Why So Many Violent Crimes Now?

ALL crimes are evil. But mindless or purposeless crimes are harder to understand. The fact that they are often without an obvious motive baffles investigators. With mass communication becoming much more effective in recent years, such appalling crimes are known to millions, or even billions, within hours. A report published by the World Health Organization states that “violence leaves no continent, no country and few communities untouched.”

Even places that were considered relatively safe in past years have recently seen more instances of senseless acts of violence. For example, Japan has long had a low rate of violent crime. However, in Ikeda, in June 2001, a man carrying a butcher knife walked into a school and began stabbing and slashing. Within 15 minutes he killed 8 children and wounded 15 others. When this is added to other reports from Japan, such as those of young people killing total strangers just for the thrill of it, one gets the clear sense that things have changed.

Even in countries where crime rates have been high, certain senseless acts have caused public revulsion. This was true after the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Psychologist Gerard Bailes made this comment: “It turns the world into a totally alien, dangerous place in which we cannot predict what is going to happen.”

Why Do They Do It?

There is no one factor that explains all the varied acts of senseless violence. What makes some crimes more difficult to understand is their irrational nature. For example, it is hard to comprehend why a person would walk up to total strangers and stab them to death or why someone would drive by a house and shoot at random.

Some claim that violence is inherent in people. Others argue that senseless crimes cannot be explained as an unavoidable part of human nature.​—See the box “Doomed to Violence?”

 Many experts believe that there are a host of factors and circumstances that are catalysts inclining people to commit irrational, violent acts. A report published by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) Academy in the United States goes so far as to say: “Homicide is not the act of a sober, sane, individual.” Some authorities would take issue with the wording of that statement. Nevertheless, many agree with what it implies. For some reason the thinking of those committing senseless crimes is not normal. Something has affected their reasoning to the point that they will do the unthinkable. What contributing factors move people to do such things? Let us look at several possibilities that experts have mentioned.

Breakdown of Family Life

Marianito Panganiban, a spokesman for the National Bureau of Investigation in the Philippines, was asked by an Awake! writer about the background of those who commit extreme crimes. He commented: “They come from broken families. They lack care and love. There is a breakdown of people’s moral fiber in the sense that they have no guidance and then they go astray.” Many researchers suggest that poor family relationships and violent family backgrounds are common among aggressive criminals.

The U.S. National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime issued a report listing factors that could identify youths who might commit lethal violence in school. The following family factors were included: a turbulent parent-child relationship, parents who are unable to recognize problems in their children, a lack of closeness, parents who set few or no limits on a child’s conduct, and children who are extremely private, leading a double life and thus hiding a part of their life from their parents.

Today many children are victims of family breakup. Others have parents who have little time for them. Thousands of young ones have grown up with inadequate moral and family guidance. Some experts feel that such an environment may result in children’s not developing the ability to bond well with others, thus making it easier for them to commit crimes against fellow humans, often without remorse.

Hate Groups and Cults

Evidence suggests that some hate groups or cults have been a strong influence in the commission of certain crimes. In Indiana,  U.S.A., a 19-year-old black man was walking home from a shopping mall. Moments later, he was lying on the side of the street with a bullet in his brain. He had been shot by a young man who picked him at random. Why? The assassin allegedly wanted to gain membership in a white-supremacist organization and to earn a spiderweb tattoo for having killed a black person.

The 1995 nerve-gas attack in a Tokyo subway; the Jonestown, Guyana, mass suicide; and the deaths in Switzerland, Canada, and France of 69 members of the Order of the Solar Temple were all cult inspired. These examples illustrate the powerful influence that certain groups have had on the thinking of some people. Charismatic leaders have got people to do the “unthinkable” by tempting them with some supposed benefit.

The Mass Media and Violence

Some point to evidence that various forms of modern communication may encourage aggressive conduct. Regular exposure to violence depicted on television, in movies, in video games, and on the Internet is said to desensitize the conscience and inspire violent crimes. Dr. Daniel Borenstein, president of the American Psychiatric Association, stated: “At this time there are more than 1,000 studies based on more than 30 years of research demonstrating a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children.” Before a U.S. Senate committee, Dr. Borenstein testified: “We are convinced that repeated exposure to entertainment violence in all its forms has significant public health implications.”​—See the box “Computer-Game Violence—​A Doctor’s Viewpoint.”

Specific cases are often cited to show that this is true. In the case of the triggerman involved in the cold-blooded murder of a couple watching the sunrise on a beach, mentioned in the preceding article, prosecutors presented evidence that the thrill killing was inspired by repeated viewing of a violent movie. In a school shooting where 15 people were killed, the two student perpetrators were said to have spent hours each day playing violent video games. Additionally, they  repeatedly watched movies glorifying violence and killing.


In the United States, the rate of murder committed by teenagers tripled during an eight-year period. What do authorities point to as one factor? Gangs, particularly gangs involved with crack cocaine. Of over 500 recent homicides in Los Angeles, California, “the police said 75 percent were gang related.”

