PETER MICHAELSON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
We all agree about the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Perhaps we also need to look at some psychological issues influencing staunch defenders of gun rights. Many of these individuals are not paragons of mental health because two of their unrecognized emotional issues are triggering a double-barreled blast of self-defeat.
Before looking down these barrels, let us acknowledge our human temptation to become enthralled by objects such as guns. We love our playthings such as cars and boats. Collectors of fancy guns, coins, stamps, antiques, model trains, and so on. This interest or fascination can be harmless enough and a source of considerable enjoyment. Yet psychological development is impeded when we use a possession such as a luxury car or expensive painting to provide status or fill an inner emptiness. Our enthusiasm for possessions can rise to the level of a fixation or obsession, at which point our lack of self-development causes us to lose perspective and sell short the richness of our essential self.
Because guns are relatively inexpensive, they’re not usually purchased for status. Instead, they provide two psychological defenses—the double barrels of self-defeat—that make their ownership so desirable. One barrel discharges the illusion of safety and the other the illusion of power. Why do so many gun owners grasp at these illusions or inner defenses?
Some Americans have a passion for handguns and assault weapons because these firearms compensate for inner fear. We generate this fear from within our psyche, based on unresolved inner conflicts. A lot of fear is produced, for instance, through our unconscious defensiveness vis-à-vis our inner critic. A lot of irrational fear is also left over from childhood. But people tend to believe their fear is reality-based, meaning that, in their minds, menace and genuine dangers do indeed lurk outside their door. They take the uncertainty of life and translate it emotionally into a parade of red flags.
Such gun enthusiasts are unconsciously determined to validate their inner fears. Rather than resolve the inner conflict that produces their fears, they make them seem legitimate by emphasizing emotionally the dangers and menace that might exist in their towns, neighborhoods, and workplaces.
Of course, some neighborhoods in America are dangerous places. It is possible that some people are safer carrying guns. My point is that unrecognized emotional issues make it more likely that people will be fearful and irrational in ways that are self-defeating. We know that having a gun does not guarantee survival and that expanding gun ownership, to the point where more and more people are packing heat, is socially and morally regressive.
We’re often reluctant to let go of inner fears because they’re such a big part of our sense of self. We won’t recognize ourselves without them. We haven’t yet achieved the level of inner freedom that produces fearlessness. The more we try to justify our fears by “seeing” external dangers, the further we slip into the irrationality and self-defeat that make a gun feel like a necessary instrument of safety.
Many gun advocates rally around the Second Amendment that protects the right to keep and bear arms, thereby affording protection against home intruders, foreign invasion, and usurpation by rulers. Home “intruders” are often family members or relatives shot by mistake in panic. A foreign “invasion” of undocumented immigrants has already occurred, and guns had no place in that occurrence. In the face of government tyranny, guns would likely be self-defeating. Our intelligence and freedom of expression are much stronger weapons. On the domestic front, the heroes of democracy fight with their wits and their tongue (or typing fingers).
Weak people, however, do not necessarily feel or practice the power of intelligence. They are too deeply enmeshed in impressions of being menaced and overwhelmed by malice or evil to be fully rational. These excessively passive impressions cause them to interpret their safety through the extremes of brute force.
Let’s look down the second barrel of the gun craze, which is the illusion of power that guns conjure up. When we’re inwardly weak, meaning filled with self-doubt and inner conflict, we’re often desperate to produce an appearance or impression of aggression or power. A man who beats his wife or children is desperate to feel power to cover up or deny his profound inner weakness, namely his abandonment of all that is good and worthy in himself. A woman who constantly berates her husband feels some second-rate sense of power, but underneath she may feel trapped in her relationship and blame her husband when she herself is entangled in a helpless sense of not being able to improve her circumstances. A person failing in life due to neurotic resignation or incompetence can feel that his or her angry complaints and claims of injustice are expressions of strength or aggression. The weaker a person, the more likely he or she can believe in guns as true expressions of power and instruments of justice. Many individuals cling to that illusion to protect their self-image and to avoid recognizing the extent of their neurosis.
Guns don’t represent true power. If America were taken over by an immoral force—a financial elite, for instance, that bought off and corrupted our politicians—gun enthusiasts would be standing around casually, blithely ignorant of non-violent dangers, fondling their weapons only for the defense of their self-image.
This nation’s preoccupation with guns is not so much fear-based as passivity-based. We don’t connect well enough with our better self and the higher values of integrity, courage, wisdom, and compassion. On an inner level, many people allow their inner critic to be the master of their personality and to pass judgment on their worthiness. Inwardly, they’re emotionally weak and defensive, familiar with feeling helpless and overwhelmed, yet desperate to exhibit some pretense of assurance and power.
This is neurosis, not mental illness. A neurotic person is prone to being negative, defensive, fearful, anxious, and reactionary. Too many gun advocates are seeing the world through their neurosis. In many families, it’s often the most dysfunctional or neurotic individuals who set the tone for the family and hold sway over it. Only determined intervention by healthier members of the family can save the situation. The American family needs our intervention in many areas of national life, beginning with the enactment and enforcement of wise gun regulation.
Peter Michaelson is a psychotherapist and author in Plymouth, MI. He blogs at www.WhyWeSuffer.com.