By MIKE DONOHUE
In the days since the Uvalde massacre, there have been more questions than ever as to why America has more gun violence than anywhere else.
Having worked for 35 years as a professional treating alcoholics/drug addicts, I see some parallels between the rise in mass shootings and the opioid epidemic.
Per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, addiction is defined as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.”
Some addictions are biochemical (substance abuse), many others are behavioral with no obvious chemical component (gambling, workaholism, eating disorders, sex addiction/pornography being several of many examples). All addictions have three universal criteria: continued use despite negative consequences to self or others, increased need for the escalating amounts of the substance/behavior over time, and marked distress/withdrawal when deprived of the opportunity to engage in the use of the substance/behavior to which the sufferer is addicted.
In 2022, there are many more definable addictions than when addiction was first recognized by the medical/psychiatric community: compulsive online shopping, internet and video game immersion, plastic surgery and spiritual obsessions. Advances in technology created new mediums in which addictions can and do occur, and addictions to behaviors made possible by these advances have developed, and in some cases escalated to catastrophic proportions.
Guns weren’t a big problem when the only firearms that existed were single shot muzzle-loaders. The development of assault weapons hadn’t been predicted when the 2nd amendment was written, but those weapons have created a new set of variables that our laws have not caught up with, but maybe the mental health community can.
It is time that the psychiatric community recognized a mental health disorder which has engulfed the nation with results at least as catastrophic as the well-known opioid epidemic — addiction to firearms.
Guns have a use, and a proper place and context in which to use them. So do hammers.
I own a hammer, occasionally have use for it, but I have no emotional reaction to my hammer. I don’t live in terror of someone taking away my hammer. I don’t amass hammers to the detriment of my or anyone else’s well-being. I don’t attend rallies of other hammer enthusiasts, form friendships based on common feelings about hammers, or plaster my vehicle with bumper stickers ensuring that you know exactly where I stand on hammers. I don’t belong to societies, public or secretly, based around hammer ownership, and I sure as hell don’t think of my primary identity as a proud hammer owner whose hammer will only be taken from me when pried out of my cold, dead fingers. If I did, there would be something seriously wrong with me, and you don’t need a college degree to figure that out.
The NRA spends millions of dollars to bribe (let’s call it what it is) politicians who prioritize the rights of the gun addicts over public safety; in the 2020 presidential race alone, it spent $4.5 million to support Donald Trump — and more than $12 million to attack Joe Biden. The gun addict’s mentality is so distorted by their obsessive terror of being forced to go through withdrawal that the insensitivity of holding an NRA convention within immediate proximity in both time and distance to the nation’s most recent massacre of children makes perfect sense to them.
For better or worse, people have a right to be addicted. They don’t have a right to break laws because of their addictions, but many, many addicts have banded together and used their financial resources to warp laws to their advantage, allowing them to practice their addictions with impunity. Predatory organizations have paid off politicians or watchdog agencies which are supposed to protect us so that they can financially profit off the addictions of others. The alcohol and tobacco industries have done it, big pharma has done it, and the NRA has done it. Comparable corruption in other countries might lead to an equal epidemic of gun violence there. Let’s hope we never find out.
The 2nd of the 12 Steps widely recognized as highly effective in recovery from addictions states that the addict can come to believe that they can be restored to sanity. Both the mental health professionals and our elected officials need to recognize the insanity of firearms addiction for what it is: a serious mental health disorder, and a public health crisis which has reached epidemic proportions.
Mike Donohue is a father, grandfather and friend who hopes for a better world for his family and loved ones to live in. He is a licensed chemical dependency counselor, former professional musician, political moderate, and has published articles related to local music, addiction recovery, and human rights.