Can Morals Prevent Gun Violence?

By Voices Contributors  | Thu 30 Aug 2018 12:19 EDT Expand | Collapse  Image used for illustration purposes only.

Anyone following the news knows that Chicago has become notorious for deadly shootings. Chicago‘s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is now facing mounting backlash after he suggested that better parenting and morals are the solution to addressing the root causes of gun violence. While good parenting is always a challenge for even the most conscientious, doting parents, in the US, principles of the Judeo-Christian tradition embodied in the Ten Commandments or Decalogue are a common basis for thinking about morality. While Americans certainly live according to a variety of moral codes, the majority of the US population still deems it important to adhere to the Decalogue. But what do these commandments mean today? And to what extent do Americans actually keep them? To ponder these moral questions further, let‘s briefly consider some facts related to the sixth commandment not to kill.

From the Judeo-Christian perspective, the commandment against murder is derived from the principle that man is made in God‘s image (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, all human life has intrinsic value and worth, for it is precious in the sight of God (See Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1; 9:6; Matthew 5:21-26 and James 3:9). This principle also implies that every human life belongs to God and He alone has the right to take it or command when it should be taken. The sanctity of life derived as a value from this commandment also means that each individual has divinely sanctioned, inviolable rights and responsibilities to maintain and preserve life (See Genesis 9:6-7 and Romans 13:1-7). The Hebrew r-ts-h expressed in this commandment refers to illegal killing, often termed today as “murder,” and it is never employed when the subject of the action of killing is God or an angel. Therefore, from a biblical view, gun violence like the kind found on the streets of Chicago and elsewhere, demeans the value of life and should stop.

With reports of so many shootings and other violent crimes filling the airwaves, it might surprise some people to know that the rates of such crimes, including murder, have declined significantly over the past thirty years. In fact, the FBI‘s Uniform Crime Report reveals that since the nineties, rates of criminal homicide have dropped from approximately nine per 100,000 inhabitants to about five in 2016, thus reflecting increasing compliance to the sixth commandment to not kill. Overall violent crime rates decreased by almost 50%, from 730 to 386 per 100,000 inhabitants, during the same time period.

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Another report by the National Center for Health Statistics relates that the rate of firearm deaths in the United States rose from about 11 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 to about 12 per 100,000 in 2016. It is necessary to note that only about a third of the recorded gun-deaths were homicides while the other two-thirds were suicides. Overall, firearm homicide deaths have declined sharply in the United States since a peak in the 1990s, but have remained fairly steady for the past two decades or so.

Clearly, Chicago‘s problem of gun-related violence is not representative of what is generally occurring in the United States. Still, the existence of gun violence in any form, no matter how infrequently it might occur, is disturbing. Perhaps Mayor Emanuel‘s call for better morals could be part of a solution to the problem. Indeed, if all Americans recognized the moral ideal long promoted by the Ten Commandments, namely that human life has intrinsic value and worth, individuals might be more likely to choose other means of solving their disputes.

Michael K. Abel, PhD, is a sociologist who specializes in the study of morality and religion, and Brent J. Schmidt, PhD, is a classicist specializing in Greek and Latin moralistic texts. They are the authors of the book, America Versus the Ten Commandments: Exploring One Nation‘s Commitment to Biblical Morality. Engaging views and analysis from outside contributors on the issues affecting society and faith today.
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