by Ross Bishop
Glycerne is pretty harmless stuff. But, combined with nitric and sulfuric acids it becomes an incredibly dangerous explosive – nitroglycerine. The same thing is true for the set of issues that lead to gun violence. By themselves each is tolerable, but when combined, the mixture can be absolutely devastating. Unfortunately the whole issue is being obscured by the smoke of an incredibly politicized debate, as each sub-part seeks to either escape blame or shift blame to the other parts. Anger and violence in our society are vitally important issues that desperately need to be addressed, but adding guns to the mix, as with nitroglycerine, makes the whole issue (pardon the pun) explosive. Underlying the discussion are two significant and fundamental considerations:
First and foremost, a gun is an instrument of violence. It serves no other purpose. You can use a knife to prepare your dinner, skin a goat or open a bag of Cheetos, but a gun is made for one thing – to kill.
Secondly, putting that much power into the hands of an individual is like giving them lightning in a bottle. A gun, unlike any other weapon, requires no particular skill to use, making it an incredible equalizer, and this is especially true for people who feel disenfranchised and powerless. It can make a dwarf feel like a giant.
In regard to specific considerations:
Third, guns are a guy thing. The number of women who use guns are small.
Fourth, homicides – about 6,000 a year – are tightly concentrated in poor urban minority neighborhoods. Most homicides occur between people who know each other, are doing business together (often drugs) or live together. They’re not stranger-on-stranger shootings and they are not generally home intrusions.
Homicide victims are mostly minority young men. Blacks are six times more likely than whites to be victims of a homicide. Blacks are seven times more likely to commit a homicide. The homicide rate among black victims in the United States is 18 per 100,000. For whites, the national homicide rate is 3 per 100,000.
The Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper published an analysis of 2012 murders in their city. Last year, 83 people died by homicide in Baton Rouge. Of that number, 87% were black and 87% were male. Two-thirds had been in trouble with the law before, and one-third had been in trouble with the law for drugs. The median age of the victims was 26.
The median age of the perpetrators was 22. Ninety six percent of them were black, and 90% were male. Almost two-thirds had previous arrests. One out of four had a drug record. Most of the murders took place in the poorest parts of the city.
These are populations who have been raised by violence and who turn to it for problem solving as gangs feud over territory and dominance in the illegal drug trade. An assault weapon is their tool of choice. The rates of domestic violence are also extremely high in this group. Their plight receives little attention from either politicians or the media.
Fifth, more than 38,000 Americans die by suicide every year, and more than half of them use firearms. This is six times the homicide rate. When a white man wants to commit suicide, he shoots himself. Eighty percent of those who commit suicide with guns are white males. It is likely that a gun is simply the most convenient method, but the gun’s ready availability makes it an all too easy choice. It seems that no one wants to discuss the issue of depression and the social shame associated with it for white males. Statistically, the risk of suicide goes up five-fold if there is a gun in the home.
Sixth, as a group, gun owners may have issues, they may be chauvinistic and cling to unrealistically old fashioned ideals, but the great majority of them are law abiding citizens. As a group, they feel powerless, and being amongst the most paranoid in society, are overly concerned for their personal safety. This also leads them to have issues about governmental intrusion. But, in any case, their guns will remain safely at home.
However, research has clearly shown that not only does having a firearm not protect the family, it significantly increases the risk (by 300 percent!) that someone in the family will die from a firearm homicide. A study by Boston Children’s Hospital found that tougher laws on guns does have an effect on homicide and suicide rates. States with stiffer gun laws have fewer gun-related deaths.
Many gun owners are fascinated by the development of weapons technology, and whether we like it or not, over the course of history, guns have represented humankind’s most sophisticated technological advancements. This is largely what motivates collectors.
There is a fringe element of paranoid nut cases in the gun world, but their numbers are small. However as we have seen, a powerful assault weapon with extended magazines in the hands of a single troubled individual can wreak absolute havoc, and we cannot ignore that reality.
The NRA reflects the views of the most radical gun owners. It is a knee-jerk radical conservative organization, run by the gun manufacturing industry that profits immensely from social anarchy. The organization has an investment in fostering paranoia. Its function is not to solve problems but to obstruct them and sell guns.
Seven, the typical criminal rationalized away the ideals of fairness and social justice when he was a child. The criminal doesn’t give a damn about rules or laws and sometimes even punishment. He’s angry to the point of violence and little else matters except building his reputation in the criminal community or the “hood.” He was raised in an alien culture with rules and values very different from the one you grew up in. In the world he lives in, violence not only insures survival, it is also a talisman of manhood. He was abused as a child and is willing to abuse without conscience when he is angry or to get what he wants.
Eight, although violence is typical of a few mental illnesses, violence per. se. is not. According to The American Psychiatric Association, “The vast majority of violence in our society is not perpetuated by persons with serious mental illness.” There is a small percentage of mentally ill people, and to repeat, we are not talking about large numbers here – specifically those with severe and untreated symptoms of schizophrenia with psychosis, major depression or bi-polar disorder, who are about twice as likely as the general population to be violent. People who combine schizophrenia and substance-use issues have a nine times higher risk of becoming violent. But these are small numbers even compared to the population of the mentally ill.
The real tragedy, and it’s not just about guns, is our criminal neglect of those amongst us who are troubled – mentally ill or sane but violently angry. Given proper care, many of these people could be helped and a number of mass tragedies could be avoided, but the real conundrum of this whole discussion is that it only takes one person to create terrible mayhem. About 60% of mass murders are committed by violent, mentally ill people, but we are talking about fewer than 30 people (I am setting aside homicides).
