© 2013 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
In last week’s blog, I raised three issues to consider when addressing a social problem, then I talked about the first one: avoiding “all-or-nothing” thinking in addressing the problem of mass shootings, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the Aurora theater in Colorado. I see at least seven factors that need to be addressed, keeping in mind that young men between 15 and 25 are the majority of these shooters. Their mental health issues, when combined with over-exposure to violent video games (such as the Columbine shooters) and over-exposure to dramatic news coverage and easy access to automatic weapons, can be very powerful problems. In this blog, I focus on the second issue: B) Problem-solving rather than defensive reacting.
There have been many angry debates over what should be done, especially regarding gun control. Once again, we have seen some of the dynamics that Don Saposnek and I wrote about in our book Splitting America (how today’s politicians act like parents in a high-conflict divorce). The National Rifle Association (NRA) has taken an angry, all-or-nothing position, that no restrictions should be made even on automatic assault weapons. This isn’t just a position – it’s a highly emotional, defensive position. I have heard those in support of this position arguing heatedly that these weapons are necessary in the extremely unlikely event that the government would come into their homes someday – that they would need extreme fire power against the government. This reminds me of the extreme position against the Affordable Healthcare Act (ObamaCare) that argued that the next thing the government would do is to force people to eat broccoli.
What I have learned about the brain over the last few years, is that some people really are afraid. In fact, one study showed that conservative college students in England have larger right hemisphere amygdalas in their brains. They have a natural tendency to experience fear and believe in it. Perhaps this is part of social biology, so that some people are paying attention to danger signs that most people miss. So it’s important to not disregard or disrespect those who really do fear extreme circumstances, even though they are highly unlikely. Instead, we should listen and try to learn if there is a basis for this fear when it comes to this issue.
On the other hand, there are those who would argue for gun control in an extreme manner. However, in reality there are not many people who seem to be taking a total disarmament position. Perhaps those parents who have lost children, such as at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, may feel like taking such a position. It would be very understandable, as I have a lot of empathy for them and can’t imagine their pain.
But in reality, most people are looking at this problem as a problem to solve, and not letting defensive emotions take control of the actual decision-making. I am very glad for this. Connecticut politicians get a lot of credit for the decisions they made last week, rather than engaging in the more popular high conflict politics. They made some new laws with a ban on gun ammunition magazines of more than 10 rounds, and a requirement that existing ones be registered. They expanded on their existing assault weapons ban, all firearm sales now require background checks and they established a registry of weapons offenders.
These steps are significant in addressing the concerns I have about isolated young men between 15 and 25 with mental health issues seeking the most powerful and dramatic weapons to inflict the most damage in fame-oriented, suicidal shootings. Such a person is much less likely to walk into a school house with a single shot pistol or rifle. They would easily be wrestled to the ground (although injuring or killing someone beforehand) or get shot themselves by a school guard. No fame in that, and a possible life-time of prison and humiliation. That’s not their goal. Their goal is to compensate for feeling weak and vulnerable, by dramatically topping records for destructive violence while committing suicide (thereby controlling the whole process of their fate).
Society needs to understand this type of highly-narcissistic suicidal thinking – and how to disarm it. Let’s hear it for the problem-solving approach of the Connecticut bipartisan politicians! And perhaps this problem-solving approach, rather than just defensive reacting, may even fit another isolated young man in the news these days: Kim Jong-Un – the possibly narcissistic young leader of North Korea!
Part 3 of this blog will look at some of the results from Australia on reducing guns after a mass shooting several years ago.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.