, who was dual armed on my suggestion with a pistol and an M-16 and I had an agreement when we were in country: if we got into a close combat situation he would pass me the pistol and get credit for anything I hit. Thankfully it never came to that but there were a number of situations in country where we both thought it might happen. Admittedly in our situation it would have been in self-defense but I don’t know if I could live with killing another human being, and yes we were shot at from a distance, on the ground and in the air, and when I was a teenager I was held up at gunpoint.

A lot of people are focusing on the AR-15 or the Russian AK47 or AK-74 assault rifles, but there are a lot of other weapons with similar capabilities that don’t look nearly as threatening which should be banned from civilian use or restricted to 5-10 round magazines rather than the 30-50 round magazines that are frequently used in mass killings, after all anyone using such weapons for anything than killing mass numbers of people shouldn’t need a bigger magazine. That includes personal defense, hunting, and target shooting.

Please do not forget that President Ronald Reagan supported the ban on assault weapons in 1992, after which the NRA led a decade long campaign against the “Jack booted government thugs who were coming to get our weapons.” That campaign succeeded in making sure that Congress decided to not renew the ban. Since then the NRA has done whatever it could to oppose or repeal common sense gun laws that would make it harder to own a weapon; make them less capable of mass killing by restricting magazine sizes and outlawing “bump stocks”; or keeping convicted criminals, the mentally ill, and even people linked to terrorist groups from acquiring such weapons.

Since 2016 such weapons have killed 169 people and wounded more than 500 others in mass shootings alone. That does not count the many times they are used in individual killings or ambushes targeting police officers.

The problem is not just the number of rounds that can be fired quickly from such weapons but the intended effects of their ammunition on human beings. This type of weapon was designed as a military weapon intended to inflict massive damage on enemy soldiers. People armed with them outgun the average patrol officer in any given situation making them perfect weapons for cop killers.

But even so despite the carnage, despite everything, the NRA, gun advocates, gun manufacturers, their lobbyists, and their bought and paid for political representatives fight any strengthening of gun laws.

For me this is a pro-life issue mostly driven by my faith and the practical experience of seeing exactly what happens to people when shot with this type of weapon. I saw an article today posted by a friend on Facebook about a Sheriff in Washington State who claimed that guns haven’t changed but society has in its glorification of violence. In a way he is correct, society has glorified violence, and that includes people who are vicariously living their lives as military heroes in very violent video games. But the fact is that the guns available to civilians have changed, they are far more lethal and available than they were in the overly mythologized days of the 1950s. When the AR-15 became available to civilians in the 1960s it was a game changer, it’s a inexpensive, lightweight, killing machine which enterprising individuals can convert to a fully automatic weapon using commercially available off the shelf kits.

In my opinion prayers are fine, provided that those who pray are willing to do the hard things required to stop the killing; and the first of those is either outlawing or severely restricting the ownership of weapons that have such capabilities.

Honestly I really don’t think that things will change until people of my generation and older who are the most ardent supporters of the NRA are gone from the scene and the young people who have been so often victimized by these weapons attain significant political power and put a stop the bullshit.

I know that I have friends and other readers that will disagree with me, but I can find no place in civilian society for these weapons other than on a shooting range.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, faith, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

How Many More? The Umpqua Community College Massacre

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight just a short thought about the latest mass shooting in the United States, this one at Umpqua Community College, in Roseburg, Oregon.

I won’t say much, except that I have a hard time imagining that a society such as ours would continue to tolerate events like this on such a regular basis. Maybe I feel this way because I have been held up at gunpoint in my hometown in 1979. Maybe it is because I have been to war and been shot at by enemy forces. Maybe it is because I remember when the elementary school that I attended when I was a child, Grover Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton California became the scene of a massacre in 1989, some 17 years after I had gone there. Maybe it is because I know too many people who have be affected by gun violence.

Whatever the reason I find it troubling. For the first time in a long time I turned on the television news, and listened to President Obama speak about this. I had to agree with everything that he said; the fact is that such massacres have become routine to us, almost as routine as is the violence of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or the “Troubles” of Northern Ireland. The fact is that after every one of these events; Stockton, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, the Washington Naval Yard, San Ysidro, Fort Hood, Charleston and so many others; many of which never hit anything but local media really do not move us to do anything. We have accepted them as part of life, and despite our protestations, our “prayers” and our outward sympathy for the victims we seem unwilling to do anything about them.

