The recent shootings in Boulder and Atlanta have left many, including myself, searching for answers. What could possess two individuals to open fire on people they don’t even know? Do they grasp the dire consequences of their actions on the lives of all parties involved, including their own? Couldn’t they try some other, less nasty, way to vent their frustrations, even if still obnoxious? These perpetrators suffer from extreme deficiencies in how they process and make sense of the world around them. What’s going on?
Maybe just as frustrating is the sense of helplessness that some people feel about the country’s situation. Over the last four decades, the United States has seen a gradual uptick in the occurrence of mass shootings.1 Different things have been done to address the problem, yet shootings slowly keep rising. What’s the cause behind it and can we fix it?
Hammurabi Gone Amok
The Code of Hammurabi was a set of laws that governed the ancient Babylonian Empire. A critical component of the code was a term known as “lex talionis.” This is the Latin phrase for the idea of “an eye-for-an-eye.” This concept was at the heart of the code. Its purpose was to justify retribution against an offending party. Shouldn’t the person doing the wrong ultimately feel the effects of their actions?2 3
The perpetrators of mass shootings are probably borrowing somewhat from the “lex talionis” principle to justify their crimes. But instead of trying to target the actual wrongdoers, they satisfy themselves by harming innocent bystanders as proxies. They take the code to a whole new level. Their intense passion throws reason out the door, leading to awful, irrational actions.
Around 2,100 years ago, a Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, counseled one of his sons to bridle his passions.4 If we want to tame our inner Hammurabi, the first thing we can do is to take a step back and calm down. Slowly, other alternatives will present themselves, which can lead to more positive outcomes.
Sphere of Influence
While it’s true that we can only do so much for the world around us, certain facts remain that can give us hope for handling the violence. For starters, most people have family connections or at least have a couple of people they can confide in. This probably holds true for the perpetrators of mass shootings. This begs the question, Where were these support networks when the offenders committed their crimes? People will still act for themselves, but could some of these tragedies have been avoided had friends or families been in closer contact?
Every three months, I join a Zoom conference call with my parents, siblings, and in-laws. Most of the call is fun, regular chatting. Sometimes we address more sensitive matters, and the family does what it can to assist. Overall, the calls build a sense of community and love. I really look forward to them. I have no doubt that if I were in a crisis, my family would be there for me and I would trust them enough to share what was going on. I hope they feel the same way towards me.
I wonder if the individuals who committed these crimes felt like they had a support network, like I do with my family? Did their families or friends care enough to be involved in their lives and talk about sensitive things? I can’t answer that question. If they had a support network, maybe they rejected it. But as a general rule, I’m pretty certain that if people looked after their loved ones more, we’d probably have less violence in the world.
A Soft Voice
Shooting another person in cold blood will never be an acceptable way to handle a grievance. But it might be helpful to ask if a prior offense had been handled differently, could that have turned away the would-be perpetrator’s wrath. One example of this could be the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris. Charlie Hebdo is a satirical weekly magazine that is known for disrespecting certain political and religious leaders as well as institutions. In January 2015, two assassins forced their way into Charlie Hebdo’s offices and killed 12 people. The reason behind the massacre? The magazine’s insolence against people or institutions considered sacred by billions of people. After the shootings, Pope Francis weighed in on the matter: “If [a close friend] says a swear word against my mother, he’s going to get a punch in the nose. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.” 5 As stated before, outright killing people because they are critical of our beliefs isn’t right, but it appears that what happened at Charlie Hebdo was a two-way street—the gunmen were responding to a long chain of disgraceful attacks against their religion.
The Old Testament records, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” 6 Needless to say, a lot of horrible things could be averted if individuals exercised more discretion and care in handling conflict. The scripture doesn’t say that we can’t disagree with others, but it does infer that we are more likely to effectively address a problem if we remain cool-headed. If America wants to check its temperature for mass shootings, the first and most important place to start is within each of its citizens.
- Statista Research Department. “Number of mass shootings in the United States between 1982 and March 2021,” March 23, 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/811487/number-of-mass-shootings-in-the-us/
- Gloria Lotha, “Code of Hammurabi,” in Brittanica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Code-of-Hammurabi
- Evan Andrews, “8 Things You May Not Know About Hammurabi’s Code,” history.com, last modified August 31, 2018, https://www.history.com/news/8-things-you-may-not-know-about-hammurabis-code
- Alma 38:12
- Dias, Elizabeth. “Pope Francis Speaks Out on Charlie Hebdo: One Cannot Make Fun of Faith.” Time, January 15, 2015. https://time.com/3668875/pope-francis-charlie-hebdo/
- Prov. 15:2