Blog, Gun Control

Welcome to Gunlandia

Originally published 10/12/2015 on the Huffington Post

Once upon a time there was a very special land known as Gunlandia.

Gunlandia did everything in its power to help its citizens shoot one another; the more killed, the better. Besides, didn’t everyone have a God-given Right to shoot at one another and to be shot at in return? Why indeed leave mass shootings to chance? What fun was there in that?

To achieve its goal of endless mass shootings, the National Gun Box Association (NGBA) placed boxes that were conveniently located throughout all of Gunlandia’s major cities. Each box contained unlimited numbers of high-powered guns of all kinds. On each box, a sign clearly said, “Please take more guns than you need for the bad guys are always waiting to pounce. Fourteen is a good number!”

The NGBA did everything they could to ensure that the boxes were always filled with loaded guns because it was every citizen’s fundamental right to live next to a well-stocked gun box.

The NGBA never tired of saying that “Gun boxes don’t kill people; only people without gun boxes kill people.” “When gun boxes are outlawed, only outlaws will have unmarked gun boxes.” Etc.

After each mass shooting, the people were strongly encouraged to cry in public because the NGBA knew that this would only encourage people to have more gun boxes. The people were also encouraged to engage in endless conversations about the causes of gun violence to help ensure that the gun boxes were never removed. The more diversions, the better. This was in fact one of the best ways of furthering one of NGBA’s major goals: placing a gun box on the every corner of every street!

The NGBA came up with a special wrinkle of which it was especially proud. They placed brightly colored gun boxes outside of schools, churches, movie theatres, super markets, in short, wherever people gathered in large numbers. They strongly encouraged people to take at least one gun with them into every event and place. In this way, no matter where they were, more than one person was guaranteed to be terminated.

What better way of instilling apathy, fear, and hopelessness? Aren’t these the goals of any uncivilized society?

Blog, Gun Control, Psychology

Living in a State of Constant Paranoia: The Time is Way Overdue to Ban Toy Guns That Look Like the Real Thing!

Originally posted on Nation of Change – December 6, 2013

On October 22, 2013, a 13-year-old boy, Andy Lopez, was fatally shot by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus in Santa Rosa, California after he was warned repeatedly to put down what looked like a real automatic rifle. When Lopez turned around with the fake gun pointing directly at Gelhaus and his partner, fearing for their lives, Deputy Gelhaus fired eight times killing Lopez instantly.

Because of the tragic loss of a young life and the understandable outrage that naturally followed, I am afraid that the full lessons have not been drawn from the episode.

Unless we understand and learn from them, we will only see future such tragedies.

While there are few if any excuses for the taking of any life, because I have worked with the police over my career, I want to put forward a different understanding of the tragedy. To do so, let me take a step back and indulge in a bit of theory.

Melanie Klein is one of the most influential child psychoanalysts who ever lived. It is contended that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. Working with children as young as newborns up to pre-teens, Klein pushed back even further our understanding of the roots of human behavior.

One of Klein’s earliest discoveries was what she termed the “paranoid-schizoid position.” The child’s earliest state was “paranoid” because of its incessant fears that it would be abandoned or hurt by its first caregivers, typically the mother when Klein worked early in the 20th century. It was also “schizoid” because the young child’s mind was not sufficiently developed to understand and accept that the “good mother,” that one that fed, cared for, and met the child’s every demand, was also the “bad mother” who couldn’t be there all the time and had to discipline the child. Fortunately, with love and understanding, and without overreacting to it, the mother helped the child to heal the “split” between these two diametrically opposite images. In time, the child was able to see and accept that the “good and the bad mother” were one and the same person. She also helped the child to see that there was a “good” and “bad side” to everyone including the child itself.

But if there were prolonged trauma, then the splits would never heal properly and even continue to grow. Indeed, even with healthy development, all of us on occasion split the world into “good and bad guys.” The constant demonization by Democrats and Republicans of one another in Washington is sadly only one manifestation of this phenomenon, albeit one of the worst!

Unfortunately, paranoia and splitting are also furthered by society and certain occupations. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that police live and work in a constant state of “paranoid-schizoid.” They are constantly in fear for their safety and lives.

This is not meant in the slightest to excuse or wish away the tragedy that happened. It is also not to say that there aren’t bad or racist cops. There are. But this often obscures more difficult lessons. At the very least, we are not only aware of bad cops, but we try to do things about it. But, we are generally unaware and try not to correct for the earliest states of mind that Klein identified.

