An Examination Of The Causes And Historical Trends Of Violence
The Waffle House shooting by Travis Reinking has everyone asking one question. Why do mass shootings keep happening? Reinking’s mother has one possible explanation: “I don’t remember a school shooting when I was a kid…I remember reading from the Bible and praying…maybe getting rid of those things wasn’t such a good idea after all.”
And she is not alone. Many prominent conservative and Christian figures have blamed violence, in particular, school violence, on a lack of prayer. Radio personality Bryan Fischer told his listeners that if Stoneman Douglas High School had prayer every day, there would not have been the mass shooting. Professor William Jeynes of Cal-State Long Beach has argued that the singular cause of school violence increasing is the banning of prayer in schools.
But what do the numbers say?
The Supreme Court in two landmark cases, Engel v. Vitale and Abington School District v. Schempp, banned official school prayer in 1962 and 1963, respectively. The rulings do not mean an individual cannot pray at school. In fact, there are numerous Christian student groups and prayer groups. The decisions made it illegal for mandatory prayer for all students. So for an evaluation, you would need to look at crime rates from that period to the current era.
While the crime rates are technically higher, that is a misreading of the statistics. Crime has not steadily increased since the Supreme Court rulings. In fact, the crime rate has decreased by half in the last 30 years. The murder rate is the lowest it has been in 50 years. While one could argue that violent crimes have increased and some of the deadliest shootings have occurred in recent history, this could be because of other reasons: an increase in reporting, a more significant population, more massive income inequality, etc. School crime has also gone down 70% in the last 30 years.
The one unique problem the United States does have is the amount of gun violence and lethality of violent crimes. France, UK, Canada, Australia, Sweden, and the Netherlands have the same or higher rates of crime, but far less gun violence and fewer people dying. But these other countries have lower rates of religiousness than the United States.
So what else could be the cause?
The United States does have more personal guns than all of those countries put together. In fact, the United States has nearly half of all the weapons in the world. Numerous studies have shown that the amount of guns in either in a state or country vastly increases the amount of gun violence and death in violent crimes. The United States has more homicides than the next ten nations. This is the principle of Occam’s Razor, the simplest solution is probably the most accurate.
Unfortunately, the facts do not match public perception. Most people in the United States believe violence has increased in recent memory. 60% of Americans have thought since 1993 that crime is worse than the previous year. This could be the result of how violent crime gets more attention by news media or that politicians spread inaccurate information. President Trump repeatedly claimed that crime has increased in his campaign speeches.
Therefore, it cannot be a lack of prayer causing violence in America. The numbers have actually decreased, other countries that have higher rates of secularism have lower rates of violence, and there are alternative explanations. Travis Reinking did not blame prayer or lack of religion as his reason for killing four people. If anything, he might blame Taylor Swift, who he thought was hacking his phone. But you don’t see Christian leaders calling for a banning of Taylor Swift. Well, it is understandable that people look to their moral codes as a way to explain the horrific nature of shootings. Yet, it is better to dig deeper and find the root causes of the problem.
Without discovering what needs to be solved, you only treat the symptoms, not the actual disease.