The People's Professor

Psychology 360: A brain-behavior buffet, heavy to lite, A to Z

Wake-Up America, The Curse is Killing Your Kids

School shootings and many gun homicides can be prevented, someday, a proposal

Here we go again. Where should we start our discussion of the American Gun Curse? How can we exorcise the Curse? Why are we so cursed, and where did it come from? The great historian Arnold Toynbee once said the special thing about America is that it was founded in a revolution. An armed revolution, that is. We started with guns, of necessity. But the necessity has weakened substantially. Few need to hunt for food. Many who hunt do it for the "pleasure" (should killing beautiful animals for pleasure be in the DSM?). Some like target practice, a sort of video game playing with some external validity. Many cite home and personal protection. With some estimates of almost 90 firearms per 100 people in the U.S., topping a list of 178 nations, that bespeaks a lot of nervous people, a lot of hunting and target practicing, and killing other Americans including American children. We are famous for getting involved in violence around the world, in an assortment of nations, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afganistan coming to mind, but the violence at home, the war next door, is continuing and so serious that we top the global list of per capita prison incarcerations.

There is a very dark cloud hanging over America and it rained on our most important and innocent institution on December 14, an elementary school in Connecticut. The dark side of the psyche channeled through the American Gun Curse laid waste our innocence once again and stole the finest from among us.In time the nation may get over this exercise of the Curse, but I won't. How many more instantiations of the Curse will it take until we stand up and shout ENOUGH! We must exercise some control over guns in America, make schools safe, and find the sources and effective signs and treatments for those who perpetrate horror.

The foregoing has all been said before,of course, and not much has been done that was effective.A major current trend in  psychology focuses on happiness. I don't want to be a grinch, but the horror can't wait. Another 50 years of happiness studies might possibly raise our happiness quotient a notch or two, BUT THE HORROR CAN'T WAIT. We need a massive concentration in current psychology and all human sciences on the horror, on the dark side of humanity and society that creates the horror. When President Kennedy asked science to get us to the moon, science responded and Neil Armstrong's bootprint remains in astonishing testimony. The victims in Connecticut won't even have a life on this earth due to the horror. We need the most massive comparable scientific effort to focus our innovation and understanding on horror and the means to reduce it. Piecemeal won't do. And the mantra must be prevention, prevention, prevention.

A fine starting point for the massive organized pushback against the Curse that I am proposing could be to compare our behavior to that of Canada.Canada is more similar to us by far than any other nation, in history, democracy, language, education, demographics, economy, hemisphere of course, etc., except for a couple of things, and one of them is gun horror. Canada has lots of guns, its a hunting nation in a hunters paradise, and out of 178 nations ranks #13 in rate of gun ownership, the U.S. ranks #1. But gun homicides show a rate approximately six times higher in the U.S., with roughly 10000 gun homicides a year in the U.S. versus less than 200 per year in Canada. My city Philadelphia averages about 400 gun homicides per year with about 1.2 million population; Canada averages less than 200 gun homicides per year with about 35 million population! Clearly there is something about Canada and guns that would be a fruitful avenue to explore in our massive attack on the Curse, and that should include their humane and rational approach to gun laws and use.

The domains of psychology, education, psychiatry, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience and the gamut of human sciences would need to work together in a type of Manhattan Project or Moon Project or Human Genome Project, to help roll back the horror. We're pretty capable, we've been to the moon, we're headed to Mars, we can throw our voices across oceans and we live with artificial organs.Our innovative, risk-taking nature can, if not eliminate horror, trim it down and get it out of our schools and children's lives. We need to make the point for such a project, pound on the doors--the professional associations, the citizens groups, the government, the politicians, the foundations, and more.

The American Gun Curse must be confronted head on. We are good at helping after the fact--dealing with grieving, what to say to children about such an event, PTSD and so on. The next step however, the key to the whole discussion, is BEFORE THE FACT, speaking up to the unspeakable, preventing the horror, check-mating the Curse.

 

Frank Farley, Ph.D., is a L.H. Carnell Professor, Temple University, and former President of the American Psychological Association.

more...

Subscribe to The People's Professor

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.