The Year of Living Dangerously

In our country, we use guns instead of explosive vests to kill our neighbors

Posted Dec 08, 2015

Three years ago we wrote a Psychology Today column about the senseless murder of 20 children and 7 adults – including the “shooter” - at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, USA. At that time, the Sandy Hook mass murder was the 62nd in America since 1982. Like many other parents and teachers, we were in shock. We thought: Surely our government will now do something to prevent similar horrific acts of violence. We signed petitions, wrote columns, sent letters to the editor and Congress, and even to our President, all in the hope that greater measures would be taken to prevent another man-made catastrophe like Sandy Hook from ever happening again. Reason and democracy should prevail over Evil and fascism. Should have, but did not.

Fast forward to the present...since Sandy Hook, 1,044 mass shootings have taken place in America, killing at least 1,327 and wounding 3,784.   These counts come from the Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced database that tracks shootings since January 2013 in which four or more people were shot. It is likely that such counts are missing some shootings, some deaths, and some injuries, and maybe some compassionate concern by those in power positions to institute legal changes in the face of this ongoing tragedy in our nation. 

We are a PTSD Nation

Far too often when we experience unexpected devastating traumas such as these, we are gripped by the replay of the unimaginable real-time visuals of the “event” as it unfolds on TV. Rather than merely mourning for the deaths of all these innocent folks, our nation has suffered repeatedly from Communal PTSD. In the past, we have collectively hugged each other, wept together and felt intense sorrow. But of late, those emotions have mutated into anger and frustration at the lack of corrective action that should surely have been taken by those who govern us. Congress seems intent on keeping 21st century America bound to an outdated Constitutional amendment that, while pertinent in the 18th and 19th centuries when the danger of wild animals, invasions by foreign countries, and the fight for true freedom from external tyranny were real threats. It is no longer necessary for civilians to bear arms against evil forces - our paid military service men and women accept that obligation for each of us.

In our homeland there exists a radical faction of society. As we ponder the reasons why they exist, the puzzle pieces start to form a composite that is difficult to conceive: We may have helped create them inadvertently. This splinter group is known by many names – serial or copycat killers, mass murders, suicide shooters - but they are homegrown terrorists, every bit as terrifying and terrible, as are Middle Eastern suicide bombers. Although the impetus, the causal forces, behind mass murderers may differ, the goal is always the same—induce mass fear that morphs into irrational anxiety and feelings of national insecurity. In our country, we use bullets from assault weapons instead of explosive vests to murder young and old, men and women, neighbors and strangers. It’s time to stop calling these mass murderers “shooters” - by their gun-based actions - and start using their appropriate designation of their terrifying impact on our minds: American Homegrown Terrorists.

Two Common Themes Need Correcting

In every such homegrown terrorist attack, two themes emerge: 1) this could never happen in our peaceful town, and 2) disbelief that the shooter(s) would be the kind of evil person who could ever do such a thing. After 1,327 mass shootings and counting more daily, we see that these horrific incidences do indeed happen anywhere in America where guns are freely available and that the perpetrators have for some reason chosen to isolate themselves - or a part of themselves from society. They live in every town across the country. Usually they are loners, quiet, reserved, shy kids and adults who may have been socially excluded by peers. They are the “banality of evil” in action. And like all terrorists, including Middle Eastern suicide bombers, they suffer from various forms of mental illnesses, and are frequently undiagnosed and not treated.  

The Making of Homegrown Terrorists

Realistic visuals are provided in countless ways by the media, Hollywood and the gaming world. Programs recycle terrifying information 24/7 under the guise of “news” and then ignore its social effect - shock - that plays on our fears and hooks us into obsessive watching. “Cool” television shows and movies idolize killers. Many of the most popular video games reward a chain of unspeakable violent acts one after the other in rapid succession. Unfortunately, we can become anesthetized and indifferent to the suffering of others by watching these programs – including these news shows – and playing violent video games. Our morality becomes disengaged, slipped into neutral gear, that lets us all coast along mindlessly when instead we need to be fully andmindfully engaged in challenging the enemies within and without.

Copycat killers and mass murderers are a sign of social modeling. They watch hot/cool killer programs, movies and shows, play these games and think, “Awesome! I can totally do that!” The fabric of their reality tears and they become emboldened as they fall through the fabric of their own very separate unbounded reality. Suicide is not a deterrent - it’s a dramatic end to a desperate life. “Hey man, it’s my name and FB photo in the news for everyone to see, and for the cool kids to wish they had the guts to do what I did!”

Why? How? When?

In our search for answers, we try to wrap our minds around something that doesn’t make sense. We feel intense sadness, hopelessness, fear and anger. We wonder why and how something so horrific can happen over and over. As kids, grownups told us the nightmare is over so we can now sleep peacefully again. Now, the nightmare continues unabated and even worsens, and there is no one at home to say it will soon be okay. Why?

