The Right to Be Shot

Columbine memorial - The Right to Be Shot
The Columbine High School Memorial.

Existential and Depth psychologists are aware that there are shadow forces working beneath and behind almost anything that has a positive name to it. This might account for the skepticism that E-H folks have for “positive psychology,” which seems to have an implicit philosophy that if you want a “good life,” study what is good and add more of it. So, maybe it doesn’t surprise this group that these mass shootings have multiplied in a time when one of the hot topics in psychology is “happiness.”

How do we make sense of these acts of violence? How has America, the place that purports to stand for “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” become a mass shooting paradise? These tragic events are not only common but they seem to be proliferating. “ABC News reports that there have been 31 school shootings in the US since Columbine in 1999, when 13 people were killed.” In fact, as the timeline shows, after a brief post-Columbine moratorium of about two years, the mass shootings (not just in schools) have become much more frequent in the last few years [2008-2012].

It’s hard not to put the guns at the center of the debate; after all, over 30,000 people were killed using a handgun in the year 2010—that’s homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings. That is just an average year. The Law Center points out that in two years, firearms are responsible for more American deaths than occurred in the entire duration of the Viet Nam War ( There is no memorial for these victims.

Missed in this, is that almost 20,000 of those 30,000 deaths were suicides (10,000 are homicides and 600 accidents). Suicide prevention is something we might want to take to the gun store! Here’s why: “A study of California handgun purchasers found that in the first year after the purchase of a handgun, suicide was the leading cause of death among the purchasers” ( And it is not hard to know who to look for at the gun store: “White males, about 40% of the U.S. population, accounted for over 80% of firearm suicides in 2010.”

America has forgotten how to act soundly and with urgency (unless we need to, ironically, make the case for war). Remember when there was a long and paralyzing debate over whether Climate change was real? Years went by, and the same process will happen here with any gun control legislation. Existential psychology suggests that we gain vitality as we take action and responsibility for the world we live in. Instead, we seem entrenched, or stuck in a rut, and we cannot make any progress because our history is impairing our ability to create a promising future. A comical post on the Internet said something like, “One guy with a shoe bomb and everyone has to take off their shoes. 31 school shootings since Columbine and no action!”

The shadow side of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” must be “Death (by handgun), (economic) enslavement, and the acceptance of inaction.” If we have the right to bare arms then we also have the right to be shot. That’s the underbelly of that law. If we are going to have 88 firearms per 100 people, we have to accept the fact that someone is going to be on the other end of the bullet being fired. You have the right to be a shooting victim. Since we require more training to drive a car than own a gun, we can only expect these events will continue and occur with more frequency—there has been no moratorium after Sandy Hook. We cannot and should not be “shocked” when someone opens fire in an elementary school, a university, or even a hospital nursery. It is par for the course.

America was born from a gun-slinging culture and continues to groom “gunman” heroes through our movies and video games as David Edelstein recently pointed out. He suggests the formula for any good action flick is: the disrespected man saves his estranged woman or wins a new one through his gun-slinging aggression toward other invading men. Moreover, as this Bushmaster gun ad suggests: Manhood is restored through owning and operating a gun. Apparently, the Sandy Hook shooter used this exact gun that, at the time offered a “Man Card” to new owners. It is true that “Guns don’t kill, people do!” However, America is apparently not short on disrespected males who feel like their only way to prove their manhood is to shoot their peers, shoot our children, or shoot themselves. Maybe, it is time to look at the mental health of our adolescent boys and young men.

— Richard Bargdill

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