What We Can All Do to Lessen Gun Violence

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

“He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”— Matthew 26:52

As you probably are aware, gun violence affects us all and is an epidemic in our society. It is a major problem in America much more than in other developed countries. However, most of us are overwhelmed by the daily violence, overnight murders, classroom massacres. We care a lot about all this mayhem, especially when it comes to our children and grandchildren who go off to school in the fall, but most of us remain helpless in lessening the violence, particularly when our Congress seems passive and deadlocked in its response to this crisis.

My position on this issue is not to wait for other people to solve this problem. For our own sanity, self-respect, and safety we need to do something ourselves to make our society safer and freer of gun violence. There is a lot each of us can do now to lessen gun violence even when our efforts appear to be a drop in the bucket, and seem to pay off much later than we would wish. Realize that a lot of drops in the bucket can sustain us all and that, even making the effort, no matter how long it takes, will be a major healing in itself.

Let me be clear. I am no expert on gun violence as a social malaise. I don’t have all the answers on this topic. However, I do have something constructive to say about this topic based on my forty years of providing therapy for violent men, sex offenders, psychopaths, and misguided angry young men. I have been around the block a few too many times and have learned a lot from these male clients. I will do this in a question-and-answer format.

Why does gun violence seem like such an intractable problem in America?

The right to bear arms is built into our Constitution in the Second Amendment. Early Americans feared not being able to defend themselves from a foreign invasion in the early years of our Republic. Certainly, the Spanish, English, and French had their designs on the seeming wealth of our Early Republic and it made sense to arm the citizens of our Early Republic. However, what we really needed to be scared of was the violence within our own country and how guns could be used to undermine our own safety and security. Guns were seen as a symbol of our masculinity in protecting the homeland, asserting our dominance and carrying out genocide against our Native People, and as a quick fix in settling domestic disputes. The idealization of guns has been going on since time immemorial in America and persists to this day. One only has to watch the endless gunfights, gratuitous gun violence, and police overreaction on TV to control crime to get some idea how much we are all in love with guns in this country. Other countries may like their guns for hunting; we Americans like our guns as shortcuts to settle interpersonal conflicts. Other countries have sensible gun regulation and almost no mass killings. Unfortunately, aside from protecting ourselves from intruders, guns only make our problems worse and make our lives less safe. The social causes of gun violence are very complex and require thoughtful intervention.

Isn’t mental illness the root cause of gun violence?

There is a profound isolation between children and parents these days so that children are left to fend for themselves.Most mentally ill people are the victims, not the perpetrators, of gun violence. Most gun violence is due to a Behavioral or Personality disorder in the killer and is not the result of delusions, hallucinations, or breaks from reality. Most violence is due to a lack of emotional regulation, impulsivity, black and white thinking, traumatic hyper arousal, and deficits in empathy for others. It is generally a learned response to early childhood violence either as a witness or perpetrator of violence. Most perpetrators see violence as a solution to inner demons and are out of touch with how their behaviors affect others. Some killers are aware of their violence but simply are indifferent or they are physically aroused by hurting others. Generally, they lack the ability to think before they act and feel entitled to act the way they do.

Interestingly, many violent people have a side to them that is pro social and kindly. Their use of violence is a cry for help in a life otherwise full of despair and social dismissal. It is important to treat violent offenders with basic human respect, with a willingness to learn from their experiences and world view and maintain a savvy caution with how dangerous they can become no matter how improved they seem. Dostoyevsky once said that the quality of a civilization can be known by how well it treats its criminals.

SEE ALSO  In a World Without Empathy

What are some simple steps to lessen gun violence?

Before buying a gun, you ought to ask yourself if you really need one and if you’re fully capable of using a gun. Having secure deadbolts on your house will likely keep you safer than getting into a gun battle with an intruder. Guns require training to use properly, and you should certainly take gun safety classes before owning a gun. You may be more prone to shoot a beloved family member by mistake if you lack training. Also, you need to be truly honest with yourself if you can kill another person with a gun while defending yourself. Many people who use guns get just as traumatized as those who get victimized by guns. If you can’t use a gun to defend yourself from an intruder, you’re probably better off not owning one. You ought to consider who has access to your gun. If someone has suicidal tendencies in your house it is certainly not wise to own a gun that they might have access to. All guns in your house should be under lock and key at all times so that you are the only person who can fire the gun. If you have threatening or dangerous persons in your house, the last thing you need is a gun to protect yourself from them. You might be safer to get training in conflict resolution or counseling to learn non-violent safety planning if you live with difficult people. It is a myth that you can overcome the threats of a disturbed person by overpowering them. Most disturbed people are more skilled at aggression than you are and have less to lose by being violent. It is almost always safer, better, and more manly to walk away from a dangerous person than it is to try to control that person. Trained non-abusive police are more qualified to handle violence than you are. So let them do their job even if you dislike police

Why do school shootings happen?