If there is any blame to go around for the tragedy, I place it squarely on the makers and the sellers of toy guns that look so much like the “real thing” that they make such tragedies almost inevitable. What kind of society would even allow such things?

There is no excuse for such “toys,” let alone real assault weapons that are too easily available.

Contrary to gun proponents, we are not safer as nation by having 315,000,000 guns, approximately one for every person. Toy guns are now part of the same lethal mix.

If there is any good that can come out of such a tragedy, the California legislature is considering a bill that would ban the manufacture and sale of toy guns that “look like the real thing.” I fervently hope that such a bill passes.

One death is one too many!

Blog, Crisis Management, Media + Politics, Psychology

Treating Gun Violence as an Addiction and a Cult

Originally published on Nation of Change, January 30, 2013

There is something seriously wrong with a society that even has to debate whether it needs to control the most lethal types of weapons in the hands of civilians.

I want to propose what is to my knowledge a novel way of thinking about and thereby treating gun violence. If as I believe that an obsessive need for guns is akin to an addiction and therefore cannot be dealt with by means of conventional arguments (after all, many alcoholics know “rationally” that alcohol is killing them but they are still unable to resist its near total control over their lives), then I believe that we need to stop beating around the bush and treat the obsessive need for guns as a major form of addiction. Accordingly, I have taken the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and reworded them to apply to our society’s deadly obsession with guns. In proposing this, I have no illusion whatsoever that in and of itself this will help us to better manage what I believe is our society’s completely out-of-control proliferation of guns. What I do hope is this it will encourage us to explore new ways of thinking about guns.

I strongly urge the reader to note that in the second paragraph above I have deliberately stressed the word “obsessive” for I don’t believe that everyone who possesses guns or has the desire to have them is therefore suffering from a major form of addiction. Quite to the contrary. I also don’t believe that all guns ought to be banned. I believe that only those guns that are extremely lethal ought to be strictly controlled. That is, contrary to the NRA, some guns are more lethal than others. All guns are not equal. As a result, I believe that there is no place whatsoever for military-assault type weapons in the hands of civilians. Apparently, neither do many responsible and sensible gun owners.

Here then is my version of a twelve-step program for rabid gun owners.


1.      We admitted we were powerless over our fascination with and need for guns and as a result that our lives and society as a whole had become unmanageable. (Notice that this first step is a frank admission that one is no longer in denial of the fact that by themselves guns do not necessarily make oneself and one’s society automatically safer, that there are not dangerous side effects to having guns in one’s home, etc.)

2.      We came to believe that a Moral Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. That is, the lives and well being of children were more important than our desire to hunt, shoot, and collect/own firearms, especially high-power automatic weapons. As such, we came to realize that no rights were absolute. Thus, while we still believed in the Second Amendment, we came to realize that it did not sanction the possession of weapons of war.

3.      We made a conscious decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Moral Power as we understood It.

4.      Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and how our unrestrained possession of firearms harmed the collective good of society.

5.      Admitted to a Higher Power however we conceived of Him/Her/It, to ourselves, and to others the exact nature of our uncontrolled obsession over guns.

6.      We are entirely ready to have our Higher Power remove all these defects of character. That is, we are ready to take action against our obsession with guns.

7. Humbly asked our Higher Power to remove our obsession.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed through our beliefs and actions and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power, as we understood Him/Her/It, praying only for knowledge of His/Her/Its will for us and the power to carry it out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to gun owners, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. In particular, we saw the need to design and implement a new organization of Responsible Gun Owners for the Collective Good.

In short, the practitioners of this new Twelve Step Program for Gun Owners would be enacting a new form of a Precautionary Principle for Children. That is, if there was the slightest chance that a specific type of weapon posed an especially dangerous threat to the well being of children in particular, then they would willingly give that weapon (hobby, etc.) up for the greater good of society.

Religious and Cult-Like Aspects

If only the preceding were sufficient to change our deeply held attitudes towards the most dangerous types of guns. Sadly, there is almost a naïve, child-like quality to the preceding. It is not that Twelve Step Programs don’t work. They do. But in order to work, one not only has to “hit bottom,” but to believe that a “cure” is possible and to want to undertake it more than anything else.

Unfortunately, this is not possible for many for there is no denying that there is a deep, fundamentalist aspect to the makeup of many ardent gun owners. This is perhaps the strangest aspect to the whole gun issue for the founding fathers did not intend via The Bill of Rights to aid and abet any kind of “state religion.” And yet, the fervor in which many hold The Second Amendment is akin to an article of religious faith.

