America’s Fatal Attraction to Guns

I’ve been following the news about all the recent shootings in the USA. I was particularly horrified by the targeting of Black church-goers in Charleston, South Carolina. And I was further distressed to read about 17 people shot at two different block parties this past weekend.

Then, if I wasn’t disturbed enough, I just read of a Texas pastor who carries a Glock into church with him when he’s doing his sermon, explaining that being armed is the best way to deal with all the gun violence erupting over the United States.

We’re frequently reading stories about children accidentally shooting their friends or siblings; a 2-year-old shot his mother in an Ohio Walmart store last December, when he reached into her purse and accidentally discharged her handgun.

Sandy Hook was a terrible tragedy, but there have been 74 school shootings since that awful event. Few people are talking about all these other incidents. Despite our initial outrage, it’s clear that we’re becoming almost inured to all this carnage.

Sadly, the response of many, including the pastor from Texas, is to encourage more people to carry guns.

After the tragic shooting of school children in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, we heard from at least as many people insisting that we arm school children as we did from those who advocate gun control.

The US is a strange country. It is paranoid to the extreme about foreign terrorism but has almost a passive attitude toward the gun-related atrocities committed on a regular basis by its own citizens.

The right to bear arms is considered so sacrosanct that any gun violence whatsoever is seen as an acceptable consequence of supporting this “freedom.”

In fact, the answer to all this violence by those who promote gun ownership is simply, more guns!

Jon Stewart put it very eloquently when he said that the US is adamant about spending billions on its defense against terrorists such as ISIS, but totally ignores the crisis happening within the US today.

People are widely divided on the issue. Proponents of gun control are saying that we’re moving toward living in a society in which no-one is going to be safe. Those on the other side of the argument say that it’s only only more guns that will keep us safe.

So what is going on? I can’t be sure, as there’s a lot of complex psychology involved in what owning a gun means to those people who insist on bearing arms.

An article in Psychology Today stated that people choose to own a gun in order to feel “safe, free, independent of the government and powerful.” (1)

It went on to state that if someone owns a gun, the data show that it’s much more likely that the gun will be used to kill the owner of the gun (via suicide), or a loved one of the owner (via accident or argument), rather than being used against a stranger in self-defense.

We think that owning a gun will make us feel safe and more at ease, but in fact, studies have shown that owning a gun, instead of making a person feel more safe, will make them feel paranoid.

An article by The Guardian talks about how guns actually make us less safe. The article described a 2009 study demonstrating how people who own firearms are 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who don’t carry a gun; the reason being that “a gun may falsely empower its possessor to overreact, instigating and losing…conflicts with similarly armed persons.” (2)

It went on to say that owning a gun might increase a person’s risk of being shot by giving them a false sense of security, causing them to go places which they’d otherwise avoid. (3)

It’s clear that despite all the convincing research demonstrating how guns make us less safe, not more safe, Americans are still very much enamored with their guns.

They rationalize, justify and explain away each tragedy, whether an accidental death by a handgun or a mass shooting of innocent people by rifles or automatic weapons.

It’s not a logical argument; it’s an emotional one, and until we can address the complex psychology at the root of the desire to own guns, we aren’t going to convince people to give them up.

I’m hoping that those who promote gun control will turn their attention to the psychology behind the desire to own guns and use the findings to help people let go of their lethal attraction to guns.

I believe that this is the only way to turn things around and bring the US back to a place that is safe.

1: Post published by Brad J. Bushman, Aug 1, 2012, in Get Psyched

2: The Guardian, David Robert Grimes, March 25, 2013


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