The University of Virginia campus
Another month, another senseless shooting. In the wake of the shooting deaths of three University of Virginia students and the wounding of two others, it’s a good time to look again at reasonable policies that can help thwart these kinds of tragedies.
In a May, 2022 opinion piece, Professor of Psychology Christopher Ferguson recommends what he calls “The 4 Common Sense Reforms the Right and Left Can Agree on to Stop Mass Shootings.” That may be optimistic, but I think his recommendations merit consideration.
Ferguson’s first recommended reform: “For starters, gun policies should be directed at keeping firearms away from at-risk individuals while securing law-abiding citizens’ access to firearms.” Any attempt to restrict ownership of guns by law-abiding citizens is dead in the water. Politicians who shout, “Hell, yes, we’re coming for your AR-15!” have no appreciation of the political landscape of this country and no appreciation for the Constitutional rights of citizens. That kind of talk is pure posturing, and posturing has no place in any serious discussion on how to stop mass shootings. An all or nothing approach to restricting gun ownership, including attempts to restrict particular guns, is going nowhere. While law-abiding citizens have their rights, there is nothing stopping us from passing “red flag” laws restricting gun ownership for those with a history of violence, either related to mental health matters, domestic abuse, threats of suicide or homicide, or anyone who belongs to a gang. Ferguson doesn’t say this but, in my mind, those who purchase a gun for someone with a known violent mental health history or other history of violence ought to be held criminally responsible for that person’s actions should they use that gun in the commission of a crime.
Ferguson’s second recommendation is “to return to a state-sponsored long-term asylum system, albeit one that is grounded in the most humane, empirically-supported care and with clear due process procedures.” The de-institutionalization of mental health patients back in the 50s and 60s was a failure, Ferguson says. While most who suffer from mental health issues are not violent, chronic mental health issues are associated with a higher incidence of violence. Yet, most of these people are on the streets. Sometimes, they are on the streets literally, as many are homeless. Our mental health system is a failure, according to Ferguson, and access to that health system is wanting for too many who suffer deeply. A state-sponsored long-term asylum system would take them off the streets and provide them with access to mental health professionals and much needed therapies.
Third, Ferguson points out the need to strengthen families. The nuclear family has been under assault for decades, despite research that supports the fact that children do better when they are raised by two parents who live together who are their biological mother and father. Not every family needs to be a clone of the Cleavers, but the devastation of the nuclear family is at the root of many social ills that, frankly, a lot of politicians and professionals don’t want to acknowledge for political and cultural reasons. Over 70% of black children in the U. S. are born to single mothers. More than 50% of white mothers under the age of 30 have at least one child out of wedlock. Almost 50% of fathers in the U. S. have fathered at least one child out of wedlock. Fatherless homes are known to have a number of social negatives for children. But pointing this out is considered misogynistic and dismissive of the heroic efforts of single mothers. Strengthening the nuclear family will go a long way toward the health and stability of America’s next generation.
Finally, Ferguson recommends that we “put down the pitchforks.” What he means by this is that politicians and other social leaders need to stop using mass shootings as opportunities to point fingers at opponents to virtue signal their moral superiority or to score political points. Ferguson closes his piece: “We need to walk back the increasingly nutty and unworkable positions people have adopted as part of larger culture wars and put people in charge who are willing to work together from the data to offer real solutions.” This may be the hardest goal of all among the four recommendations Ferguson offers. Getting politicians to care more about the country than they do about their careers or their hold on power is rare in the good ol’ US of A, and I don’t see many “profiles in courage” among the current crop on the Right or Left.
We don’t know much yet about Christopher Jones, the suspect in the UVA shootings. We do know that he comes from a fractured family, though we don’t yet know the dynamics of that fracture and how difficult it was for Jones to manage. We do know that he had at least one brush with the law involving a gun, but that he was also a highly successful student at the high school level. We also know that the university police force was aware of him and that he was on the radar for the threat assessment team related to reports that he had a gun on campus, but nothing was able to be confirmed and the police never actually had contact with Jones.
It’s likely, as in many of these cases, that the more we learn the more we’ll find out that there were a number of red flags that Jones raised in his actions and words that ought to have alerted his family, friends, or others that he was a bomb possibly ready to go off. But that “possibly” is what inspires many to not act. They don’t want to risk destroying a family bond, a friendship, or another’s reputation on what they consider a hunch. So, the red flags are ignored or not acted on sufficiently well to stop the ticking timebomb that eventually explodes into tragedy.
Prayers for a restful peace in God’s loving arms for those who died, and a quick and full recovery for those injured. Prayers, too, for the families affected, including Jones’ family, who surely never thought that their son, brother, nephew could ever do such a thing.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.