The resource commitment to identify and help these people would be substantial. We can afford to do it, but at the present time, trillion dollar B1 bombers and nuclear submarines are more important. Over the past three years, conservatives in Congress have cut $4.3 billion from the already stripped federal mental health budget and state legislatures have cut even more. Considering that violent anger is behavior that is learned and culturally passed on, it would seem sensible to do what we could to intervene in order to at least limit it’s contagious spread. Mental illness is another matter, but we could at a minimum, try to help those who are troubled.
Ninth, and possibly most important and most overlooked in the discussion to date, is the roll played in gun violence by violently angry, but otherwise sane men in homicides, mass murders and domestic violence.
The psychological profession does not consider violent behavior a mental illness. Otherwise what would we do with the military, bank robbers, drug dealers and the police? Violence is neither a diagnosis nor is it a disease, and ours remains a violent society. If you read the news, people kill each other every day by the hundreds – in Iraq, Afghanistan, New York and Chicago, and few of these people are mentally ill. A military officer who kills masses of people with a Predator drone may be many things, but he is not mentally ill. A drug dealer seeking to avenge a bad deal is little different from the sane mass shooter who seeks revenge for the abuses he feels have been done to him.
Violence driven by anger falls into two general categories, crimes of passion (largely homicides) and acts of calculated violence (revenge). The propensity for violent behavior is both detectable and treatable, but it is also so widespread through the culture, and addressing it represents a significant intrusion into civil rights, that at least today, no one with a major public platform has been willing to address it.
Forty percent of mass murders are committed by young men who are violently angry, who are calculating and delusional, but sane. If you met one, you’d think they were odd, but their behavior would not alert you to what they were planning. They can be episodic, so people who spend time with them such as parents, friends and teachers will know that something is wrong, but that can be said for many people, and trying to pick out a potential mass shooter from the millions of troubled, frustrated and disenfranchised people in society would be a daunting task, to say the least.
Unable to effectively sort out potential terrorists, the TSA searches every bag, every pair of shoes. The society would not tolerate similar gun searches at every public building, school, supermarket or movie theater. But, if we could begin to identify at least the most troubled amongst us, we could prevent some tragedies. Violently angry mass killers have been profiled by Paul Mullen, an esteemed Australian forensic psychologist:
They’re almost all male, there is one exception. They’re young. They tend to be in their 20s. They are typically social isolates. They very rarely have close friends or confidants. They almost never have an intimate relationship, although they sometimes have had brief relationships, which have usually failed.
Interestingly, they’re not like many offenders, they don’t tend to have problems with alcohol and drugs. They’re certainly not impulsive, quite the reverse. These are rather rigid, obsessional individuals who plan everything extremely carefully. And most of these massacres have been planned for days, weeks, sometimes months ahead.
The other thing about them is that they are angry and resentful at the world, they blame the world for not having recognised their qualities, for having mistreated them and misused them. Resentment is central to their personalities.
They spend their time ruminating on all those past slights and offences. And they begin to develop a hatred for the whole world.
Perhaps most important of all, these people are on a project to suicide. They go out there to die, and they go out to die literally in what they see as a blaze of glory. They are seeking a sort of personal vindication through fame or, more precisely, infamy.
So the challenge is what should we do? Because of the multi-faceted nature of the problem, there will not be one solution, but taking a number of interlocking steps can greatly help. However, there are massive political roadblocks to every reasonable solution, and we must therefore conclude that we are going to be burying many more school children and drive-by shooting victims.
The most obvious step would be to get rid of assault weapons and large capacity magazines. These things have no place in civil society and getting rid of them would greatly reduce the potential damage done by drug gangs and mass murderers.
One measure that might bear meaningful results would be to test all 14 year-old young men to profile them for potentially violent behavior or violent mental illness. Limiting their access to weapons will only be effective if there is a registry of not only potentially dangerous mentally ill people but potentially violent individuals as well. However, once we have that information, unless we are willing to provide help, denying these people legal access to weapons might slow them down, but ultimately would accomplish little. With so many weapons available, it is unrealistic to assume that procedural rules would offer more than a temporary roadblock to those who seek to do harm, whether criminals, the violently angry or those who are violently mentally ill.
It might be possible to declare weapons free zones in urban areas of high homicide and domestic violence, but enforcement and civil rights issues would present daunting challenges. But, those considerations should not preclude at least trying it.
There are several popular gun myths that need to be discounted. Chief amongst them is the idea that a gun in the home offers protection for the family. Research clearly shows that this is not the case and that having a weapon actually puts the family at a far greater risk for both fatal accidents and suicide.
Another “myth” that needs to be dispelled is that the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to own firearms. It does not, and at some point, the Supreme Court or the Congress is going to need to clarify this. The opposition to this will be historic. But, having said that, it still might be worth doing as it does send a message and does offer a certain amount of deterrence.
Related to the above, at some point in the future, America needs to mature from its dysfunctional cowboy mentality and join the rest of the civilized world and solve many of these issues by simply banning guns. The rest of the civilized world seems to get along quite nicely without its citizens killing each other by the thousands. But, in addition to enormous resistance from gun owners, America is the world’s armaments maker. We supply an inordinate portion of the world’s weaponry, and there are many jobs and literally trillions of dollars in taxes and political “contributions” seeking to prevent any limitation on the country’s weapons industry.
Copyright 2013, Blue Lotus Press