No one has said it better than Dennis Henigan, author of the incredible book, Lethal Logic, Exploding The Myths That Paralyze American Gun Policy (ISBN 978-1-59797-356-4):

“As one NRA leader put it some years ago, ‘You would get a far better understanding [of the extreme fervor with which many owners often have for guns] if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.’ This is not a frivolous comparison. There is an unquestionably religious fervor about the beliefs of many pro-gun partisans. It is grounded in various articles of religious faith that form the catechism of the NRA: that law-abiding citizens are under constant risk of attack by predatory criminals, that the safety of every person and family depends upon the ability of individuals to defend themselves with firearms, that the government cannot be trusted to provide security to individuals and families, that democratic institutions cannot be counted on to protect our liberties as Americans, that those institutions are at constant risk of subversion by tyrannical elements, and that tyranny is kept at bay only by the potential for insurrection by an armed populace intent on maintaining liberty. In the NRA’s world, these are eternal truths. They are not themselves proper subjects for empirical testing or debate, but rather are a priori verities according to which the world is interpreted and understood.

“To the true believers, the gun is an object of religious devotion…The hallowed place of the gun is reflected in the holy text of the gun rights movement, the Second Amendment to the Constitution…”

If this is indeed the case, then all the rational arguments in the world don’t stand any chance of making headway with those who regard guns and the Second Amendment as “holy objects.” It is like talking to the members of a cult. The only thing one can do is to “deprogram them.” But even assuming that we could, there aren’t enough therapists and trained facilitators to deprogram those who don’t see any need for it. Besides, who “deprograms a whole society?”

In the end, all one can do is rely on those who are not members of the cult to come together and to organize themselves politically to take action against collective madness; and of course, to hope that there are enough who are not members to overcome those who are.

The more that the NRA speaks out against sensible gun laws and actions, the more it empowers those who have more responsible views. In sum, whether it knows it or not—and it clearly doesn’t—the NRA is its own worst enemy.

Originally published on Nation of Change, January 30, 2013

Blog, Crisis Management, Media + Politics

Deadly Assumptions: When the World Is Shattered

Originally published on The Huffington Post, December 18, 2012

For over 30 years, I have consulted with regard to and studied virtually every type of crisis imaginable (man-made and so-called natural disasters, criminal, environmental, ethical, financial, PR, shootings, terrorism, etc.). As a result, I am the least of all persons to dispute or downplay the horrible carnage and trauma that far too many crises leave in their wake. To be sure, this is their most immediate, visible, and onerous consequence. Nevertheless, one of the least acknowledged and least studied aspects of all crises is the extreme havoc they wreck with the innumerable taken-for-granted assumptions we make about our selves, others, and the world in general. In a word, major crises like the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut shatter our world in multiple ways.

From the standpoint of assumptions, no matter how unalike they are on their surface, crises are eerily alike. For instance, in studying the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, it suddenly became clear to me that three major, taken-for-granted, and largely unconscious assumptions were completely torn to smithereens by the horrific tragedy. That is, not only was the building and even worse the bodies of innocent people blown up, but at a deep level, the assumptions that we use to guide our lives were blown up as well:

1. Terrorism does not happen in the heartland of America; terrorism only happens in Europe and the Middle East.

2. An American would not commit an egregious act of terrorism against his or her fellow citizens.

3. And innocent men, women, and worst of all, young children would not be killed to make some unfathomable point or further some senseless cause.

Sadly, the preceding types of assumptions are perfectly general, and therefore, with little change, apply to Sandy Hook as well:

1. Our town and schools are exempt, protected, etc. from horrendous catastrophes.

2. One of our own — a member of our community — will not go on a rampage.

3. And worst of all, the most vulnerable members of society will not be killed right before our eyes in the worst possible ways.

In short, the basic assumptions that all of us depend on and use daily to make sense of the world are in far too many cases completely shattered (“blown apart” is not an overstatement). In the most general terms, these are: the world is stable, orderly, and predictable; we can trust our fellow citizens; we are safe in our homes, schools, and in public generally; etc.

Of course a completely safe, orderly, and predictable world is not given to humans. But this is beside the point. The fact that we can’t prevent all crises is no excuse for not doing all that we can to lower both their chances of occurrence and their disastrous consequences.

