It’s been nine days since the lives of three 9-year-olds were violently aborted at a Christian school in Nashville—seven miles from my old apartment. I realize that “abort” is not the word we normally use to describe the murder of born children, but it does fit the technical definition. Their lives were terminated prematurely—by a severely deranged woman whose delusions were propped up by a society that now insists there is no such thing as normal and no such thing as deviance. Should we be surprised then when such violence occurs? Or surprised that so many media voices are more intent on blaming the victims—like the three staff members who were also killed—than in actually finding a root cause? As someone who belonged to a Presbyterian church in Nashville and has a 9-year-old son, these are not happy musings.
It was 25 years ago next month that another school shooting forever altered the trajectory of my professional life. I was working in downtown Nashville at the time—some 2,400 miles away from the carnage that was wrought in Springfield, Oregon, on May 21, 1998. That Thursday marked the second time in two months that students as young as 11 were gunned down by a fellow classmate. It was also mere weeks since Nashville had become the first major city in 20 years to be struck by a full-fledged tornado. I’d walked past a building that morning that was no longer standing when I fled home in the afternoon. The state’s only recorded F5 would touch down in Lawrence County just after I reached my front door. It was a genuinely terrifying day.
In the spring of 1998, while buildings were falling in Tennessee and students were dying in Oregon and Arkansas, I was experiencing an existential crisis of my own. A couple months into my first real job—in the art department of the Nashville Business Journal—I suddenly couldn’t shake the feeling that it was already time for a redirect. Could I really spend eight hours a day on designs that were destined almost immediately for the wastebasket, while American schoolyards were becoming war zones? In hindsight, perhaps I should have considered that there is real value in almost any job done well—no matter how temporal the output, but my 22-year-old self wanted a more direct way to combat the growing violence and nihilism.
Youth ministry was my first thought. It seemed the most straightforward path for reaching and restoring the wayward. It never occurred to me to go after the guns. Granted, I was young and naive. I still didn’t know that Republicans were the ones to blame for gun violence and climate catastrophe. I was operating under the antiquated notion that guns had been around since America’s founding—that guns are why there is an America—and that deadly storms had been raging for even longer. Live and learn, I suppose. Although I’m not sure we can blame climate change for the tornado that killed Job’s children or carbon emissions for knocking over the tower in Siloam. Nature, in our post-Edenic existence, has always been a beast.
The one thing that wasn’t on my mind that spring was abortion. It was barely on my radar at all. I opposed it in theory—as all good evangelicals must—but I actively avoided the topic in practice and silently rebuked anyone who gave it more than passing attention. I had bigger fish to fry—which now strikes me as rather absurd. Are there bigger fish to fry? We’ll come back to that. In 1998, legal abortion in America was 25-years-old, halfway through its federally-protected reign of terror. In its 1973 debut, abortion killed somewhere around 700,000 unborn children in the United States. That number would increase every year through 1980. Then, from 1980 until 1991, the estimated U.S. abortion total stayed at 1.6 million for 12 straight years. We like to romanticize the 80’s, but it was the most dangerous decade in history to be an unborn American. Roughly 16 million were fatally dismembered across a nationwide network of killing centers. It’s a death toll too high to adequately wrap our heads around, but the cultural cost—I believe—runs even deeper.
Wikipedia offers a list of every school shooting in U.S. history. It’s a long one that goes all the way back to 1840—which seems to indicate that guns didn’t just materialize on the contemporary landscape. In fact, The Washington Post reported in 2016 that gun ownership in America had dropped to a 40-year low. The “36 percent of U.S. adults (who) either own a firearm personally, or live with someone who does” is “down 17 points from the highest recorded rate in 1994, and nearly 10 percentage points from 2012.” A Pew poll in 2021 suggests that 40% of American households now have a gun, but that’s still well below where the number has been in recent decades. The problem is, as gun ownership has gone down, school shootings have gone up.
School-shooting fatalities first rose in the 1960’s and then again in the 80’s. In the 1950’s, there were only 13 school-related shooting deaths. That number jumped to 41 in the 60’s, stayed the same for the 70’s, then climbed to 67 in the 80’s. A 10-year federal assault weapon ban went into effect in 1994, but there were still double the school-shooting fatalities in the 90’s (124) as there were in the 80’s. Campus-shooting deaths continued to increase following the lapse of the assault weapon ban in 2004, but it’s hard to make a causal connection. Consider that there were more than twice as many school-shooting fatalities in 2022 (49) as there were in 2019 (20). And the overall number of firearm homicides jumped 33% between 2019 and 2020. Since neither discrepancy can be pinned on changes in gun policy or possession, it’s fair to assume that there isn’t a direct correlation between gun ownership and gun fatalities. Social changes are the more likely culprit. Changes like, say, the shuttering of schools and businesses, the abandonment of law enforcement, and a steady diet of relentless fear-mongering. Little things like that.
