Guns and the male psyche: Researchers find firearms really do mess with men’s heads

Guns are a deadly addiction for some
What emergency room doctors are confronted with. Screen capture by NowThisNews via YouTube video

The shooting in Virginia Beach has left people wondering why the gunman decided to solve his problems by using guns. But the answer isn’t a complicated one, writes Thom Hartmann, for Common Dreams.

For far too many men, holding a gun gives them a sense of power over life and death. It’s a power that’s instinctively seductive.

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“With a gun in his hand, a man can look around a room, a building, or a public area and specifically identify who will instantaneously die and whom he will allow to live,” Hartmann writes. “It’s a power that traditionally has only been held by doctors, priests, police, and soldiers.”

For some men, the power over life or death is like a heady drug and it’s one of the reasons some men are drawn to these professions. And it’s also the reason why some of these same men have tried to regulate these professions to be male-dominated, Hartmann writes.

Research backs this up.

“If you are not male and have never carried a gun in public, it’s only an imaginary experiment, but science shows that simply handling a gun alters men’s levels of testosterone and measurably increases their aggressive behavior.”

The male footprint is heavy here because research shows men commit 85.3 percent of all homicides and 97 percent of all homicides in which the shooter and the victim didn’t know each other. And when it comes to school and workplace violence, shooters are overwhelmingly male — by more than 97 percent, in fact.

Because male aggression is stirred up by handling guns it means that in the U.S. guns are the second leading cause of death (just behind car crashes) for children between one and 19 years old.

“We honor our soldiers who are willing to face gunfire; they can even board airplanes before anybody else, and TV commentators reflexively say ‘Thank you for your service.’ We honor our cops for their willingness to face gunfire; when one dies the funeral typically is a major, city-wide event.”

But while this is tragic enough, firearms in the U.S. kill more kids every year than all the police and military deaths worldwide combined, Hartmann notes.

“No gate attendant, though, is saying to airplane passengers, ‘Children under 19 may board first because we thank you for your sacrifice of dying in your homes and schools to give men thrills and keep the gun industry profits high,” he writes.

Evolutionarily, this means men really are hardwired to react to holding power over others due to this testosterone and aggression boost.

And this 2006 study published in Psychological Science might seem a little weird, but researchers found that men who handled a gun were far likelier to give their male counterparts a larger amount of hot sauce (a method researchers commonly use to measure aggression) than were men who briefly handled a child’s toy.

“For men who feel that they’ve lost control of their lives, or who feel dismissed or disrespected by others, this is pure catnip,” Hartmann notes.

Not only that, while firing a gun raises testosterone levels, for some it can produce a feeling of intoxication. Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA points out that firing guns also amps up levels of adrenaline and endorphins, producing a high that’s not unlike riding a rollercoaster.

So for some, guns might be that cocaine — that mind-altering conveyance of power that spurs aggression. And leads to about 40,000 deaths every year in the U.S.

If this were a measles epidemic or an outbreak of Zika virus, think of all the attention this would get. All the effort that would go into solving this. But it’s guns, and in the U.S. the gun lobby is all powerful. And we have a president who loves assault weapons. This may, of course, at least be partly due to the fact that the National Rifle Association spent $30 million to help him get elected.

This is an epidemic with an obvious cure: effective gun control laws can, and should, be passed, but as long as the NRA lavishes money on politicians, there’s just no end to this in sight.

Featured image courtesy of the video above