Addiction isn’t about substance – you aren’t addicted to the substance, you are addicted to the alteration of mood that the substance brings.
Guns, rights and regulations. A toxic threesome. With the possible exception of abortion, nothing in the US of A inflames the passions as much as the debate over guns and whether they ought to be controlled. Personally, it’s always been difficult to understand the level of affection many gun owners display for their weapons. I could never comprehend the manic resistance expressed whenever the subject of gun control would arise – that is, until I viewed it through the eyes of a recovering alcoholic.
The panic that can be seen in those who fear the loss of their weapon is like that of an addict who fears being deprived of his drug. Addicts will kick and scream, and do whatever it takes to protect their addiction. We will sacrifice all if need be, including our jobs, our families, our freedom, our sanity, and even our lives. We will lie to our wives, our children, and even our mothers. Woe be unto anyone or anything that comes between us and the object of our dependency.
I came across a recent online forum comment to be revealing:
“Face it, you like or love guns and accessories and make it your hobby and passion by choice. You travel the web and purchase books about firearms and ammunition and take frequent trips to the gun shop, gun smith and shooting range. You open your safe to clean your collection, check humidity, or to just plain show them off to your buds. Then there is the spending. You spend the unused part of your check each week, save up or sometimes dip into your savings for a new gun, accessories, ammo, or gear.”
The behavior depicted here could easily describe any number of addictions. Consider some of the common characteristics:
- Obsession with an object, activity or substance.
- A compulsion to engage in an activity, and finding it difficult, even impossible not to do so.
- Engaging in a behavior even though it causes harm to self and/or others.
- Denial that the behavior is a problem.
- Ritualistic behavior involving the object or activity (like the trips to the gun shop and gun cleaning in the forum post).
- Enabling oneself and others by associating with only those who share and even encourage the behavior.
And of course there’s the desire for the gratification (high) the behavior provides, which becomes an uncontrollable need.
Aside from genetics, two powerful contributors to addiction are the 2-headed dragon of power and control. Typically, we addicts display low self-esteem and suffer great anxiety about not feeling in control of our immediate environment. Guns enable some to feel more powerful; they feed a fantasy where guns are seen to provide an almost magical solution to any problem. In a multitude of ways, popular culture identifies the guy with the gun as the guy with the power.
Then there is the gratification derived from the act of firing a gun. Gun owners often talk about the pleasure and enjoyment they experience when holding and shooting a weapon. Another forum participant describes the activity with a feeling that borders on erotic poetry:
“My Super Blackhawk is not at all unpleasant to shoot. It rolls back in my hand, sort of tries to leave my supporting hand, and climbs near vertical with muzzle uppermost. And the target reacts in the nicest way. And this gun is indeed a pleasure to shoot.”
Like other drugs, possessing a gun provides the addict with an escape from reality and an easing of emotional pain. It may begin with the need for a momentary release from anxiety and fear, but it soon evolves into a dependency on the changes in consciousness and ritualistic behaviors that create a vicious cycle from which it is very difficult to escape.
The truth is, the intensity with which some gun owners protest any change in laws affecting weapons and ammunition, speaks to the depth of their suffering. Indeed, they are suffering in bondage to a need which has taken over their lives. That’s what addiction is. However, as with other addictions, there is a way out. But first, the country as a whole has to recognize that there is a problem and decide to end the denial. Then we have to stop enabling the addiction.
We need an intervention for our country. We need to confront the truth about the culture of fear and violence which allows those addicted to guns to control both the narrative and the legislatures. We need to be honest about profit motives driving the resistance. The gun industry and their affiliated industries spend tens of millions on lobbyists who work to convince members of Congress that effecting policies contrary to the well being of their constituents is a good thing. We need to acknowledge the silent willingness on our part that allows communities to endure domestic terror. We need to face the fact that we’ve created a popular culture in which “the gun” has become an icon, a golden calf, an object of worship.
We all share responsibility for the problem. Even if we don’t exhibit the addictive behavior, or even own a gun, we are all complicit in the culture of violence that perpetuates it. If we watch violent TV shows, we’re complicit. If we see movies depicting violent behavior, we’re complicit. If we read material which glorifies gun violence, we’re complicit. In short, we’re complicit just by being consumers.
Recovering addicts know that healing begins with a shift in consciousness. That shift is what enables the ability to see the truth about their dependency and what needs to change. This is what we need as a country. While changes in the present laws are needed, we know only too well that such actions alone will not prevent addiction. What we need is a new mind with a new awareness, allowing us to see the truth about our collective dependency, and how much it controls our cultural values. Those values, and the behavior they condone, are a constant threat to the physical and psychological well being of everyone. If we refuse to face this fact, it can only become worse.
Such a shift doesn’t come quickly, but history proves how it’s possible. Shifts in consciousness brought about the democratic form of government, the end of slavery, and the Equal Rights Amendment.
The shift that ends our cultural dependency on guns will be monumental. It will mean having a willingness to release fear and the never ending need for self-protection. The common belief is that fear is caused by crime and violence, and not living in fear is the result of eliminating the cause. Bu,t in fact, it is fear that causes the crime and violence. Fear is a choice. Few would accept that truth. As long as we believe fear is the natural reaction to a fear-filled world, we can’t be free. When we become able to understood that fear is nothing more that a hold-over from our primitive brain and its instinctive fear response, we are free to chose another way to respond.
How can such a shift happen? In 12-step programs, the second step is key. It involves turning our lives over to a higher power. That higher power is never narrowly defined. It can be God, Allah, Spirit, Higher Self, the universe, or whatever force greater than oneself can be drawn on for help to make it through, one day at a time.
But how can the 12-step concept be applied to a culture or an entire country?
In addition to the higher power options already mentioned, there’s yet one more. Addicts who can’t relate to amorphous forms are told they can consider the group of which they are a member to be their higher power. In order to apply that to America’s addiction to guns, we would first have to admit that we’re all addicted.
Even if we don’t exhibit addictive behavior, or even own a gun, we are all complicit in the culture of violence that perpetuates it. If we watch violent TV shows, we’re complicit. If we see movies depicting violent behavior, we’re complicit. If we read material which glorifies gun violence, we’re complicit.
Here’s the inconvenient truth: we’re complicit just by being consumers of popular entertainment. My drug of choice is TV’s Law & Order, what’s yours?