If you chart annual school-shooting deaths over the last 50 years—which I have done, you’ll see a general upwards trend with wild discrepancies from year to year. This is because the annual totals are still so relatively low that they can be drastically altered by a single event. In 2007, for instance, there were 38 school-shooting casualties; 33 happened on the same day. Campus slayings are visible and tragic, but they account for only a small fraction of the children who are killed by firearms each year in America—often without any national attention. NBC News reports that in 2020, firearm deaths surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents (defined as persons 1 to 19 years of age). The total for the year was 2,200 deaths—which is the highest on record. That same year, 10 people died in school-related shootings, six of whom were children or adolescents. So in 2020, school shootings accounted for 0.2% of overall gun deaths among children and teens.
The New England Journal of Medicine reports that in 2020, “the rate of firearm-related deaths of all types (suicide, homicide, unintentional, and undetermined) among children and adolescents [increased] 29.5% — more than twice as high as the relative increase in the general population.” What changed in 2020? Here again, we all know the answer, and it wasn’t a massive influx of guns. Apparently locking kids out of school for two years to protect them from a virus that bore them no statistical threat was not such a great idea. After a decline in 2019, total gun deaths in the U.S. increased by 5,515 in 2020 and by another 3,608 in 2021. We don’t know yet how many of those 2021 deaths belonged to persons aged 19 or younger, but if the percentage from 2020 holds, it was somewhere around 2,376—twelve of whom were killed in school shootings.
Most of the 2,000+ children and teens who are being killed by guns each year in America are struck down in crime-ridden urban centers where lawlessness runs rampant and the police are increasingly hung out to dry. Yes, we can certainly blame tyrannical lockdown policies for the recent surge in both suicide and homicide, but our broader problems predate COVID by a wide berth. Alas, most politicians seem to care more about appearances than results. If they actually solved the problems they purportedly care about, they’d risk having no platform to run on and no basis on which to fundraise. It turns out going after guns is much easier than trying to walk back 50 years of anti-family, anti-child policies.
Twenty-five years ago, when Kip Kinkel shot his parents then shot his Oregon classmates, it was “the highest-casualty school shooting by a student in three decades.” Now we barely remember his name. The violence he wrought that day has been dwarfed by ever-increasing displays of despair and depravity. School shootings, it seems, beget more school shootings. The question is “Why?” It’s the same question President Clinton tasked Janet Reno with answering following the 1998 middle school slayings in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Her answer was predictable and forgettable, so I’d like to suggest a different culprit—or series of culprits.
Lost in most of the school-shooting coverage are the students who survived. Whether they witnessed the carnage directly or were “merely” in the building, they’re left with a lifetime of trauma to navigate. Then you have the family and friends who weren’t there but who will still never be the same. Simply put, those who lose their lives in a school shooting are not the only victims, and I would say that the same is true of abortion. In a very real sense, all of us who were born after January 22, 1973, are abortion survivors—whether we’ve ever thought through the ramifications or not. Why did we survive when brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, or cousins did not?
Kip Kinkel was born in 1982. The Columbine killers were both born in 1981. The man who killed 32 students and staff at Virginia Tech was born in 1984. The Sandy Hook shooter—who killed 20 first graders—was born in 1992. These killers were all born during the height of America’s abortion endemic. Why is that significant? Because the law isn’t just an enforcer; it’s a teacher. And what does legal abortion teach? It teaches that human life is expendable. It teaches that violence is an acceptable means of eliminating those who cause you pain. It teaches that others are less important than yourself. It teaches that you needn’t fear the eternal consequences of ending an innocent human life. It teaches that there are no such things as sacred, inviolable spaces. And it teaches that morality is entirely relative. There is no “ought;” there is only “can.”
