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Michael J. Tansey Headshot

Guns, Demoralization, and the Saboteur Within

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Two months ago, the United States Senate failed to pass gun control legislation that would have mandated universal background checks for the purchase of firearms by a vote of 54-46 -- six votes short of the required sixty for passage. Given the fact that 90 percent of American citizens in poll after poll strongly supported the measure, the defeat was a transparent and staggering demonstration both of the powerful bullying tactics of the NRA and the abject corruption of so many senators willing to ignore the explicit viewpoint of their constituency in return for gaining the favor and funding of the NRA. Because the overwhelming majority of the NRA's own membership, as well as 84% of all gun owners in America, desire tighter gun control measures, the vote also demonstrated that the NRA leadership will stop at nothing to sell guns. One could virtually hear the whoosh of air escaping the sails of gun control advocates who had feverishly worked for a different outcome. But looking ahead to our continuing efforts for common sense legislation, one essential feature has changed.

The NRA leadership is no longer the primary obstacle.

Yes, they will continue apace to gloat, posture, badger, bully, and frighten. They will persist as the enforcer of the gun manufacturing and retail industries. But the battle for safety and sanity has irreversibly turned. Though the bill was voted down by 46 senators, we now know beyond any doubt who they are. The veil of secrecy and anonymity, behind which all political corruption seeks shelter from the glare of truth, has forever been stripped away. Unlike the shadowy death grip over Washington held by Goldman Sachs, for example, in the realm of finance, Monsanto in agriculture, or Exxon-Mobile in energy policy, the senators who did not vote their conscience in blocking passage have been exposed. I am not referring to those senators who genuinely voted no in good faith, based on what they believed was both right and the will of their electorate, thereby fulfilling the responsibility of their office.

In appalling contrast, those senators among the 46 whose votes were bought by the NRA have forever been smoked out of their rat-holes. Again, 90 percent of Americans strongly favored the bill. And yet nearly half of our senators voted no? Those who violated the public trust have been revealed for who they are and their identities will not be forgotten in coming elections. An analogous process can be anticipated in the house.

But if the NRA leadership is no longer the primary obstacle, what is? The answer lies in the threat of demoralization that resides within each of us, separately, and within the group psychology of the gun control movement, collectively.

I have reached strong conclusions on the self-sabotaging effects of demoralization from having been exposed to it multiple times each and every day over a 35-year career as a clinical psychologist -- practicing, teaching, and writing. Consider a small sampling of the problems which can bring someone to seek help from a psychotherapist -- a failing marriage, the death of a loved one, long-term unemployment, loneliness, questions about whether life is worth living, self-loathing despite great achievement, meaninglessness, infertility, addiction. For help with every one of these human miseries, the individual has likely already crashed through the levels of disappointment, then discouragement, down into the realm of demoralization. Whatever the particular problem may be, demoralization needs to be adequately addressed and alleviated. If not, the pathway leads quickly to despair -- a sense of powerlessness, hopelessness, immobilization, and surrender to defeat perceived to be inevitable.

The pernicious outcome of demoralization is the powerful phenomenon of unwitting self-fulfilling prophesy. When a person excessively doubts herself in a job interview or on a first date, for example, the likelihood of a bad outcome expands exponentially. Typically with zero awareness, the vibe is communicated in the form of posture, tone of voice, anxiousness, lack of eye contact, limp handshake, etc. An overall attitude of doubt and the need to apologize for one's self is conveyed, subtly or not, and the expectation of rejection regularly is fulfilled. Alternatively, an aura of false confidence delivers the same outcome. When this occurs repeatedly, despair takes hold.

So what helps to overcome the momentum toward despair? Most important is awareness of a pattern of repetitive self-sabotage. Like driving a car in the dark with no headlights, the process of becoming self-aware is comparable to slowly turning up the lights with a dimmer switch. By seeing the dangers in the road ahead, by realizing one's pattern of self-sabotage, it becomes possible for an individual to discern not only obstacles, but new possibilities, for keeping the car on the road, avoiding a crash, and moving forward toward one's destination.

In addition to enhanced self-awareness, other tactical guidelines may also apply: avoid isolation, control what can be controlled, understand that seemingly small steps really do matter. Even when a person cannot see how to make things better, he or she can always see ways to reactively make things worse -- don't surrender to those impulses. Recognize the need for patient determination as opposed to frantic desperation.

In overcoming the self-sabotaging effects of demoralization, the same principles apply to the individual and collective gun control movement. Affiliate with others to avoid isolation and hopelessness, as in joining email lists and making a series of small donations rather one big one. Appreciate the game-changing effects of identifying those who have tangibly violated the public trust. Take heart in the leadership of the countless organizations that will provide vigilance, direction, and critical funding in every election cycle to come until the public will is implemented. Recognize the need to persist with patience and determination for however long it takes. Prevent the thoroughly corrupt senators -- those who voted solely for NRA support -- from getting off the hook through individual and collective amnesia. We know who they are now and we have the collective ability to run them out of office. Do not ever forget the perversely commonplace massacres, the preventable suicides, the devastating homicides on our urban street corners.

Ninety percent public approval, 46 no-votes.

As I have previously written, the NRA leadership is counting on our demoralization.