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Committing Violence…With and Without Guns

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By Thomas E. Gift, MD

An ABC News article was published this week, written by Ivan Pereira, who believes America has a problem with “gun violence.” There is little to recommend in this piece, but he does make one good point when he refers to people developing behavior patterns that. “…make them more prone to violence in all of its forms; violence against partners, violence against the community and violence against themselves….”

This is a message that’s too often overlooked or ignored by those who argue that we should restrict Second Amendment rights. The murders we see on TV or learn about from one source or another arise from tendencies or temptations to harm, injure, or kill others. The story of Cain murdering Abel is among the very earliest morality tales in the Bible.

Unfortunately, Pereira seems to lose sight of this basic truth and gets distracted by the concept of “gun violence.” As is so often the case with those who attack the right to keep and bear arms, he focuses on the tools rather than those who use them.

Pereira quotes Dr. Georges Benjamin, head of the American Public Heal Association as saying with regard to killers using guns, “…some are premeditated acts of aggression, some are domestic disputes, others are part of other crimes such as robberies, but the one common denominator is access to a firearm.” Benjamin only focuses on killings comittted with guns. That’s like saying listening to the radio requires access to a radio.

Benjamin, of course, misses Periera’s other point, expressed more or less in passing in the article, that the real common denominator behind all murders is the intent to do harm.

Early in the piece Periera talks about mass shootings being “…a symbol for some of Americas obsession with guns….” Those who like to watch courtroom dramas may want to leap up and shout, “Objection­, assumes facts not in evidence!“ He also compares the U.S. to some other countries with regard to rates of “gun violence.“ Yet has been pointed out in this column numerous times, when you look at all the world’s countries, the U.S is among the lowest in total homicides.

While from beginning to end Pereira takes an alarmist position as to injuries from the misuse firearms, he presents a couple of graphs — using data from the statistically challenged Gun Violence Archive — showing that in the U.S. deaths and injuries that follow from firearm misuse are actually decreasing. Others have reported the same thing. Readers are told about an “epidemic of injury by firearms” which doesn’t square well with the decline.

What can one conclude from all this? Perhaps, that occasionally the fog lifts just a bit and it can be seen that people often harbor malicious motives and are drawn to commit awful acts. While sometimes these thoughts and acts arise primarily from an individual’s individual psychological make-up, at other times social relationships figure heavily, as in violence perpetrated by street gang members.

Timothy McVeigh killed and injured hundreds with a bomb. Ted Bundy bludgeoned and strangled dozens. Those who seek to act murderously will use whatever means are at their disposal. Their method is the least important part of the equation


Thomas E. Gift, MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist practicing in Rochester, New York. He is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical School and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.


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