All of this is of course a prelude to our culture’s completely out of control addiction to guns and violence. With regard to guns in particular, I believe that the time for talking to gun nuts (not “responsible gun owners”) is over. By definition, gun nuts will never be open to reasoned argument. The fact that the odds of killing a family member as well as the chances of suicide increase exponentially if one has a gun in one’s home is completely lost on gun nuts. All that matters is their self-centered reasons for owning guns. The lives of young children pale in comparison. As a result, I’m through trying to reason with them or counter their fear and paranoia, let alone respond to their narcissism.

If ever the time was ripe for political action, it is now. If this isn’t a tipping point, then God help us. Among many things, the time is now for responsible gun owners to found a new organization that can counter the NRA.

We have to do everything in our power to break the deadly grip of the most dangerous guns so that we don’t have to go through the repeated cycle of endless deaths and the crash of our most fundamental assumptions.

Originally published on The Huffington Post, December 18, 2012

Blog, Media + Politics

Getting Guns Out of Our Heads

Orginally published on Nation of Change, May 18, 2012

What do the following possibly have in common?

One, Woolrich, the venerable 182-year-old clothing company, recently brought out a new line of chinos with a second pocket that has been especially designed for carrying a concealed handgun. The clincher is that the pocket has been designed so that it wouldn’t destroy the “stylish look of the pants.”

Two, Levi Johnston, former fiancé of Bristol Palin and father of their child, not only has another baby on the way, but he plans to name her “Breeze Beretta” after his favorite Italian-made pistol.

Three, over the stringent objections of Tampa’s Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Florida Governor Rick Scott upheld the decision to ban water guns during the Republican National Convention, but not concealed handguns.

If you said that these three items have nothing in common, you’re wrong! Dead wrong!

Viewing each of them in isolation not only misses a key point, but a key pattern. Taken together, they show that controlling, if not eliminating altogether, handguns is more difficult than we ever imagined. Guns have insinuated themselves so deeply into our culture that they have literally taken over our minds. The outrage that I feel towards each of these “items” individually is dwarfed by the feelings I experience when I consider their combined effect and what they say about us as a culture.

In an earlier op-ed, “Confronting Shame-Based Politics: The Biggest Challenge of All,” The Huffington Post, April 24, 2012, I made the point that shame underlies most, if not virtually all, of our major political issues and societal problems. If in addition, fear, a deep sense of powerlessness, and a growing contempt for public institutions are combined with shame, then we have a potent mixture indeed that not only underlies, but perpetuates an out-of-control gun culture.

If we are to have any hope of breaking its stranglehold on our culture, then it is imperative that we understand shame. Shame is the deep unconscious belief that one is irredeemably bad to the very depths of one’s Being. Because the feelings it unleashes are so powerful, it is not surprising to learn that shame typically leads to intense anger and hostility in the form of violence towards others (homicide) or towards oneself (suicide), both of which are typically seen as responsible for making one feel worthless. Coupled with other intense feeling such as distrust and powerlessness, shame is so overwhelming that it makes gun control virtually impossible.

Nonetheless, the situation is neither hopeless nor impossible. However, this is true if and only if we can acknowledge the incredible power of shame, and honestly face up to it.

That’s why I believe that shame is the most challenging problem and social issue facing us. Indeed, Republicans and Democrats both use it but in different ways. For Republicans, just thinking about the possibility that the U.S. is no longer Number One is too shameful even to contemplate. For Democrats, having the poor bear the major brunt of tax cuts for the rich is a shame on us all.

To attack shame requires a four-fold strategy. One, we certainly need the best academic analyses that we can muster. At the same time, we need to understand that while absolutely necessary, the best analyses are not sufficient to move the great body of people. If anything, they turn people off because they don’t address the deep, unconscious feelings that are the basis of shame.

Two, while it is also necessary to understand the bigger, underlying, cultural patterns associated with guns, this too is insufficient for most people to make a lasting dent in overcoming shame.

Three, there need to be massive, ongoing educational campaigns like those that have been successfully waged against tobacco.

And, four, there need to be continuing PSA announcements spread over years by major celebrities on the linkage between guns and shame. Most of all, we need to talk about breaking the cycle of shame so that we can stop passing it on to our children and theirs as well.

The point is not that our most pressing problems do not require the best logical arguments and policies we can fashion. Of course they do! Rather, the point is, however essential, all the logic in the world is only a small part of the solution.

The great English wit and writer Jonathon Swift said it best of all: “You can’t reason a man out of what he was not reasoned into.”

To make serious headway against our most pressing problems, we need to combine the best programs of logic with a deep understanding of human emotions. Until we do, the assault on our minds will not only continue, but become worse.

Orginally published on Nation of Change, May 18, 2012