fordCecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for Women’s Voices in many articles over the years.

 

4082105788_17f2086a14_zPhoto by Roland Tanglao via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

 

Dear Dr. Ford,

My daughter lives in Texas where she is getting her Ph.D. at a prestigious university there. I live in the Northeast, where she grew up. She is alarmed at the number of people she knows who own and carry guns with them all the time.

As I understand it, students will be allowed to carry guns on campus before the fall semester. She is a teaching assistant and will be teaching a large class on gender issues in the fall. In the past, there has been quite a bit of heated discussion between conservative students and liberal students about this topic.

She has completed her dissertation and will be free to leave this university and Texas at the end of the coming academic year, after she has defended her dissertation. She has always been a very sturdy woman psychologically and physically.  I never worried about her. However, she is now tearful and concerned that the “heated discussions” of the past in her classes may turn dangerous with students carrying guns.

I don’t know how to advise her. I would never forgive myself if I told her to give up her final year needed to cross the Ph.D. goal line but I would also never forgive myself if she were killed by an angry or deranged student.  

Her father and I are now sleepless with anxiety as well.  

What has caused this escalation of gun ownership and why are people allowed to carry firearms at all?

Betty

 

Dear Betty,

The shocking violence we have witnessed this summer has moved the issue of firearms to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Regardless of the motive of the assailant, the common element in every attack has been guns. And yet nothing seems to change. In their frustration, Sen. Chris Murphy, who was a congressman representing the Sandy Hook district when the horrific attack on schoolchildren occurred, staged a filibuster in the Senate and other anti-gun legislators had a sit-in on the floor of Congress.

As your daughter knows, even if they pass stricter regulations for those on “no-fly lists,” in many states regular citizens are allowed to carry guns. I remember how shocked I was when I visited a small liberal arts college in Ohio, where a restaurant in the middle of campus displayed a sign saying patrons were not allowed to bring their guns into the bar. As a New Yorker,living in a city with a supposedly violent reputation, I have never known anyone who carries a gun around. I am not certain that anyone I know owns a gun for that matter.

When the United States was settled and founded, gun ownership was critical. Arriving with peaceful motives, the early colonists were de facto invaders insofar as they were encroaching on areas and resources belonging to Native Americans. The terrain was rough and wild, and hunting was crucial. Later, the Revolutionary War was fought with firearms, and every adult male was required by law to own one. In some states, they were even required to bring them to church.

After Boston, New York, and Philadelphia settled into polite societies, however, the Wild West was still wild. The rule of law was scarce or nonexistent, and conflicts with Native Americans were ongoing, as shown, with many inaccuracies, in cowboy Westerns — in which the sharpshooter or gunslinger is invariably a hero. Nowhere was that more true than Texas, where this mentality lives on and is still glorified. In a state where many men still wear cowboy boots, even if they don’t ride a horse, they feel it is only right that they have a gun to go with the boots and often the hat. Many people strongly believe that owning a gun, at least, is a fundamental necessity.

RELATED: American Women and Guns

One problem is that the culture of the “rugged individual,” so essential to the founding of our nation, is not a good fit with today’s society. Now we live in overcrowded conditions, often encountering people with widely divergent views and backgrounds. Lately, such fundamental issues as gender, religion and race have highlighted Americans’ diversity and many are polarized in their ideas and outlook.

When people of widely differing opinions and backgrounds are put together in crowded conditions with limited resources, trouble ensues — most animals will fight if put together in too close proximity. Escalation of anger can be quick enough that if given the opportunity, it can lead to violence. Having access to a deadly weapon can make all the difference in these cases between life and death.

We have all said the words, “I wanted to kill him.” Sometimes, we actually mean it, at least in the moment. Witnessing a toddler having a temper tantrum, one gets some idea of the force of unbridled anger and frustration. Part of the process of becoming an adult is learning how to soothe yourself and channel your anger into appropriate expression. But there are still many examples of adults who show toddler-like behavior, like road rage, when escalation can be immediate.

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  • Susan McCauley July 14, 2016 at 11:49 am

    I am so impressed with this well thought out response to a real concern.

    I recall that a friend who is a published author and journalist told me once of his visiting a cousin transplanted from Long Island to Texas … and how he was shocked to see the armory that his cousin (a nice Jewish boy) had built up in his home.

    Wishing the best for the daughter and her loving parents.

    Reply