Raging Against Self Defense:
A psychiatrist Examines The Anti-Gun Mentality
We have archived another article which complements this page's Sarah Thompson piece - it is written by Gene Flick, MD, a psychiatrist - "An open letter to the American psychiatric Association
"You don't need to have a gun; the police will protect you."
"If people carry guns, there will be murders over parking spaces and neighborhood basketball games."
"I'm a pacifist. Enlightened, spiritually aware people shouldn't own guns."
"I'd rather be raped than have some redneck militia type try to rescue me."
How often have you heard these statements from misguided advocates of victim disarmament, or even woefully uninformed relatives and neighbors? Why do people cling so tightly to these beliefs, in the face of incontrovertible evidence that they are wrong? Why do they get so furiously angry when gun owners point out that their arguments are factually and logically incorrect? How can you communicate with these people who seem to be out of touch with reality and rational thought? One approach to help you deal with anti-gun people is to understand their psychological processes. Once you understand why these people behave so irrationally, you can communicate more effectively with them.
Defense Mechanisms Are Not Mental Illnesses
Defense mechanisms are normal. All of us use them to some extent, and their use does not imply mental illness. Advocates of victim disarmament may be misguided or uninformed, they may be stupid, or they may be consciously intent on evil, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are "mentally ill".
Some defense mechanisms, however, are healthier than others. A safe general rule is that a defense is healthy if it helps you to function better in your personal and professional life, and unhealthy if it interferes with your life, your relationships, or the well-being of others. Young children utilize projection and denial much more commonly than do healthy adults. On the other hand, "if projection is used as a defense mechanism to a very great extent in adult life, the user's perception of external reality will be seriously distorted."(17)
Defense mechanisms are also frequently combined, so that an anti-gun person may use several defense mechanisms simultaneously. For example, my unfortunate correspondent uses projection to create a world in which all his neighbors want to murder him. As a result, he becomes more angry and fearful, and needs to employ even more defense mechanisms to cope. So he uses projection to attribute his own rage to others, he uses denial that there is any danger to protect himself from a world where he believes he is helpless and everyone wants to murder him, and he uses reaction formation to try to control everyone else's life because his own is so horribly out of control.
Also, it's important to remember that not all anti-gun beliefs are the result of defense mechanisms. Some people suffer from gun phobia(18), an excessive and completely irrational fear of firearms, usually caused by the anti-gun conditioning they've been subjected to by the media, politicians, so-called "educators," and others. In some cases, gun phobia is caused by an authentic bad experience associated with a firearm. But with all due respect to Col. Jeff Cooper, who coined the term "hoplophobia" to describe anti-gun people, most anti-gun people do not have true phobias. Interestingly, a person with a true phobia of guns realizes his fear is excessive or unreasonable,(19) something most anti-gun folks will never admit.
Defense mechanisms distort reality
Because defense mechanisms distort reality in order to avoid unpleasant emotions, the person who uses them has an impaired ability to recognize and accept reality. This explains why my e-mail correspondent and many other anti-gun people persist in believing that their neighbors and co-workers will become mass murderers if allowed to own firearms.
People who legally carry concealed firearms are actually less violent and less prone to criminal activity of all kinds than is the general population.(20) A person who has a clean record, has passed an FBI background check, undergone firearms training, and spent several hundred dollars to get a permit and a firearm, is highly unlikely to choose to murder a neighbor. Doing so would result in his facing a police manhunt, a trial, prison, possibly capital punishment, and the destruction of his family, job, and reputation. Obviously it would make no sense for such a person to shoot a neighbor - except in self-defense. Equally obviously, the anti-gun person who believes that malicious shootings by ordinary gun owners are likely to occur is not in touch with reality.(21)
The Common Thread: Rage
In my experience, the common thread in anti-gun people is rage. Either anti-gun people harbor more rage than others, or they're less able to cope with it appropriately. Because they can't handle their own feelings of rage, they are forced to use defense mechanisms in an unhealthy manner. Because they wrongly perceive others as seeking to harm them, they advocate the disarmament of ordinary people who have no desire to harm anyone. So why do anti-gun people have so much rage and why are they unable to deal with it in appropriate ways? Consider for a moment that the largest and most hysterical anti-gun groups include disproportionately large numbers of women, African-Americans and Jews. And virtually all of the organizations that claim to speak for these "oppressed people" are stridently anti-gun. Not coincidentally, among Jews, Blacks and women there are many "professional victims" who have little sense of identity outside of their victimhood.
Identity as Victim
If I were to summarize this article in three sentences, they would be:
 People who identify themselves as "victims" harbor excessive amounts of rage at other people, whom they perceive as "not victims."
 In order psychologically to deal with this rage, these "victims" utilize defense mechanisms that enable them to harm others in socially acceptable ways, without accepting responsibility or suffering guilt, and without having to give up their status as "victims."
 Gun owners are frequently the targets of professional victims because gun owners are willing and able to prevent their own victimization.
Thus the concept of "identity as victim" is essential. How and why do members of some groups choose to identify themselves as victims and teach their children to do the same? While it's true that women, Jews, and African-Americans have historically been victimized, they now participate in American society on an equal basis. And other groups, most notably Asian-Americans, have been equally victimized, and yet have transcended the "eternal victim" mentality.
