Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Guns don't kill people...narcissists do?

It's a little bit too easy and convenient for someone in my position to blame all of society's ills on the self-help movement (and I heard exactly that complaint from my detractors when SHAM was first published; in particular they accused me of overreaching in my final chapter, "A SHAM Society"). But when it comes to tragic events such as we saw in that Colorado movie theater, I'm not the only one saying such things. Respected psychologist Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, responded to the massacre in Psychology Today by writing, in part:  
This morning, I heard several people on the news call this latest shooter, James Holmes, a "coward." That is the right word for someone who kills people when they’re watching a movie. It’s also a word we need to keep using, over and over, until everyone gets the message that shooting people is not a path toward glory, fame, and notoriety. ... Of course, we’ll never know the true motives of any of these nutjobs. But a common theme in many of these shootings is a streak of narcissistic grandiosity and attention-seeking...
Regulars also know that in discussing today's uber-violence (see also here), I've frequently invoked Roy Beaumeister, whose watershed studies of self-esteem led him to some startling conclusions. (By the way, Baumeister and Twenge didn't just content themselves with uninformed armchair theories; they studied the matter in great detail and presented fact-filled white papers on the subject.) Baumeister tells us that the highest measured levels of self-esteem frequently were found in serial killers and drug lords and, in a watershed 1996 article, The Dark Side of Self-Esteem, observed that “self-esteem is at the heart of many acts of aggression and hostility against others."The self-esteem movement in schools was, of course, spearheaded by some of the earliest dogmatists of today's actualization movement, notably including Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup fame.

 And now we move on to the actual instrument of death:

Put simply, guns are one of the few cheap and readily available weapons that allow someone to kill large numbers of people at a distance. Sure, I've already heard the gun lobby say, Holmes could've used a bomb; he certainly rigged up enough of them in his apartment. But bomb-making is a specialized skill, and even terrorists and other "professional" bomb-makers succeed only at blowing themselves up before they ever get to their intended target. Handguns, meanwhile, can be illegally obtained in most downtown areas for as little as fifty bucks, and shotguns and assault weapons often can be bought in big-box department stores. To sum up, here's a short essay I wrote about guns for the Los Angeles Times back in 1999. I stand by it.


RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, attempting to reduce violent acts by eliminating the tools used is doomed to fail. For one thing, no amount of legislation is going to induce the majority of law-abiding gun owners - much less, the criminally motivated or mentally imbalanced - to relinquish their guns. I'm convinced that an attempt to do so by force would result in another Civil War.

Secondly, you are mistaken in your belief that other tools would be difficult to assemble and use. Sneaking a couple of water bottles filled with common cleaning agents into a theater, then pouring them into a popcorn bucket and leaving would result in a higher body count than occurred in Colorado (I won't identify the ingredients, but the information is readily available to anyone so motivated). Even a sack of flour can be made into an effective incendiary device. Again, the information is readily available.

My sense is that the most effective deterrent would be a broader implementation of open carry laws. Beyond the potential for stopping a shooter before he has completed his task, the visible presence of armed individuals would both serve to intimidate a coward AND make the potential punishment much more real to him than being processed through the criminal justice system, which is, in truth, a hypothetical outcome, riddled with variables.

I do agree with a ban on high-capacity magazines. Even in a combat situation, it is incredibly rare for a 100-round magazine to offer any benefit at all. There's just no use for them. I also agree with a limit on the number of guns a non-FFL holding individual can purchase within a given time frame. There is simply no justification for an individual to purchase a half-dozen AR-15' or AK-47s at a time. At least the FFL holders must undergo a thorough background check in order to obtain their licenses. The non-licensed volume purchaser is, quite simply, acting as a shadow-market dealer.

There are no quick answers. The seemingly simplest solutions have failure built in, and many merely set the stage for unintended consequences that may actually be worse than the problems they are intended to solve.

Anonymous said...

Pretty Interesting.

Steve Salerno said...

Uh, yeah...pretty interesting.