by Lael Ewy
In what ways does a trauma-informed, harm-reduction approach make sense in challenging the prevalence of gun violence?
Let's make the assumption that the presence of a gun and the beliefs associated with that gun are important to the gun owner. This is a pretty safe assumption given the outsized emotions that even low-level discussions of gun violence elicit. The trauma-informed perspective would lead us to see these beliefs and emotions as linked to a sense of safety for the gun owner, that while guns themselves are dangerous, the safety they provide outweighs the danger.
By this perspective, any statistical, regulatory, or traditionally argumentative approaches to addressing gun violence are destined to fail.
Only by looking behind the gun to whatever need is being met by the presence of the gun can we begin to address what's really going on. We need to take the emphasis off the sacred object itself and onto the felt sense it satisfies or worldview it completes.
Let's go back to the sense of safety. If, as is often noted by gun-rights activists, a gun makes them feel “safer,” and they feel they need that gun wherever they go, the obvious conclusion is that they feel unsafe most of the time, indeed, that the world itself is not merely unsafe at this time but fundamentally an unsafe place. For these people, for some reason or another, threats loom around every corner, and the most likely target for those threats is the individual.
If so, then banning guns will be just about as effective as banning drugs has been: people will get them anyway. The drugs are meeting a need that the person feels she cannot meet any other way, and so also with the gun.
Whatever happened in the lives of gun activists, from assault to combat, from the presence of Mexicans to the election of a black president, makes them feel that an existential threat is ever-present, and that so they must be ever vigilant.
How much of this rises to the level of actual trauma or whether it's simply due to the overactive imaginations of otherwise high-strung people is immaterial; again, you can't argue someone out of a feeling of existential threat. But we can begin to help people address why they feel so constantly scared.
Unfortunately, it will require us recognizing and listening, without judgment, to perspectives that are often very difficult to hear.