Guns are certainly a part of the problem; but there is something far deeper that we should be concerned about in all of this, it is who we are as a people. These events are not new, they have been occurring for well over a century in our country; lynching, bombing, gangland shootings, some committed by individuals, some by criminal organizations. But in addition to the true murderous sociopaths, many more seriously disturbed and even mentally ill individuals, who should have no access to weapons, commit many of these shootings.

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As yet we do not know much about the shooter, his motivations or his victims. We do know that his name is Chris Harper Mercer, a twenty-six year old student at the college. According to a dating profile said that he was a “conservative Republican” who “doesn’t like organized religion.” But most of us only care about those details to either titillate our need for information, or to back whatever our political position is regarding laws about gun ownership. The fact is that we don’t know why Mercer did this; evidently during the attack he was asking people to state their religion as he shot them. We will find out more as the investigation unfolds, but again to most of us the details won’t matter as our minds are made up, and we accept this as a way of life.

Some say we should take drastic measures to control guns; others that we should have more training and screening of potential guy buyers; others say ban certain types of weapons; still others say to eliminate all restrictions on gun ownership; while others say to increase the mental health screenings to keep mentally ill or potentially disturbed people from purchasing guns. Sadly, those who most loudly proclaim eliminating restrictions on any kind of gun ownership, even for the most lethal weapons are the same people who support politicians who constantly vote down funding for mental health care and restrictions on law enforcement in dealing with guns.

The fact is that no matter which side is argued people continue to die in gun violence everyday, and not just mass shootings like the one we saw today. I think the President is right, Americans and our legislators at local, state and federal levels need to find solutions that protect constitutional liberties for responsible gun owners with the safety of the public. Honestly, I don’t know how that happens; far too many lobbyists, special interest groups with conflicting interests, and the gun industry are involved.

But I have to say, with unfettered honesty, I really don’t think that we care, we have become used to the routine of this; we are no longer shocked, we are no longer offended, and we lack the political will, the compassion, or the courage to do anything substantive about the problem. But most of all I think that we, as a people have lost any sense of empathy for those who are killed and those who are affected by such senseless violence. In the words of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials Psychologist, Gustave Gilbert, is the absence of empathy.

President Obama was right; we have accepted these killings as a routine part of life. We say “how terrible, someone should do something” and then turn our backs until the next time. We should politicize the issue and through our political process try to find ways to deal with this with the appropriate checks and balances; because it affects every one of us. Every year over 10,000 people in this country die of gun violence committed by others. That number does not include the 20,000- 30,000 people who use guns to kill themselves every year.

How many more people need to die for us to recover any sense of empathy? How many more people need to die?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Murderers, Evil & the Absence of Empathy

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Like so many people this week I was stunned, shocked and sickened by the execution style murders of Roanoke Virginia reporters Allison Parker and Adam Ward by former reporter Vester Flanagan. Then later in the week the same type of murder of Houston Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth by a man named Shannon Miles. The first was particularly upsetting as a local news station had a story on it early in the day with a video, which I thought was their coverage, but instead it was the live video which had been broadcast at the moment of the shooting. Then I saw the pictures published by the New York Daily News taken by Flanagan as he shot Allison Parker. Those pictures which showed Flanagan’s view down his gun sight as he aimed, fired and aimed again were chilling. They are so troubling that I will not post them here.

I think it was so because I have been on the other side of the gun barrel. Back in 1979, when I was first starting to date Judy we were out with her parents and help up at gunpoint. I had a .38 caliber revolver to my head, the criminals took our wallets, the women’s purses and as they left the one on the other side of the car ripped Judy’s glasses off of her face and ground them into the pavement. I thought about trying to get the gun from the man on my side of the car but realized that if I failed fired that Judy or her parents might have been killed. If I had my own gun, which I did not I would have probably not been able to get a shot off without getting them killed. Likewise, on a number of occasions in Iraq, serving as an unarmed chaplain, I was under enemy small arms or rocket fire. Thus when I think about what happened to the victims there is a certain amount of kinship I feel.