If you were to ask a sample of Americans what is to blame for the ongoing scourge of campus shootings, I suspect almost no one would mention abortion. Some, of course, believe abortion to be a positive good. Others write it off as a symptom of cultural demise, not a cause. That's true, but only in part. Think about what happens whenever you hop on your phone or sit down with Netflix. No matter the platform, it is your initial behavior—your clicks—that determines what the algorithm will suggest to you in future, but as time progresses, that relationship subtly flips. Eventually, the influence the algorithm has on you overtakes the influence you have on it. Eventually, the tail starts wagging the dog—and it becomes impossible to reliably isolate cause from effect. Abortion may have begun as a mere expression of cultural depravity, but 50 years in, I think it’s fair to say it’s become a bona fide shaper of cultural depravity.
The reason I never went into youth ministry—at least not professionally—is because I met Gregg Cunningham before I had the chance. He convinced me in relatively short order that combatting abortion is a) biblical, b) Christ-exalting, and c) being almost wholly neglected by evangelicals across the world. I knew immediately that the vocational redirect I’d been looking for had just arrived because I realized in that moment that a cancer far worse than school shootings was silently consuming our nation. Abortion is the clearest manifestation of evil in America today, and I don’t think it’s even close. What expressions of depravity could possibly be placed above it? The genital mutilation of children? As wicked and gruesome as that is, its severity and scope still pales in comparison. School shootings, perhaps? Lots of people would concur, but consider this.
School shootings are illegal, which means America is not explicitly culpable for the deaths that ensue. Abortion, however, has the state’s seal of approval and in many states is paid for with public funds. Those who kill kids on campus generally pay for it with their lives, but those who kill kids in an abortion clinic—at least in most states—bear no legal culpability. Shooting children is not a half-billion dollar industry. Aborting children is. School shootings—unlike abortion—do not cheapen the value of human life. The outpouring of grief reminds us how precious and fragile each life is—especially the lives of children. The smaller and more helpless they are, the more intense our outrage. Except, of course, when it comes to abortion. In this case, we’ve turned their size and dependency against them. It’s the philosophical basis for their elimination. Finally, on its deadliest day in history, school shootings in America claimed 33 human lives. Abortion, by contrast, has claimed close to 3,500 human lives every day, for 50 years.
Does anyone really believe it’s possible to sanction the widespread slaughter of tiny human embryos and fetuses without there being any existential consequences? Does anyone really think a nation can sustain that level of violence for that long without it leaking out into society at large? Jesus once warned that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Violence begets violence. Abortion begets abortion. And make no mistake, abortion is an exceedingly violent practice. Just look at the pictures if you have any doubt. A nation that lives by the sword of abortion should not be shocked when that proverbial sword rears its ugly head in other sectors. It’s only by the grace of God that things aren’t infinitely worse.
We celebrate abortion as an individual freedom—a personal choice—without giving much thought to what the totality of those choices are actually doing to our nation. Apparently a million annual deaths is a price we’re willing to pay for personal autonomy and unfettered sex. But imagine if the carnage was being driven instead by a foreign adversary. Would we still find the daily deaths of thousands of unborn Americans acceptable if it was coming at the hands of the Russians or the Chinese? Or does the fact that we’re killing our own children somehow make it better? As Americans obsess over supposed Russian disinformation and the infiltration of China through TikTok (and spy balloons), we’re blind to a much more deadly breach. Did you know that the first aspiration abortion was performed in Russia? Or that the technique was then "perfected" in China? You see, modern abortion began as a tool of our godless, totalitarian enemies, and now we’ve turned it upon ourselves.
Why are so many American young people lost, untethered, and adrift? Why is there so much instability and insecurity? Could it be that the same cultural shifts that mainstreamed abortion have also stripped life of its hope and meaning—swallowing up faith and family in the process? Kip Kinkel is one of the few school shooters who is still alive today—and apparently full of remorse. As a 15-year-old, he slept with a loaded Glock under his pillow because it was the only way he felt secure. When his dad discovered this sleeping arrangement and took the gun away, Kinkel secretly replaced it with a rifle. His handgun had given Kinkel a feeling of security that he wasn’t experiencing elsewhere, but as his dad found out, merely taking the gun away didn’t solve the underlying problem. Kinkel’s 2021 interview with The Huffington Post—his first one ever—reveals the following:
Kinkel heard voices in his head for the first time when he was 12 years old. He recalled getting off the school bus, walking up his driveway and hearing a male voice say, “You need to kill everyone, everyone in the world.” Kinkel turned around, looking for someone behind him. But no one was there. He ran inside his house, but the voice followed him in, accompanied by a second… The two voices soon became three, all of them male. They had a hierarchy, and Kinkel could tell them apart. They sometimes argued with one another, and they often worked together to denigrate and manipulate Kinkel. They spoke about him as if he couldn’t hear them. Everything they said was ugly, negative and violent. The voices terrified Kinkel. They warned him that everyone would think he was a freak if he tried to tell anyone about them. So Kinkel tried to make sense of what he was experiencing on his own. He didn’t grow up particularly religious, but he wondered if they came from God. Or maybe the devil.
