Shootings in schools and synagogues always bring the inevitable question, why? The most recent shootings illustrate that there is no single answer. Although there are some common patterns, there are many different variables.
One comprehensive review of “Three Decades of School Shootings” by Tawnell Hobbs did find some common patterns. A significant number of shooters were bullied, were suicidal, told someone, had access to guns, and planned their actions in advance. Ten shared all five traits, and nine more shared four of those traits. That did account for slightly more than half of the shooters, but it didn’t account for the other half.
The mental illness of shooters was another factor. Public health officials remind us that the vast majority of people with mental disorders are not violent. These medical personnel fear that any attempt to link mass shootings to mental illness will stigmatize such disorders.
However, research by Grant Duwe and Michael Rocque found that 59 percent of the public mass shootings that took place in the US were carried out by people who had either been diagnosed with a mental disorder or demonstrated signs of serious mental illness prior to the attack. But that doesn’t account for the other 41 percent whose actions could not be attributed to mental illness.
What about the worldview of shooters? Many of them were atheists, but the shooter in the California synagogue came from a Christian home and attended an Orthodox Presbyterian Church where his father was an elder. Nevertheless, he was infected with antisemitism and white nationalism. This shooting should be a warning to the church that our Christian kids aren’t even immune to the violent tendencies in our society.
The different aspects of these recent shootings should remind us that there aren’t simple solutions to this specter that haunts our land.