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Life Arts    H2'ed 2/3/13

Should we call gun nuts "gun nuts"?

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The minister at my local Unitarian Universalist church said in a sermon that left-leaning folks should stop calling gun-rights advocates names such as "gun nuts" and "morons." She said that it sure is tempting to call them insulting names, but it's counter-productive.

Her words got me thinking.

After the sermon, I asked her about it. I said, during the civil rights movement of the 60s, didn't protesters call their opponents names like "racist" and "bigot"? She said that during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s progress came from non-violent protest, not from name calling. Check your history, she said.

I discussed this issue with friends. One friend said, "I think name-calling is absurd unless your intention is to piss someone off. I think pissing someone off is absurd unless your intention is to escalate a conflict. I am a big fan of nonviolence."

Another friend said

She's right about the name calling being not productive. Still, when someone is stockpiling weapons to prepare for some apocalyptic event, or defend themselves against government tyranny or the UN, it's kind of hard to pretend they are rational people with a legitimate point of view. I usually refer to them as "gun fetishists", "paranoid", and "delusional". Sigh, I guess I will try to stick with terms like "gun enthusiasts" and "survivalists".

Yet another friend said we should take the term "gun nut" seriously and treat these people as if they have a mental illness. We shouldn't provoke them by calling them names. I responded, "Good idea! Let's visibly and vocally treat them as deranged. That'll really annoy them and make them look ridiculous. We can write condescending articles."

Finally, Bill Moyer warned me that name-calling can backfire and generate sympathy for the target.

Is the minister correct about history of the civil rights movement? Are the minister and my friends correct about name calling being counter-productive?  Moreover, are gun nuts really nuts?

Let's start with the last question.

The psychology of gun obession

Are gun enthusiasts REALLY mentally deranged?  It depends on which ones we're talking about.   Some gun owners are just hobbyists.

Who are the gun nuts?  I'm referring to gun enthusiasts who collect weapons and who oppose restrictions on assault rifles, waiting periods, and ammunition. I'm referring to gun enthusiasts who imagine waging war against the US military. I'm referring to gun enthusiasts who treat the Second Amendment as if it's foundational to our freedoms and a justification for easy access to assault-style weapons.

Back now to my question. Are gun nuts deranged? I don't know.  Are skinheads or the Taliban deranged? I rather think they're just wrong-headed. They're caught up in a toxic ideology. They may be somewhat paranoid and aggressive. I doubt that they're paranoid schizophrenic. Is the psychology of political zealotry akin to the psychology of religious extremism? Such extremism is different from individual psychosis. I bet, though it shares some features.

A psychologist friend said, "more likely a mood or anxiety disorder than a thought disorder like schizophrenia."

There's a huge range of ways that people can be stupid or mad, especially in crowds.

The best analysis of the psychology of gun enthusiasts I know of is by Peter Michaelson. In The Psychology Behind Mass Shootings, Michaelson describes the paranoia and violence of mass murderers. His description gives insight into the psychology of gun fetishes.

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Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, activist, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See and for my (more...)

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