We modern Americans are poorly equipped to handle such a story, in large measure because “not particularly religious” is a designation that claims more and more of us each year. We read the Bible and smirk at the stories of demon possession. “That was just mental illness,” we smugly assert. “Demons aren’t real.” I suspect Kip Kinkel might disagree. When the Supreme Court removed prayer and Bible reading from public schools in 1962, it helped condition us to believe that we no longer need God’s wisdom or provision. Two years earlier, when the birth control pill hit the scene, it helped condition us to believe that sexual restraint is no longer necessary—while condemning an ever-increasing tide of children to grow up with fewer siblings and fewer parents. When the nation’s first no-fault divorce bill became law in 1969, it helped condition us to believe that dissolving difficult relationships is preferable to the hard work of reconciliation—while condemning even more children to grow up in single-parent or split-family homes. When the normalization of homosexuality began in 1973, it helped condition us to believe that standards don’t matter—that you shouldn’t be ashamed of anything so long as it “makes you happy.” When states began banning corporal punishment in schools in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, it helped condition us to believe that the consequences for bad behavior aren’t that serious. And when the Supreme Court redefined marriage in 2015, it helped condition us to believe that marriage is a mere tax designation that serves no real function beyond personal fulfillment.
If you want to know what has fundamentally changed in America since our schools became shooting zones, that’s where I’d start. Birth control, abortion, no-fault divorce, the banishment of religion, the abandonment of correction, and the celebration of deviant sexuality. In combination, they weaken families, isolate parents, marginalize children, and strip away all that might actually provide meaning in the fallen world we occupy. This is what happens to societies that throw off moral restraint and denounce any moral obligation to God or man. They wind up with kids who seek fulfillment—or perhaps mere oblivion—in shooting up a school. Those who fear the judgment of God do not act as such. But when children grow up believing that either God doesn’t care or God isn’t there, why shouldn’t they burn it all down in a blaze of glory?
Joe Rogan recently observed to Michael Shellenberger that “we’re in this very strange existential crisis as a civilization that’s not being recognized.” What evidence did he offer for such a claim? Three things: the decline of religion, the decline of patriotism, and the decline of births. “And in the meantime,” he continued, “we’re distracting ourselves with things like Greta Thunberg’s take on climate, or whether or not gender is a social construct...“ Again, this is coming from Joe Rogan who is not a Christian, who supports legal abortion, who supports the redefinition of marriage, but is still astute enough to recognize that, in his words, “the f-ing whole thing is falling apart—the (very) foundation of our civilization.” Michael Shellenberger’s take? “If you are taught to believe that at the end of your life, you just become worm food, and that’s it… [well] that’s sort of (the) end of civilization.” When you say there are no consequences beyond the grave, you pave the way for lost and misguided souls to unleash their wrath against a world they’ve come to despise.
Amidst this perfect storm of existential threats to both children and families, all the establishment can muster is, “It must be the guns.” But as Matt Walsh said recently, “Even if you could take away all the guns — snap your fingers and make them disappear or float into space — still you would be left with a country infested with homicidal sociopaths who don't value human life.” The notion that we can simply disarm every would-be school shooter is a pipe dream. This is an existential crisis, not a munitions problem. The people who need to be disarmed can’t be disarmed because making gun ownership against the law only impacts those who keep the law. It has no bearing on those willing to break it. As Kip Kinkel’s dad tragically learned, you cannot in the long term forcibly restrain your child from doing ill. It's an untenable objective. Children must learn to regulate themselves. It's the only way freedom can survive. Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Goodness is the objective, not impotence. When a lack of opportunity is the only thing restraing someone from committing a heinous act, God help us. Thankfully, he does—oftentimes through the heroic actions of a man or woman with a gun. “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people,” John Adams so presciently warned. “It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” At the end of the day, there are only two options. We either learn to restrain ourselves, or we wind up under the thumb of an authoritarian regime that will happily do it for us.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. Subscribe to Michael's Substack for his latest articles and recordings. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.