Guns and Persons—The Making of the Individual.—Possessive Individualism

Guns and Persons—The Making of the Individual.—Possessive Individualism

James C. Whiteside


Abstract: Gun ownership has become an identity issue.  Change in an individualist society must cope with the overwhelming emphasis on individual identity regardless of the social  need of the society.  Individuals may and do lose coherence in such a society.  Loss of coherence must be made up by other means.  Lethal mechanisms sold as identity enhancers allow, if they do not promote, terrifying drama as individuals attempt to regain damaged stature by gun use. Power in the society rests with for profit enterprises and is enshrined in law.  A contradiction exists between a theory of the individual and his right to gun possession, which make all other persons subordinate and inferior by the facts of gun power.


A good place to start is Chad Peck’s thoughtful statement of who is involved and why.  Chad said, as I understood him: Gun ownership represents a powerful force for some men. It gives them power and stature.  They will not give it up and will bitterly resist any effort to take it from them.  This is certainly true. Other societies, however, have put such matters under their democratic control, the Australians’ most recently in1996.[i]  I shall deal with that aspect later.


There is no compelling reason to accept the above truth as a sufficient cause to hesitate in mounting a substantial opposing effort to stop such killing.  The stakes are too high.  No one wants to see or hear of another occasion of such butchery as we have had.  There is no reason why we can’t do it except the will, energy and organization of the vast majority of the population.


The basic relevance here is not to concentrate on what some men want but on what the country needs.  This is because the psychology of individuals, regardless of long standing U.S. political fantasies, is not made solely by those persons—the so called self-made man and other bootstrap theories.   Individuality beyond genetics occurs by means of a social construct brought about by the society in which persons are embedded.  Such societies, or elements of them, construct and mediate the individual through social processes.


Unfortunately, this society permits two private organizations working with and for profit enterprises, to not only manufacture guns but to disseminate the massive, soothing media deceptions to expand their sales.  Generally the tact taken is to delude the public by fear, then offer guns as bromides.  The lethality of the mechanism is dodged, actually claimed to be irrelevant.  Nothing could be more dishonest, no statement more deceitful, unless it would be that of a tobacco company.


Then there is the issue of the very individual, mass killer.  Originally thought to be different, two types have been found to have much in common.  These are the suicidal terrorists and the suicidal rampagers.  The first may believe the propaganda they spout but are primarily interested in killing and being killed.  Rampage shooters can be considered as non-ideological suicide terrorists.  This last category or person maintains “a deep sense of victimization and belief that the killer’s life has been ruined by someone else, who has bullied, oppressed or persecuted him.”  Such beliefs combined with mental illness can inflame such beliefs into “exaggerated and irrational perceptions of their own victimization.”


Such an “aggrieved individual feels that he has been terribly mistreated and that violent vengeance is justified.  In many cases, the target for revenge becomes broader and more symbolic than a single person, so that an entire type or category of people is deemed responsible for the attacker’s pain and suffering.”[ii]  It would appear that here we have a near approximation of Adam Lanza’s state of mental disorder.


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[i]  S. Capman, P. Alprs, et al.  Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms: faster falls in firearm death, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings.  Injury Prevention, December 2006, 12(6) 365-372

[ii] Adam Lankford.  “What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers.” The New York Times, Dec. 18, 2012, A35.