They reminded me of a picture that I saw of a member of a Nazi Einsatzgruppe individually killing women who had survived a mass execution in Russia during the German invasion. In one picture a woman, appears to be trying to rise up to crawl away from the piles of bodies, and a tall SS man walking up a few feet away with a sub-machinegun aimed at her.

I wondered how people of any sort could be so cold as to look someone in the eye and commit such brutal crimes. It was horrifying. I was up that night thinking about so many others that have happened in this country in just past few years. Dylann Storm Roof going to a Bible Study at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church and then murdering the people there because they were African-American and he was a White Supremacist. There was Frazier Glenn Cross, a former KKK leader and militant white supremacist that killed three people near a Jewish Community center in Overland Park Kansas on the Eve of Passover, 2014. He claimed, “I had no criminal intent, I had a patriotic intent to stop genocide against my people,” and “I hate Jews…. They are the ones who destroy us.”

Then there was Neo-Nazi Wade Page who walked into a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin and killed six people in cold blood. There was James Holmes who went into a crowded theater in Aurora Colorado and killed twelve and wounded fifty-eight more in a mass killing spree. Holmes was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Of course there was the Boston Marathon Bombing, and other killings committed by the Tsarnaev brothers, and twenty-year-old Adam Lanza who murdered twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. Then there is George Zimmerman, a man in a league of his own, who killed an unarmed black teenager  and got away with it, much like so many murderers of so many others, not just in this country, but others as well.

Of course this is nothing new, we can look back that the 9-11 hijackers who killed almost 3000 people; Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who killed 168 and wounded hundreds more when they bombed the Murrah Federal Building; as well as the terrorists of ISIL who routinely look into the eyes of their victims and then kill them.

The list can go on and on, and the murderers span the spectrum of American. Native born and immigrants, whites, blacks, Latin Americans, Asians, well educated men such as Holmes, children of privilege, Christians, Moslems, Jews, various other religions as well as atheists and agnostics. Some seemed to be motivated by some kind of intense hatred, religion, ideology, race; others apparently with some kind of mental imbalance or sense that they, or their race were the victims of the people that they killed.

Whether people murder others in cold blood, be it in large numbers or by looking them in the eye and pulling the trigger, no matter what their motivation for doing so, there is a common factor. It is not the weapons, though I do think the easy availability of so many lethal weapons is a factor, and that we need to tighten the requirements and even limit the types of weapons and amount of ammunition one can legally have, there were over 11,000 gun related homicides in the United States in 2014, I have left out suicides, which were close to 20,000 and justified defense using a gun which are so few that they don’t hit the chart. That number for one year dwarfs the number of all Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I digress…. I am not against people owning guns, I will probably get myself a carbine for marksmanship practice someday, preferably a bolt action World War II Mauser if I can find one in good shape, but again I digress…. The easy access to guns too, is just a part of the equation.

It is not religion, ideology, or political differences, while that certainly plays a part, they are just contributing factors; the same is true of mental illness.

But there is something else, something that an American Army psychologist assigned to the major war criminals noted at the Nuremburg trials: “In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

If you look at the video evidence provided by the killers, their writings, their Internet postings, or the testimony that any of them who survived long enough to go to trial; there is one thing that comes through loud and clear. None of them, not a one have any empathy for their fellow human beings, and as such when they look the people that they are about to kill in the eye do not feel anything.

It does not matter if they are men who perpetrated genocide or killed, or enslaved hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in the name of their religion, ideology, or political-economic systems; or if they are mass murderers or terrorists not connected with a state; who kill in the name of God, race, or ideology; or simply those who hate others and kill to avenge a real or perceived wrong against them. or even those who can look their victim in the eye and then murder them, they all lack the ability to feel for their victims.

The lack empathy, the totality of narcissism, the inability to see others as valued human beings; that it the definition of evil; and there is so much of it in our world. When I saw those pictures that the New York Daily News posted I was reminded of that; and I have had a hard time sleeping since.

I realize all too well that Gustave Gilbert was right; evil is the absence of empathy. The fact is that almost anything else is solvable, but the absence of empathy is the one characteristic that cannot be solved by humanity, and it may be the instrument of our demise as a species.

