‘After Newtown’: Dissecting a Nation’s Fascination with Firearms

gun_violencePBS is receiving wide attention this week for its “After Newtown” programming intended to continue the national conversation on guns, violence, safety and mental health in America.  The hour-long documentary After Newtown: Guns in America that premiered Tuesday (Feb. 19) as part of the programming featured commentary from national figures and experts including Elena Quintana, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice at the Adler School of Professional Psychology.

Today, as part of our week-long “Conversations on Social Change: Preventing Violence” campaign, we asked Dr. Quintana to reflect on the documentary’s portrayal of America’s dependency on guns and discusses how we can work to prevent gun violence.

From an Adlerian standpoint, how can we address our nation’s fixation with guns in order to curb violence?

To prevent violence, we have to first shift our perspective about community and enforce the idea that we belong to each other. A threat to any part of the population is a threat to everyone. We have a responsibility to each other as members of society to stand up and do something to help stop the bloodshed.

In the documentary, you say that in relation to gun violence “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” What do you mean by using that phrase?

I mean that when populations feel marginalized – socially excluded without adequate resources or support – they are going to react to this treatment by society. Many of these individuals take up arms just to take control and claim their personhood. Guns are how they feel powerful.

For many marginalized populations, guns are glorified and become part of the culture. As mentioned by [Chicago anti-violence advocate and “violence interrupter”] Eddie Bocanegra in the documentary, pulling the trigger of a gun is like turning on a light switch for many people living in gun violence-ridden communities. When I walk into a juvenile detention center, for example, I see so many kids who are extremely marginalized, under educated and highly traumatized. For them violence is sometimes the only way they feel a sense of control. It is a reaction to forces that are normalized.

To prevent this violence, we need to fix the environment in which these kids live and reallocate resources to provide support programs and intervention for these kids – before they wind up in prison.

When it comes to gun control policies, what other factors need to be considered from a mental health perspective?

There are two important aspects of gun control that aren’t always considered, but need to be.

  • Mental health changes over time. Most people experience a period of depression in their lifetime. Even those who are not clinically diagnosed can have depression triggered by an event or life situation. This period of depression can be much more dangerous if they have access to a firearm.
  • Moods can change fleetingly. We have to consider that even people who do not have a mental illness or diagnosed depression can experience mood changes and might not be thinking rationally in the heat of the moment.

Watch the documentary After Newtown: Guns in America online at PBS.org.

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