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The Thin Blue Life

Engaging Culture

Police Officers Know What Motivated the Last Mass Shooter… and What Will Motivate the Next One

Police Officers Know What Motivated The Last School Shooter… And What Will Motivate The Next One
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In these days following the mass shootings in Milwaukee, Buffalo, Houston and Laguna Woods, many of us are searching for elusive answers. While news outlets quickly described these attacks as “hate crimes” (and some most certainly were), other observers still wonder what might possess someone to act in such a horrific way.

Most police officers, however, know precisely why these shooters did what they did, and we also know what will motivate the next killer to act in a similar way.

Many years ago, as I began investigating high-profile murders in Los Angeles County, I carefully chronicled the motives for every homicide that occurred in our region. You might think there are a million reasons why someone would commit a murder, but there are only three. These motives are the driving force behind every homicide, and they are also responsible for every theft, burglary and robbery. In fact, these three motives lie at the heart of every conceivable crime or misdeed.

Human misbehavior is motivated by (1) financial greed, (2) sexual – or relational – lust, and (3) the pursuit of power. While the first two motives are easy to understand, the third – the pursuit of power – is much more nuanced and account for many of the shootings we’ve witnessed lately. When someone thinks they are more important, their race is superior, or their opinions or views are more important than those of others, the pursuit of power (respect, authority or control) is rearing its ugly head.

You might be wondering if there is a fourth category. There isn’t. What about jealousy? What about anger? Ask yourself the question: What is causing the jealousy or anger? There are only three answers to this question, and now you know them.

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The notorious gang, MS13, inadvertently confirmed these three motives when choosing the motto for their criminal organization: “Mata, roba, viola, controla”’ (kill, steal, rape, control). All murders (“kill”) are motivated by financial greed (“steal”), sexual lust (“rape”) or the pursuit of power (“control”). Sometimes one of these motives is the driving force behind a crime. Sometimes two or more are involved.

We’ve witnessed several troubling shootings in recent months, most of them are driven by the pursuit of power. Killers aren’t the only ones who struggle with this motivation. Everyone battles the desire to be authoritative and powerful. Read the comments on social media. Our digital, information age environment is only exacerbating the problem and raising the temperature.

But social media isn’t the culprit here. We are the problem.

I became a Christian at the age of thirty-five by investigating the claims of the Gospels from the perspective of a detective. Years after I discovered the motives for crime as an investigator, I found them on the ancient pages of the New Testament in a letter written by the Apostle John:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

The motives for sin are ancient motives, and they are common to all of us as fallen, sinful humans: “the desires of the flesh (sex) and the desires of the eyes (money) and pride of life (the pursuit of power).” Nothing has changed. The Bible continues to describe the world the way it really is and humans as we really are.

It also describes the solution.

John, the same eyewitness and disciple of Jesus who wrote, “…the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever,” also recorded the words of Jesus when He described the nature of forever:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die” (John 6:47-50).

Jesus understood our nature as fallen humans motivated by sex, money, and power. He also understood true transformation is not a matter of will, but the result of surrender. The Gospel offers a solution and our entrance into eternity with God.

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Jesus understood our nature as fallen humans motivated by sex, money, and power. He also understood the source of true transformation... Share on X

Only three motives lie behind shootings like the ones we’ve seen recently, and that’s why I sadly expect to see more shootings in the future. When those shootings occur, you can rest assured that they will be motivated by greed, lust or power. Unless we, as a nation, are willing to embrace and promote a worldview that helps us understand the proper role of money and financial stewardship, promotes sexual purity and restraint, and helps us place the needs of others ahead of our own desires, we can expect more of the same. Those restorative values may sound familiar to you; they used to be part of our collective heritage and our common worldview. They are also our last and greatest hope if we ever expect to minimize and contain the only three reasons anyone commits a crime.

Written By

J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and best-selling author. He continues to consult on cold-case investigations while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also an Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and a faculty member at Summit Ministries. J. Warner presently serves as a chaplain for his agency and holds a BA in Design (from CSULB), an MA in Architecture (from UCLA), and an MA in Theological Studies (from Gateway Seminary).


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