I say that because there are men and women who would not hesitate to unleash the hell of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons of mass destruction on their enemies and the world. Despite their differences of their belief systems, religion or ideology, these people all display a certain absence of empathy; and that my friends makes them dangerous. Those who can look a single person, or a number of people in the eye and kill them are no different than those who have the ability, or desire the ability to kill millions; for none of them truly believe that their victims are worthy of life. Life unworthy of life, that is how the Nazis referred to their victims, and how those without empathy see their victims.

I’m hoping that his will not be the case and I’m hoping that I will be able to sleep,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, History, Political Commentary, terrorism

A Cry in Newtown: Anguish after a Massacre

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“A cry was heard in Ramah–weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.” Matthew 2:18

It came suddenly and terribly as at 9:30 AM on Friday the 14th of December a 20 year old Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton Connecticut. It was unexpected. The town is considered one of the safest if not the safest cities in the country and in it people, like people across the country were preparing to celebrate Christmas or the last two days of Chanukah. It is a festive time when people, especially children should feel safe, but on this day the people of Newtown and many in the United States discovered the fragility of life and reality of evil walking in the midst of them.

While the investigation is still ongoing it appears that he killed his mother at their home and then went to the school where according to initial reports had at one time either worked or volunteered. New reports indicate that she was not associated with the school. Clad in black and wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying  multiple weapons. Lanza used a .223 caliber Bushmaster semi-automatic carbine, the civilian version of the M-4 carbine used by the military, and had two semi-automatic pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Lanza entered the school, and opened fire in the office. Bt the time he was done he had killed 20 children and 6 adults before killing himself. We know almost nothing about him, his older brother 24 year old Ryan Lanza of Hoboken New Jersey was initially identified as the killer as Adam was carrying his identification. According to some reports Ryan told police that his brother had a history of mental illness. His parents had divorced in 2009 and people that knew the family described Adam as “troubled” and his mother “rigid.” Some reports on Saturday say that Nancy Lanza was a gun enthusiast who took her sons shooting.

When the news came this morning and the full terrible extent of the massacre became known I was stunned.  It was like being kicked in the stomach. Like most people I cannot fathom the absolute evil, or madness that brings a young man to kill people, but even more specifically young children in such a brutal manner.  Reports from one of the medical examiners conducting the autopsies indicated that each of the children were shot 5-7 times each. I have seen the results of such violence. I have seen the bodies of children who have been killed or maimed by bullets fired by violent people. I have been with the mothers and fathers of these children, in the Emergency Rooms and ICUs of major medical centers as well as in Iraq. To see the mutilated bodies of the children and the grief of the families in that moment of loss where no words can take away the grief is something that I live with as a Priest and Chaplain.

As the news continued I thought of my brother and sister in law. He is a school administrator and she a elementary school teacher in Stockton California, one of the most dangerous cities in the country. My mother had spent nearly two decades as a teacher’s aide in another elementary school in the same city, while my wife’s first job in college was as an aide with deaf children there. As I thought of them I thought of another school shooting. This one in Stockton in 1989. It occurred on a school playground where a young man named Patrick Edward Purdy took an automatic rifle and killed 5 children and wounded 30 more on the same school playground were I played. My brother and I had both attended that school, Cleveland Elementary School and it was the same school that my wife held her first job. So for me the news brought waves of emotion and concern, as it did for most people. It is a terrible event.

Unfortunately there is little that most of us can do now other than to pray for the victims and if we are in a place to do so be there to care for the families and friends directly affected by this tragedy.

There were pundits, preachers and politicians across the political spectrum today advocating their specific agendas either for or against gun control, as well as throwing God and school prayer into the debate. Somehow it seems to me that those that mourn deserve better than such immediate outbursts of even well meaning partisan vitriol. There is a time for debate and action. However, I wish that people would have the good sense to give the survivors a chance to mourn and everyone a chance to absorb the magnitude of today’s tragedy.

Tonight the people of Newtown and surrounding communities gathered in churches and synagogues to mourn, to pray and to grieve, to seek comfort in God and as individuals and as a community. There will be much more of that to do in the coming days, weeks and months, but for many tonight there will be no comfort, for like the figure of Rachel comfort, at least for now is not possible, for their children are dead.

I think that the scripture quoted by President Obama is the most fitting to end with. It is time to comfort those that mourn and bind up their wounds.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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