Many of us experience the time perspective zone of present fatalism – we’ve been injured so badly by negative past events that our lives are meaningless or futile and the future looks hopeless. Thankfully, the vast majority of us who feel this way wouldn’t think to kill ourselves, much less others. We know deep down inside that tomorrow is another day that life will carry on and may eventually even get better.

But home grown terrorists are so badly damaged and feel so deeply that they have no future, or their future will get worse, that they have nothing to lose by doing a shoot up. Perhaps they’ve been bullied to the extreme, or ignored, or suffered atrocious traumatic events or brain injuries. Whatever the reason – they become sociopaths, without the restraints of guilt, and feel personally justified in their atrocious actions. They seek out the extreme negative temporal state of present hedonism of a last firefight and if they don’t take themselves out before they get caught - they commit “suicide by cop”. They have a final plan and they follow through with self-destruction as their memorial goal. How can that be changed? When will counter forces emerge to prevent it?

The Solution: A Call to Legal Action NOW

We thought the loss of innocent lives three years ago in that little Connecticut schoolhouse was the ultimate wake up call to parents, teachers, religious leaders and our politicians, as well as therapeutic communities. We couldn’t have been more wrong; 1,044 mass shootings, 1,327 lives and 3,784 injuries wrong! The Paris murders added to our naïve view; as did the Colorado Springs killings at a Planned Parenthood clinic, and then down to the Las Angeles area with mass terrorist murders in a San Bernardino holiday party for those who aid people with disabilities.

Our elected officials have failed us! In particular, we must shout out the following top representatives and senators who, in January 2013 did not support President Obama’s Gun Violence Prevention Plan:

Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Max Baucus, (R-Montana), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), John Boehner. R-Ohio), Joe Donnelly, (D-Indiana), Heidi Heitkamp, (D-N. Dakota), Tim Johnson, (D-S. Dakota), John McCain (R-Arizona), Ron Paul (R-Texas), and also Rick Santorum (R-Penn).

It’s also important for us to highlight politicians who received a hefty $12.5 million in contributions from the NRA, and other gun rights groups. The list is lengthy and can be viewed at:

Suffice it to identify the two highest paid recipients of this local mafia payoff are: Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) $1,300,000 and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky $922,000). (They took the guns, the cannoli, and the money as well!)

We who want to end the slaughter of the innocents need to heroically stand together and help create the needed legal changes. It is now obvious that many of those we’ve hired to represent us are in the back pocket of gun lobbyists. They must be voted out of office. We need stricter gun control: bans on all military assault weapons with rapid fire, multiple bullet chambers – and that’s for starters. Criminal and mental health background checks are essential before anyone gets a gun license. And there must be better coordination of national security services with local and state services, so those on No Fly lists cannot still buy and use weapons of mass destruction.

We need to develop programs that engage our youth more fully as vital human beings who feel accepted, respected and even loved by others to help affect this change.  This is the social psychological component that can be dealt with by creating more positive, caring, compassionate communities in our schools, neighborhoods, work places and nation.

It’s a tall order, but it is at the heart of the new everyday heroism being developed by our Heroic Imagination Project in San Francisco.

What You Can You Do Right

As we do with those who have died serving our country in the military, let's remember the innocent victims - watch shows and read about their heroism and their precious lives. Memorize their names instead of those of the terrorists. Let’s move forward as a united peace-loving American people into a brighter future by honoring those who have passed on and doing all we can for the families recovering from their tragic loss.

As President Obama stated in his speech to the nation on December 14, 2013 hours after the Sandy Hook mass murders, “We’ve endured too many of these tragedies…Our hearts are broken…As a country we have been through this too many times…These children are our children…We must come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics…”

His intentions were great and if he had received the support from Congress that we as a nation deserve, thousands of lives could have been spared death and injury.  He extended that caring message in his recent December 6, 2015 Oval Office speech to the nation. Care, empathy, compassion need to be transformed now into the heroic action of standing up, speaking out, and acting wisely and effectively to make all our elected officials vote for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rather than for the continuation of taking bribes from the Gun Death Industry.

It's up to us. Let’s call upon the hero in each of us and focus on being brave by not allowing people and the media to control us by fear. Let’s conceive of ways to stay safe in a rapidly changing world. Let’s make our decisions based on where we want to go as a nation rather than on past negative traumas – and move toward the light of a brighter future. We can do this with a new collective will that binds us together.


Mass Shootings since Sandy Hook, in One Map, by German Lopez and Soo Oh; December 3, 2015.

Igor Volsky Twitter-Shamed 72 Pro-NRA Politicians Over $12.5 Million In Contributions by Katie Sola, Forbe; December 4, 2015.

The Top 5 Politicians in the Pocket of the NRA, by Sally Nnamani, Policy.Mic; December 27, 2012.

Meet the NRA-backed Senate Democrats Who Oppose Obama’s Gun Violence Prevention Plan, by Zach Beauchamp, Think Progress; January 17, 2013.


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