Every week, almost every day of the week, evil expresses itself in the form of a mass shooting. A disturbed individual for a variety of confused/warped/demented reasons crosses the line from thinking evil thoughts to acting on those thoughts. Sometimes this ends with them taking their own life and we can only guess about what led them to this destination. Other times, they express themselves directly about the form of evil that we are dealing with. No matter who the person is, nor what the expressed cause or reason is, what we are dealing with is evil.
This year, as of April 8th of 2020, there have been 133 mass shooting incidents in the 98 days we have experienced so far. More than 500 people have been wounded in those shootings, with hundreds more traumatized by the shooters and 167 individuals losing their lives. You might be shocked to learn there are so many, especially when only a few are highlighted in the national media. Unless one of the others occurred in your city or state, you most likely never heard about it. This ongoing tragedy has impacted many and each one of these events has their own distinctions that leave their communities shaking their heads, wondering how it could have been prevented.
Evil is real and this is just one of its ugly expressions in our world. It is an evil that has many victims and leaves behind a trail of carnage that is wider than those who are directly impacted by a shooting.
Some of the victims:
- Obviously, those who were shot are victims, both those who survive and those who don’t
- The family members and close friends of the victims are greatly impacted as well. They have to process both their loss and support the survivors as they attempt to recover.
- The family members of the perpetrator suffer as well. Sometimes they are more directly involved, but other times, they have suffered before the event and will continue to suffer with the weight of their family member’s evil choices.
- The communities – Sometimes, events like this don’t destroy the communities that they impact, but help bring them together. Other times, the ripple effect goes on for years with a far reach, damaging many outside of the immediate circle of impact. This can damage a town, a school, a church or many other communities touched by this evil.
A shooting is a horrible event that changes the lives of all of the people involved. Unfortunately, how we respond can cause the pain and suffering to increase. In recent years, in addition to the normal questions and coverage of these tragic events, additional damage is sometimes done by the nature of how the information is reported to the public. Back in 1989, I took a Journalism 101 class. The main emphasis of that class was on the ethics and responsibility of journalists. While writing this article, I took the time to look at the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, available here:
It’s quite striking to read through this page of guidelines when thinking about the way many things are reported, but especially events like mass shootings. Some of the comments from that page:
- Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it.
- Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy (Do Tweets count?)
- Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.
- Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information.
- Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort.
- Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage.
- Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know.
This Code of Ethics is designed because even in areas of journalism, there are lines that should not be crossed. There is the potential of evil in the reporting about events, just as in the evil of the event. In my opinion, when it comes to mass shootings, as the media and perhaps we ourselves talk about those events, we have the potential to contribute our own evil, similar to throwing gasoline on a fire. Here are some of the ways:
- Making the evil perpetrator, famous. Those who commit these evil acts, should not have their names in the news constantly. No one should think that committing evil like this is a great way to get your name remembered.
- Using the event to make a political statement. It has become common to look at one of these atrocities and if the parameters fit the narrative that someone wants to sell politically, using it as nothing more than a tool to achieve political means. One of the main reasons so few of the 133 mass shootings this year have been reported is because they don’t fit a popular narrative. Over-reporting a few shootings because they do fit the story someone wants to tell isn’t any more fair to the victims than ignoring the many that don’t because they are outside those parameters. One uses victims, the other invalidates victims.
- Trying to contribute to racial strife. Related to the point above, some outlets seem determined to examine the race of those involved in every one of these events and immediately either ignore it or begin pushing a specific narrative of racial conflict so that the entire world knows about any incident that fits their aims. If the race of the perpetrator is the one they are looking for, the incident will be blown up to a national story immediately. Just this year, there have been 13 mass shootings where at least 4 people lost their lives, but only 2 of them became national stories and most of the 120 other mass shootings were ignored completely. This more than any other of these problems, should make us realize that there is an attempt by many in the media to manipulate us towards racial strife. Sometimes it seems that they are openly trying to incite a race war.
- Running many unnecessary details that cause those involved to lose access to privacy. Having to immediately be in the public eye after suffering such a tragedy can be very damaging to those involved.
- Reporting information that isn’t verified. This probably is compounded by the underreporting of any corrections that are later offered. There are instances of falsely accused individuals and their families suffering from vigilante justice and doxing due to irresponsible reporting.
These are just a few of the unhelpful ways that the public can add to the evil that has already been suffered by the victims of a mass shooting. It is important to remember that from a distance, it is often difficult to understand the intricacies of any situation and the further we get away from a problem, the less likely we are able to contribute anything positively to its resolution.
By contrast, if we want to help not only in crisis situations, but also help prevent this type of evil in our community, we can reach out in very practical ways. Evil will always be on this earth and we don’t reduce its true footprint by changes in laws, policy and talking about other people. The only true power on earth to reduce evil is God alone, for only He can change the hearts of men and women away from evil. If we want to act in our communities to really help, we have to be willing to care enough to cross relational lines and barriers and develop community with real people. Here are some tangible ways:
- Mental health is a serious problem, we should seek to promote good mental health. If you have experience that could help others, be willing to volunteer to lead or participate in a group. Encourage your church to host groups for both Christians and non-Christians. Be a good advocate for mental health initiatives in your community. We want everyone to know the peace of God and we are agents of that peace. This can mean praying for people, caring for their needs or just listening. Be a good friend. Philippians 4:6-7
- People lack good community. Practice it yourself by building relationships with others and gathering together. This world can be a very lonely place and we can help others by being catalytic gatherers for good community in whatever contexts we are in. Hebrews 10:25
- Recognize the hurting people around you and be willing to engage in the difficult task of reaching out to them and showing the love of Christ. Don’t be the one who didn’t act when the Holy Spirit was leading you to reach out. Proverbs 17:17
As long as we live in this world, we will have to deal with the presence of evil, but we don’t have to be a part of it. We don’t need to contribute to it. Instead, we are called to conquer evil, not be conquered by it. Romans 12:21 gives the path: