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  • Dr. Vin

Gun Rights versus Gun Control and the Perception of Safety



Beneath the polarizing dialogue this past week since the murderous rampage killing 59 people and wounding 500 in Las Vegas, lies a little understood concept called neuroception. What this means is that our brains are wired at a primitive level, below the level of cognitive thinking to react immediately to a perception of danger.

For instance, if we are hiking and see what looks like a snake on the road in front of us, our bodies will recoil and quickly go into a fight/flight reaction. If we took time to contemplate thoughtfully what the chances are of it being a snake, we might have been bitten and it would be too late. Next, we pause, look closely, and get a few feet closer to see it is just a stick. And we survive another day.

This is how humans have survived since the beginning of time. There is one theory that in our pre-human ancestors may have been small mouse-sized mammals surrounded by giant sized predatory animals. What do small mammals do to survive? They cluster in groups for bonding, to attack or retreat enmass and to protect each other.

“Stronger Together” was what made us make it long enough to evolve to become bigger, brainier upright bipedal bundles of smarts and weapon wielding (albeit at the expense of over utilization of the earth’s resources) warriors. There is a current television series of Marvel Comic superheroes called, “The Defenders”, where these individualistic heroes, like Ironfist, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones join forces to fight a common enemy. Even though they fight among themselves at times, one is often heard compelling the others with, “We are stronger together.”

Even without superpowers, a sense of coming together to protect and defend, whether it be our family, or cultural beliefs, or political beliefs makes us feel safer. Gun ownership makes many people feel safer.

David Brooks, an op-ed columnist for the NY Times wrote an article called, “Guns and the Soul of America” (October 6, 2017). He points out that every time there is a mass shooting in the USA, more gun laws are enacted, but most of these laws loosen gun controls rather than restrict them! Why? Brooks says it is not the power of the N.R.A., but that in many places, people want these laws. Why? Because they believe that guns protect them from crime. Brooks also makes the point that guns are also a symbol of an identity marker of freedom, self-reliance and an ability to control ones own destiny.

Perhaps there is a feeling of sturdiness and emotional strength that comes from being well-armed to protect one’s self and family from the dangers of the world. Last week a senator, who was in a wheelchair from being shot 6 months ago, was asked if he was now for more gun control. He said, “No, because the one’s that were there to protect me needed guns too.” So even though he was paralyzed in a hate crime by someone who had easy access to weapons, his view of safety includes gun rights. I heard one speaker on the radio say that the only way to change minds toward gun restrictions would be to appeal to mothers and fathers who have guns in their homes along with the statistics of children killing children with loaded guns found in the home. He reported that a 4 year old reached in Grandma’s purse for candy, pulled out a gun, shot and killed herself. That is an argument that at least goes to the issue of safety. Would you feel safe sending your child to play at a friend’s house where the parents had guns? I would not.

I also have enjoyed shooting guns and rifles for recreation. What can happen when guns are in a home for recreation and for protecting the family but end up being used against someone in the family? We can all lose our temper and it is natural to imagine hurting others when we are mad. In the heat of anger, when the brain boils over with rage, it burns all rational thought away. Thinking about neuroception, when this happens the following sequence of events could occur: I feel unsafe and perceive this person I am mad at as a danger to me in this moment. I grab my gun before my calm brain kicks back in. The easier the access – under my pillow, in my bedroom drawer, in my purse, on top of the refrigerator, the easier it is for me to act out that violence in my moment of rage. The people that scare me most are volatile ones that do not cool down easily from anger and who carry guns.

I understand that this blog is supposed to focus on communication. I also understand that when issues hit below the thinking brain and get lodged in the primitive brain where all we know is what is safe or dangerous, then dialogue will not be productive. Facts won’t matter, like Sandy Hook youngsters dying or a crowd of country music fans trapped and mowed down by weapons made only for killing large amounts of people in a short time. Gun control scares too many people right now. We can’t think when we are scared. All we know is to grab onto what makes us feel safe.

By understanding that polarizing attitudes on gun control are based on our biology, in this case what is seen as safe and dangerous, can help us have more compassion for each other and take a step back from being dumbfounded by the view of the opposition. Guns stand for safety and freedom to one side and danger to the other side.

Only when people feel seen in their viewpoint, might they feel calmer and possibly be open to a shift in thinking. Like recognizing a commonality that most people are against mass shooting of innocent victims. Then to take a small step that seems reasonable to both sides of the divide. I am hoping that step will be to support Dianne Feinstein’s bill to ban “bump stocks”, which allows rapid rounds, like 100-200 bullets per second, that allowed the Vegas shooter to kill so many people in such a short time.