Most mentally ill people are the victims, not the perpetrators, of gun violence.School shootings happen for a variety of reasons. Media worshiping of guns as ways of settling scores or handling disputes, proliferation of weapons of war in the home while not under lock and key, gang violence, copycat learning from the media, poor role modeling in the home by adult males in handling frustration, inability to handle the complexity of a changing world, over reliance on the “quick-fix” mentality of handling complex human problems and the lessening of higher brain functioning and empathic social bonding in our increasingly narcissistic culture all contribute to gun violence in schools.

In the old days it wouldn’t occur to students to shoot other students because it was against the law and you would be caught, you would not want to harm other students and get haunted by your conscience, and there were other less violent ways of settling the score to handle disputes. A good schoolyard brawl was worth its weight in gold to let others know how I am the boss or not let others mess with me. The real courage it took to face adversaries without killing them made a man out of you. The cowardice and inhumanity of current gun violence do so much less for your masculinity. Gone are the days of physical rivals settling the score with each other and living to become good and respected friends in the long run. The lessening of healthy aggression and weakening of real masculinity has made gun violence more attractive. Also, more students have mental health issues related to parental neglect these days in that it causes major problems with jealousy, insecurity, holding grudges, and emptiness in students. Children who are giving everything they wish by their parents, have no responsibilities at home, are used as objects of parental success or companionship will likely develop strong feelings of entitlement and be emotionally fragile to handle life challenges. The explosions in children are both a cry for help and an expression of despair since how they have been raised has not prepared them for adulthood and stable human bonding. Many violent youths feel their lives have been over for many years long before their gun violence. Their violence are acts of murder/suicide than aggression alone. Many times, their parents have bent over backwards to be loving caregivers and don’t know where they went wrong.

The character development in children that derives from strong bonds with fathers in this country is very much missing. When the moral teachings of fathers are not part of a child’s life his ability to empathize with others is reduced and makes him more prone to use guns to handle his emotional life with no regard for others. There is a profound isolation between children and parents these days so that children are left to fend for themselves. Parents would be shocked how their children lead separate lives from themselves. Such gaps promote despair in their children and despair is the fodder of gun violence.

SEE ALSO  In a World Without Empathy

How can we help reduce gun violence?

Here are some practical things we can do to lessen gun violence:

  1. Learn to control your language and temper when expressing anger. There is a big difference between wanting to blow someone’s head off, making threats of violence, swearing at someone, and getting even with somebody compared to saying you are pissed , and need to be taken seriously. There is absolutely no reason to dehumanize another human being when you are angry and doing so makes your anger less effective. Often you are part of why someone else makes you mad and don’t want to see your part. It’s better to be specific and respectful when you are angry. Your children will witness what a real man does with his anger and do the same themselves. Grabbing a gun announces to the world that you are not skilled enough based on your own merits to be taken seriously. It’s the coward’s way to express yourself. Use language, not bullets!
  2. Support sensible gun control legislation. Enough research has shown that sensible gun control lessens all forms of gun violence. When this country legislated against selling assault rifles the rates of mass shootings declined and then increased later when the legislation had expired. All advanced countries have considerably fewer mass shootings than the USA due to their gun control statues. Our neighbor to the North, Canada, which allows guns but not assault rifles, has no incidences of school shootings.
  3. If you do own guns, keep them under lock and key at all times. Attend gun safety classes to know when and how to use guns. Don’t own guns if someone in your household is suicidal or homicidal. Don’t own guns to prop up your masculinity, get respect from others, or teach someone a lesson. Realize that guns ought to be the choice of last resort and use the lowest caliber arms to defend yourself. Running away from dangerous situations and putting secure locks on your doors are often far better than guns in protecting yourself.
  4. Avoid holding grudges and getting even as a way of managing your emotions. Confucius once said, “Before you set out to avenge a wrong done to you, dig two graves.”
  5. Get to know your children in very personal ways, even when it seems a little intrusive. Avoid criticizing your kids or being judgmental towards them as that shuts down communication. Don’t live through your kids but enable them to have their own identity. Ask your kids if they feel that you are approachable for anything that they might want to say to you. Apologize and make corrections as necessary. Explore any areas where their lives are in danger and be as calmly intrusive as possible. Kids want you to ask them hard questions regarding their safety even when they accuse you of being nosy. Be a kindly authority to them, not a friend. Your children may say what you don’t want to hear. Thank them for their candor.
  6. This is the most effective way to reduce gun violence according to social research: Work on having strong social ties where people are concerned about and get to know their neighbor, like to volunteer and vote, and agree to cooperate with each other even when they have strong differences with each other. A community where being right has less importance than what you have in common with others creates a more trustful and safer world. This concept is called having high social capital. Communities with high social capital have better health, higher levels of education and considerably less gun violence. When you get to know your neighbors and see them as human beings much like yourself you are less likely to resort to gun violence to settle conflicts. You can read about this well-researched topic in Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, Simon and Shuster, 2000.

Building emotional community with your neighbors may seem like an idealistic solution to gun violence. However, it really works to reduce violence, racism, and mental health disorders. Having worked in mental health for the last 40 years and being a child of the 60’s (the highest social capital period) I can attest to its validity. Make love, not war, man!

John H. Driggs, LICSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in St. Paul and co-author of Intimacy Between Men.

Last Updated on July 14, 2022

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