Anxious People With Guns

It's been a few weeks since the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. As we enter the New Year I find myself somewhere between that trauma and the one that is surely just around the corner. I've been wondering-

If assault weapons serve no purpose other than to wage war, why do some  individuals view them as household essentials? Behind all the rhetoric about 2nd amendment rights,  I think we're talking about anxious people. Not that there's anything wrong with being anxious. I suspect we'd be a lot better off if we recognized how anxious we really are and stopped pretending it away. That's why I'm going first- to lead by example.

During my training as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst  I learned that anxiety sometimes serves a useful purpose. Freud proposed that the  the anxiety signal operates as a mental  call to arms, mobilizing a variety of responses that serve to protect human beings from the experience of an even greater anxieties that often dog us through life,  unwelcome souvenirs  of times when we were stuck in situations that were too much to handle by ourselves.  Sometimes these responses are in themselves unpleasant (phobias, obsessions, depression).  But to the unconscious mind, plagued by childhood fears,  they are the lesser  evil.  We hold on to them, tight. But we do it unconsciously, so we experience such symptoms as holding on to us.  We used to have a word for this kind of mental activity- remember "neurosis"?

I have found thinking about anxiety in this way to be very useful, as have many of my patients over the years. Placed in such a context,  anxiety becomes less of a threat and more of a compass. This perspective can assist us in the never-ending effort to distinguish between situations that are likely to cause us harm and those we really don't  need to worry about quite so much. But with the advent of DSM 3 in 1980,  anxiety was reformulated as a "disorder" and  placed on a list of public health enemies meant for eradication.  A  new supply chain world of psychotropic medications was at the ready,  and what was previously a compass became just another obstacle that  interfered with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which at this point in our history seems to involve denial of all human limitations and the satisfaction of our most unrealistic wishes (eternal youth, for example.)

While psychopharmacology has indeed relieved much suffering for many, along with the drugs has come a reconceptualization of the nature of certain forms of mental suffering that has had the unfortunate effect of discouraging self-reflection and,  along with it, reflection about the inner lives of others. The concept of "neurosis" placed anxiety within the context of our own emotional lives, while the reduction of symptoms to a matter of disturbed neurochemistry makes it something alien and extraneous to ourselves.   It places "the problem" not in ourselves, but in "our stars." So much for Shakespeare's modern man, and the appreciation that  anxiety may be more like a smoke alarm than an infection. When it goes off, maybe the best thing to do is  open it up and look inside.

If  the embrace of assault weapons serves to regulate the anxiety of certain gun owners, then it is no surprise that any attempt for regulate assault weapons would generate intense anxiety in this very constituency.  I expect  most of them will tighten their grip as the nation attempts to take control of what is clearly a national epidemic. But perhaps, under such circumstances,  a brave soul or two might  be moved to take their pulses, count their breaths per minute, cut out the rhetoric and begin to wonder about what they really think is going to happen next.  It is probably scaring the hell out of them. Not to worry. There are scads of health professionals who would rather treat worries than bullet wounds.  How ironic that the  health care field (which exists to support life) is awash in more rules and regulations than anyone can follow, while one is able to buy an assault weapon at a gun show without a prescription.

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  • With all due respect, are you truly qualified to diagnose the millions of legal. law abiding "assault weapon" owners as "neurotic" or suffering from some anxiety disorder? How many of these millions have you treated in therapy? Has your research been submitted to a peer reviewed medical journal?
    What about me? I do not own anything that could be categorized as an assault weapon, yet I am against such a ban. Am I too suffering from an anxiety disorder?
    I would presume that there are a host of other issues that I disagree with you about. Issues ranging from politics all the way down to my preferred deep dish pizza. Am I mentally ill for disagreeing with you on all these topics? Do I need therapy because I prefer Lou Malnati's over Giordano's?

  • In reply to RickB:

    If you own any pistol hand gun that can accept a magazine of 10 rounds or more, then by the definition in the law that was attempted to get passed yesterday, you own an 'assault weapon'.

    I think you should feel some pitty for the blogger.
    Its his own irrational anxieties that make this world a more dangerous place. Its his desire to do something, anything, so that he can say that he is part of the solution and not the problem.

    Physician, heal thy self.

  • In reply to Ian Michael Gumby:

    AWESOME and spot on!!

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    Let me see if I understand your point.

    You don't really know that "assault weapon" is a term made up in the 1980's by Josh Sugarmann, head of a gun control organization, to confuse the media, masses and less educated folks on this issue, like you.