Why, for example, would a 6'10" NBA player who makes $10 million a year see himself as a "victim"? Why would a successful, respected, wealthy, Jewish physician regard himself as a "victim"? Conversely, why might a wheelchair bound woman who lives on government disability NOT regard herself as a victim?
I would argue it's because the basketball player and the physician believe that their identities are dependent on being victims - not because they have actually been victimized, but because they're members of groups that claim victim status. Conversely, the disabled woman was probably raised to believe that she is responsible for her own success or failure.
In fact, many people who have been victims of actual violent crime, or who have survived war or civil strife, support the right of self-defense. The old saying is often correct: "a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged."
© 2000, Sarah Thompson.
Dr. Thompson is Executive Director of Utah Gun Owners Alliance, www.utgoa.org and also writes The Righter, www.therighter.com, a monthly column on individual rights.
1 Lott, John R., Jr. 1998. More Guns, Less Crime. University of Chicago press. pp. 11-12; proposition B: More Security Or Greater Danger?, St. Louis post-Dispatch. March 21, 1999.
2 Lott 1998, pp. 1-2.
3 Kaplan, Harold M. and Sadock, Benjamin J. 1990. pocket Handbook of Clinical psychiatry. Williams & Wilkins. p. 20.
4 Brenner, Charles. 1973. An Elementary Textbook of psychoanalysis (rev. ed.). Anchor Books. pp. 91-93; Lefton, Lester A. 1994. psychology (5th edition). Allyn & Bacon. pp. 432-433.
5 Brenner 1973. p. 91.
6 Kaplan and Sadock 1990, p. 20; Lefton 1994, p. 432.
7 Talbott, John A., Robert E. Hales and Stuart C. Yudofsky, eds. 1988. Textbook of psychiatry. American psychiatric press. p.137.
8 "Kids Suspended for playground Game." Associated press. April 6, 2000.
9 Lightfoot, Liz. "Gun Return to the Nursery School Toy Chest." The London Telegraph. May 22, 2000. Kaplan and Sadock 1990, p. 20; Lefton 1994, p. 433.
10 Stevens, Richard W. 1999. Dial 911 and Die. Mazel Freedom press. [Analyzes the law in 54 U.S. jurisdictions]; see, e.g., Bowers v. DeVito, 686 F.2d 616, 618 (7th Cir. 1982) [no federal constitutional right to police protection.]
11 Kleck, Gary and Gertz, Marc. 1995. Armed Resistance to Crime: The prevalence and Nature of Self- Defense with a Gun. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology. Vol. 86 (Fall), pp. 150-187.
12 Simkin, Jay, Zelman, Aaron, and Rice, Alan M. 1994. Lethal Laws. Jews for the preservation of Firearms Ownership.
13 Kaplan and Sadock 1990, p. 20; Lefton 1994, p. 433.
14 Brenner 1973, p. 85.
15 Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. 1993. Modern m: Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview. Saint Louis: Concordia publishing. pp. 39-40 [ m exalts nature, animals and environment].
16 Japenga, A. 1994. Would I Be Safer with a Gun? Health. March/April, p. 54.
17 Brenner 1973, p. 92.
18 Kaplan and Sadock 1990, p. 219.
19 American psychiatric Association. 1994. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. p. 410.
20 Lott 1998, pp. 11-12.
21 Most American gun owners are not violent criminals and will not be potential killers. "The vast majority of persons involved in life-threatening violence have a long criminal record and many prior contacts with the justice system." Elliott, Delbert S. 1998. Life Threatening Violence is primarily a Crime problem: A Focus on prevention. University of Colorado Law Review. Vol. 69 (Fall), pp. 1081-1098, at 1093.
22 Sowell, Thomas. 2000. Blacks and bootstraps. Jewish World Review (Aug.14). http://www.jewishworldreview.com/
23x Wein, Rabbi Berel. 2000. The return of a Torah scroll and confronting painful memories. Jewish World Review (July 12).
24 Dworkin, Andrea. "Terror, Torture and Resistance". http://www.igc.org/Womensnet/dworkin/TerrorTortureandResistance.html
25 Mfume, Kweisi, speech at the 90th annual NAACp meeting, July 12, 1999. http://www.naacp.org/president/speeches/90th%20Annual%20Meeting.htm
26 Yoffie, Rabbi Eric H. Speech supporting the Million Mom March, May 14, 2000. http://uahc.org/yoffie/mmm.html - (sorry, this link has expired)
27 "If someone comes to kill you, arise quickly and kill him." The Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin. 1994. The Schottenstein Edition. New York: Mesorah publications. Vol. 2, 72a.
28 Rape and Sexual Assault, Dean of Students Office for Women's Resources and Services McKinley Health Education Dept., University police, University of Illinois; Hazelwood, R. R. & Harpold, J. 1986. Rape: The Dangers of providing Confrontational Advice, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Vol. 55, pp. 1-5.
29 Lott 1998, pp. 78, 134-37.
30 Frank, Jerome D. 1961. persuasion and Healing. The Johns Hopkins press. pp. 216-217.
31 Richardson, H. L. 1998. Confrontational politics. Gun Owners Foundation. 1