A report published by the FBI Academy makes this statement: “Drugs are present in an inordinately high number of homicide cases.” Some people whose thinking is warped by drug use kill while under the influence. Others defend their drug trafficking by using violence. Obviously, drugs are a powerful factor influencing people to commit horrendous acts.

Easy Access to Destructive Weapons

As mentioned in the preceding article, a lone gunman in Tasmania, Australia, killed 35 people. He wounded 19 others. The man was armed with military-style semiautomatic weapons. This led many to conclude that easy access to such weapons is another factor in the rise of violent crimes.

One report shows that there were only 32 gun murders in Japan in 1995, most involving gangsters killed by other gangsters. In contrast, the United States had more than 15,000 gun murders. Why the difference? Japan’s stringent gun ownership laws have been cited by some as a reason.

People’s Inability to Cope

When hearing of certain heinous acts, some may react by saying, ‘That person must be crazy!’ However, not all individuals committing such crimes are mentally deranged. Many, though, do have difficulties in coping with life. Experts point to personality defects that may lead to extreme acts. Among them are the following: learning and social deficiencies;  negative effects of physical or sexual abuse; antisocial characteristics; hatred of a certain group, such as women; lack of remorse when doing wrong; and a desire to manipulate others.

Whatever their problem is, some become so consumed by their difficulty that their thinking is altered, and this can lead them to commit strange acts. An example is a nurse who abnormally craved attention. She injected little children with a muscle relaxant that caused their breathing to stop. Then she basked in the attention she was given as she “saved” each child. Unfortunately, she was not able to get them all to resume breathing. She was convicted of murder.

It is obvious from the foregoing that a combination of factors makes people inclined to commit violent crimes. However, our list would be incomplete if we did not consider one more very important factor.

The Bible’s Answer

The Bible helps us to understand what is happening now and why people act in such extreme ways. It accurately describes attitudes we commonly see. For example, the list found at 2 Timothy 3:3, 4 states that people would have “no natural affection” and that they would be “without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness,” and “headstrong.” In another Bible book, Jesus was quoted as saying: “The love of the greater number will cool off.”​—Matthew 24:12.

The Bible says: “In the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Yes, what we see is evidence that we are living at the end of the present system of things. Conditions, along with people’s attitudes, are on a downhill slide. Can we expect an immediate solution? The Bible answers: “Wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse.”​—2 Timothy 3:13.

Does this mean that mankind is doomed to an endless cycle of vicious violence and escalating crime? Let us examine that question in our next article.

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Some argue that the propensity for violence or killing has always been inborn in humans. Supporters of evolution maintain that we come from wild animals and have simply inherited their violent characteristics. Such theories would leave us doomed to an endless cycle of violence from which there is no hope of escape.

However, there is much evidence to the contrary. The theories mentioned above do not explain why in different cultures there are wide variations in frequency and types of violence. They do not indicate why in some cultures responding with violence seems to be the norm, whereas other societies report very little violence, with murder almost nil. Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm exposed cracks in the theory that we inherit aggression from primates by pointing out that although some of them are violent as a result of physical needs or for self-protection, humans are the only ones who have been known to kill for the sheer thrill of killing.

In their book The Will to Kill​—Making Sense of Senseless Murder, Professors James Alan Fox and Jack Levin state: “Some individuals are more prone to violence than others, yet free will still exists. The will to kill, though governed by numerous internal and external forces, still includes choice and human decision making, and thus accountability and culpability.”

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Dr. Richard F. Corlin, past president of the American Medical Association, delivered a speech to a group of graduating doctors in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. In it he spoke about computer games that encourage violence. Some of these games award points for flesh wounds, more for a body shot, and even more for a head shot. Blood spurts out, and brain tissue spatters all over.

Dr. Corlin commented that children are not allowed to drive, not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages, and not allowed to smoke when they are too young. Then he said: “But we do let them be trained to be shooters at an age when they have not yet developed their impulse control and have none of the maturity and discipline to safely use the weapons they are playing with. . . . We need to teach our children from the beginning that violence [has] consequences​—serious consequences—​all the time.”

Sadly, instead of being taught that crime has consequences, children are often the innocent victims of violent crimes. Statistics show that gunfire kills ten children a day in the United States. Dr. Corlin says: “The United States leads the world​—in the rate at which its children die from firearms.” His conclusion? “Gun violence is a threat to the public health of our country. This is a fact.”

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Many experts feel that the following can contribute to senseless crimes:

Family breakdown

Hate groups, extremists

Dangerous cults

Violence in entertainment

Exposure to actual violence

Abuse of drugs

Inability to cope with problems

Easy access to destructive weapons

Certain conditions of mental illness

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One of five bombings that killed at least 12 and injured more than 80 others, Quezon City, Philippines

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AP Photo/Aaron Favila December 30, 2000

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Two students kill a teacher, 12 students, and themselves at Columbine High School, Colorado, U.S.A.

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AP Photo/Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department April 20, 1999

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A car bomb kills at least 182 and wounds 132 at a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia

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Maldonado Roberto/GAMMA October 12, 2002