    But based on your "professional" opinion anyone that doesn't see the issue the way you do must have a complex and need help?

    The millions of AR rifle owners that use them for target competitions and hunting or varmint control need to be disarmed, for their and your imagined safety. I wonder how many AR style rifle owners you actually know and how many times you've gone to a target range to talk to them?

    Heaven deliver us from "experts" that know what's best for all of us.

  • I think what makes Illinois Gun owners anxious is the fact that there are so many seemingly 'normal' people making irrational decisions.

    In the wake of the tragedy, there is a feeling of helplessness. That there should have been something that could have prevented this massacre.

    Its sad, well rather pathetic really, that a self professed health professional would transpose his irrational desire for control and state that those who own guns have an irrational fear and thus that's why they own guns.

    This self proclaimed health professional continues to use the term 'Assault Rifle'. Unfortunately he hasn't a clue as to what that term actually means, nor does he use it in its appropriate context.

    Those who wish to ban guns are being irrational. If we look at the 'assault weapons ban' that ended in 2004, we have to ask if this was such a great idea, why then did Congress not continue the ban?

    While many irrational anti-gun nutters will point to the NRA, the simple cold hard truth is that the ban was ineffective. For those who question this... I point to the Beltway Sniper. In 2002 he and his accomplice were caught using a post ban Bushmaster .223 rifle. Like the one recent used. This rifle didn't have a bayonet lug, removable flash suppressor, or a high capacity magazine. The image from the court photos showed a standard 10 round magazine. Yet the shooter was just as deadly and caused as much terror as someone running around with higher capacity magazines.

    What's even more irrational is that the image on the website that links to this blog shows an MP5 submachine gun. This gun can not legally be owned by a private citizen within the state of IL. Oh you can own one if you live in a more intelligent and conservative state like AZ, if you want to go through the background checks, pay over 30K - 40K for a used gun, etc ... Definitely not something I would expect to see used in a drive by.

    Perhaps the blogger should reflect that owning a gun is not irrational. Just like owning a bowling ball or some other sporting equipment. Nor is it irrational to fear our politicians who are willing to violate the second amendment rights as a way to enforce their will upon the people. We just saw them in action...

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    In Truth it is the Anxious People Without Guns, that have a real problem. Gun in your hand, cop on the phone

  • This is a very poorly written piece. I have some real reservations regarding your "credentials", (please note the clever placement of "quotations" there). You seem to like them...a lot. Your pseudo psychological babble does little to conceal your seething anger and raging gunaphobia. What happened to you? Were you frightened by a loud noise as a toddler? Firearms are tools; they are inanimate objects forged of steel, carved of wood or molded from petrochemicals. So called "assault weapons" are nothing more than cosmetic copies of FULLY AUTOMATIC battlefield weapons. They function no differently from any other guns currently available to the public. As a matter of fact, the FBI annual crime report tells us that more people were killed by common household hammers than ALL rifles in the United States for the past several years. But none of this matters to you, does it? Your fear drives your pathetically misinformed and irrational opinion. If you were truly a man of science, you would show up for battle armed with the "facts".

  • Nice try on the article....This is another example of "hack" liberal trying to confuse the issue at hand. Mental Illness in this country is the national epidemic!!!
    So you say it's anxiety, I have another way for you to look at it, HOPLOPHOBIA - THE IRRATIONAL FEAR OF GUNS, INANIMATE OBJECT...Also I would agrue is a national epidemic!!

  • The information you have given in the blog really marvelous and more interesting. panic away

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  • People simply should give up using stuff that is designed to kill. When you bring your gun to a forest - you hunt your prey and kill it. But when you take it to crowded places, guess what happens? No good.

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    This is a very serious subject, but your writing is sloppy. While lots of opinions abound about what to do about guns and the mentally ill, I was looking for SOMETHING to help me evaluate a current situation. I don't think we roll the dice and defer to gun rights, no matter what. I am about to opt out of a commitment because of my concern about these issues. Lacking the guidance I was seeking, I will make my own call.

  • fb_avatar

    This is a very serious subject, but your writing is sloppy. While opinions abound about what to do about guns and the mentally ill, I was looking for SOMETHING to help me evaluate a current situation. I don't think we roll the dice and defer to gun rights, no matter what. I am about to opt out of a commitment because of my concern about these issues. Lacking the guidance I was seeking, I will make my own call.

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