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Addicted to Guns & Violence: America Needs An Intervention

Addiction isn't about substance - you aren't addicted to the substance, you are addicted to the alteration of mood that the substance brings. -Susan Cheever

Guns, rights and regulations. A toxic threesome. With the possible exception of abortion, nothing in the US of A inflames the passions as much as the debate over guns and whether or not they ought to be controlled. Personally, it's always been difficult to understand the level of attachment many gun owners display for their weapons. I could never comprehend the manic resistance expressed whenever the subject of gun control would arise - that is, until I viewed it through the eyes of a recovering alcoholic.

The panic that can be seen in those who fear the loss of their weapon is like that of an addict who fears being deprived of his drug. Addicts will kick and scream, and do whatever it takes to protect their addiction. We will sacrifice all if need be, including our jobs, our families, our freedom, our sanity, and even our lives. We will lie to our wives, our children, and even our mothers. Woe be unto anyone or anything that comes between us and the object of our dependency.

A gun owner forum comment is revealing:

"Face it, you like or love guns and accessories and make it your hobby and passion by choice. You travel the web and purchase books about firearms and ammunition and take frequent trips to the gun shop, gunsmith and shooting range. You open your safe to clean your collection, check humidity, or to just plain show them off to your buds. Then there is the spending. You spend the unused part of your check each week, save up or sometimes dip into your savings for a new gun, accessories, ammo, or gear."

The behavior depicted here could easily describe any number of addictions. Consider some of the common characteristics:

  • Obsession with an object, activity or substance.
  • A compulsion to engage in an activity, and finding it difficult, even impossible not to do so.
  • Engaging in a behavior even though it causes harm to self and/or others.
  • Denial that the behavior is a problem.
  • Ritualistic behavior involving the object or activity (like the trips to the gun shop and gun cleaning in the forum post).
  • Enabling oneself and others by associating with only those who share and even encourage the behavior.
  • And of course there's the desire for the gratification (high) the behavior provides, which becomes an uncontrollable need.

Aside from genetics, two powerful contributors to addiction are the 2-headed dragon of power and control. Typically, we addicts display low self-esteem and suffer great anxiety about not feeling in control of our immediate environment. Guns enable some to feel more powerful; they feed a fantasy where guns are seen to provide an almost magical solution to any problem. In a multitude of ways, popular culture identifies the guy with the gun as the guy with the power. There's no problem that a gun can't solve. Whoever has the biggest arsenal is king.

Then there is the gratification derived from the act of firing a gun. Gun owners often talk about the pleasure and enjoyment they experience when holding and shooting a weapon. Another forum participant describes the activity with a feeling that borders on erotic poetry:

"My Super Blackhawk is not at all unpleasant to shoot. It rolls back in my hand, sort of tries to leave my supporting hand, and climbs near vertical with muzzle uppermost. And the target reacts in the nicest way. And this gun is indeed a pleasure to shoot."

Like other drugs, possessing a gun provides the addict with an escape from reality and an easing of emotional pain. It may begin with the need for a momentary release from anxiety and fear, but it soon evolves into a dependency on the changes in consciousness and ritualistic behaviors that create a vicious cycle from which it is very difficult to escape.

The truth is, the intensity with which some gun owners protest any change in laws affecting weapons and ammunition, speaks to the depth of their suffering. Indeed, they are suffering in bondage to a need which has taken over their lives. That's what addiction is. However, as with other addictions, there is a way out. But first, the country as a whole has to recognize that there is a problem and decide to end the denial. Then we have to stop enabling the addiction.

We need an intervention for our country. We need to confront the truth about the culture of fear and violence which allows those addicted to guns to control both the narrative and the legislatures. We need to be honest about profit motives driving the resistance. The gun industry and their affiliated industries spend tens of millions on lobbyists who work to convince members of Congress that effecting policies contrary to the well being of their constituents is a good thing. We need to acknowledge the silent willingness on our part that allows communities to endure domestic terror. We need to face the fact that we've created a popular culture in which "the gun" has become an icon, a golden calf, an object of worship.

We all share responsibility for the problem. Even if we don't exhibit the addictive behavior, or even own a gun, we are all complicit in the culture of violence that perpetuates it. If we watch violent TV shows, we're complicit. If we see movies depicting violent behavior, we're complicit. If we read material which glorifies gun violence, we're complicit. In short, we're complicit just by being consumers.

Recovering addicts know that healing begins with a shift in consciousness. That shift is what enables the ability to see the truth about their dependency and what needs to change. This is what we need as a country. While changes in the present laws are needed, we know only too well that such actions alone will not prevent addiction. What we need is a new mind with a new awareness, allowing us to see the truth about our collective dependency, and how much it controls our cultural values. Those values, and the behavior they condone, are a constant threat to the physical and psychological well being of everyone. If we refuse to face this fact, it can only become worse.

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