Scapegoating is the misplaced and unmerited negative treatment or blame of someone for a problem. A scapegoat may be an adult, sibling, child, employee, peer, ethnic or religious group, country, or even an inanimate object.  It’s akin to kicking the dog when you’ve had a bad day at work.

The appeal of scapegoating is that it reduces a complex problem to an illusionary simplicity. It creates the mirage that the problem can be solved simply by getting rid of  or attacking the offending individual, object or group.

Sadly, whenever a crime of the sort that happened a couple of years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut occurs, pundits come out in full scapegoating mode. But rather than some group being blamed for the shooting, the guilt is being laid before objects, organizations, and ideologies.

Some commentators were quick to blame the shooting on violent video games. Others blamed “a violent society that glorifies violence.” Some insisted that it’s all because “God has been taken out of the schools.” And of course, the favorite scapegoat of all: guns and the NRA.

Unfortunately, such scapegoating does not actually address the real problem at all. Nor does it keep what happened in any kind of perspective—admittedly difficult to do in the midst of the shock.

But let’s consider a few statistics to aim us in the proper direction:

It is estimated that at least 80 million Americans own guns. There are about 258 million guns distributed among these 80 million Americans.

The majority of gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides, with 17,352 (55.6%) of the total 31,224 firearm-related deaths in 2007 due to self-inflicted wounds, while 12,632 (40.5%) were homicide deaths.

So: 285 million guns resulted in 31,224 homicides.

That works out to about 0.4 percent of the guns in American being used for killing people. It also means that about 99.6 percent of guns were not used to kill people.

Statistics have a similar tale to tell regarding violent video games. The recently released game Black Ops 2 sold 11 million copies just in its first week of sale. However, the number of the players of that, or of any other violent video game, who commit murder are vanishingly small.  Apparently, about 68 percent of American households play video games. Over 90 percent of those under the age of 17 play video games. And yet less than 0.001 percent of the national population is guilty of committing murder of  any kind. 

Violent crime is not epidemic.  The crime rate in the United States has been declining over the last decade.  In fact, violent crime has been plummeting. Murder rates are down.  According to the FBI violent crime rates are about what they were in 1968 and heading lower.  The reason violent crime makes the news is not because it is common; it makes the news because it is so unusual and out of the ordinary.  In fact, death of any sort is relatively infrequent.  About 2.5 million Americans die each year.  Mostly from illnesses and advanced age.  That works out to about 0.8 percent of the population dying in any given year, while 99.2 percent of the American population does not die.  Remember: the vast majority of the hundred million or more school children did not face bullets last Friday, nor did their teachers. The overwhelming majority of people in the US today were not the victims of violent crimes or crimes of any kind.

Some religious people, in contemplating the causes for the crime in Connecticut, will point to the general fallen nature of humanity and its need for redemption. Sharing our faith with our neighbors is certainly a good thing. But turning people into followers of God does not mean that they will suddenly become perfect and righteous. King David, a man after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14), committed adultery and murdered his paramour’s husband (2 Samuel 11-12). Moses murdered an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-12). We regularly read about pastors embezzling funds, committing adultery, being guilty of pedophilia. We also read about Sunday School teachers, deacons, and ordinary pew sitters committing any number of sins.

Making children recite prayers, posting copies of the Ten Commandments, or forcing Bible reading in the schools will not prevent crimes. America did not start skipping to Hell with joyful abandon when forced rote prayers were eliminated from public schools. You don’t always obey the speed limit, despite the regularly posted signs. What makes you think posting religious stuff or forcing prayers will have any more impact on the criminal or insane?

It is ludicrous to blame inanimate objects for the actions of a volitional agent.

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to random acts of violence. If the solution to the problem were really simple, the problem would already have been solved.  Sadly, human beings have been killing other human beings since the very beginning.  Getting rid of video games, guns, or the NRA will no more stop murderous rampages than putting more religion into the schools will.  The worst mass killing of children in a school in the U.S. happened in 1927—when rote prayers were the norm and video games didn’t exist.  It didn’t even involve a gun. 

We must resist our first impulse. Scapegoating, for all its emotional appeal, does not actually solve a thing. It merely deludes us into thinking we’re doing something, taking a stand, making a difference. Instead, we’re acting more like the ancient people who danced and made noise to drive away the dragon consuming the sun during a solar eclipse.

We might also want to resist the urge to feel guilt for the crime of another. Be willing to let the guilty individual bear the responsibility for his own actions without spreading the guilt around, throwing it at those you disagree with, or picking it up for your very own. 

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