The NRA Carry Guard Expo’s value-add: training for the citizenry who choose to arm themselves. Dave Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, gave a lecture on what he calls the “bullet proof mind.” It’s a holistic mindset (my words) that he deems necessary for people who must use violence– whether it’s for personal self defense, law enforcement or soldiers.

That mindset is not simply about preparing to fight and being alert for possible threats — although that’s certainly a significant part of it. It’s also about understanding human biology, how the body reacts to situations of extreme stress and trauma. Knowing, for example, how the human body will react to violence-induced stress and trauma, or the fact that people have reported a tendency to ‘forget’ or ‘misremember’ events that took place in the immediate aftermath of a violent attack.

Grossman recounted the story of a woman who was ‘freaking out’ after being involved in a defensive gun use who could not remember calling 911 — even after listening to the recording of her own voice.

Knowing how the human body reacts not just to violence, but to the aftermath, is critical, especially to help people avoiding psychological trauma later. Just as an inoculation teaches your body fight off a real disease later, going through the motions, feeling the stressors, the sights, the sounds, while in training, prepares the body and mind for dealing with those stressors while in a fight. Not to eliminate fear, but to keep it controlled. Never been in combat? Do force-on-force training. Never seen — or smelled — a dead body? Go witness an autopsy.

He also gave some practical advice: feeling panic set in? Take a drink of water. It slows you down, forces you to breathe more slowly. He even walked the attendees through a Zen-like breathing exercise to show how it reduces heart rate.

But, from Grossman’s point of view, the bullet-proof mind must look at trends in culture and society to predict what sort of crises to prepare for. This look must be unflinching and of the utmost intellectual integrity — denial, the former Light Colonel sniffs, is for sheep. And from his perspective, the cultural trends, as far as violence goes, are negative.

By exposing our children to sick, sadistic, twisted violence — in films, in television programs, in news media, and especially in video games, we are training via operant conditioning an entire generation to be cold, dispassionate, and effective killers. The Colonel runs through a litany of massacres perpetrated by juvenile murderers (“Don’t call them shooters!” he orders, “We’re all shooters. It’s our hobby. It’s fun. These people are murderers. Don’t let them steal our word.”)

The first double homicide in modern history perpetrated by a juvenile at school took place in 1975, in Canada. One followed in San Diego a few years later. A few more occurred, sporadically, in the 1980s, and typically involved only two or three victims at most, but in the 1990s, things changed. Three were murdered and five more wounded in Kentucky. Then five murdered and ten wounded in Jonesboro, Arkansas — Grossman’s own home town. Then thirteen were murdered in Littleton, Colorado. They proliferated, both in terms of numbers of incidents and numbers of people murdered, around the world. What changed?

From Col. Grossman’s perspective, it is front and center a cultural sickness. The violence prevalent in popular media both inoculates impressionable children to violence while giving them a narrative that encourages a nihilistic attitude toward police, government, and, indeed, society as a whole. Couple that with the operant conditioning from wildly popular first person shooters, and the outcomes are obvious. Predictable, even. Indeed, as Grossman notes with no false modesty, he predicted the trend of school massacres in the mid-90s, before Columbine or Jonesboro became household names.

Is this just another cultural conservative railing against the long-haired kids and their music? I don’t think so. This guy has the goods. Sure, Col. Grossman proudly wears his Christian faith on his sleeve, and couldn’t help himself from taking a dig at picture of President Obama pinning a medal on a civilian cop who stopped a terrorist attack in Texas, but in my judgment, he’s at heart a researcher who keeps digging until he finds the truth.

I found it instructive, for instance, that Grossman urged people to look behind the numbers when people say that homicides are dropping, and therefore we’re becoming a less violent society. Yes, it’s true, he says, that raw homicides are down, but that drop is due to improved technology in the medical, transportation, and communication sectors. A wound that would have a 90% fatality rate during World War II now has a 90% survival rate. With 1940s technology, the homicide rate would be ten times higher.

Despite that, the homicide rate is ticking up anyway, “And no — it’s not ‘just Chicago’,” he said before rattling off a variety of cities from across the nation, in states blue and red, with horrific gun control or with shall-issue laws and their year-over-year increase.

The trends are sobering, seeing as how the declining murder rate is also a standard argument in favor of ‘shall issue’ laws. Gun control is indeed ineffective, but perhaps ‘shall issue’ laws don’t necessarily send the rate down, either. Not by themselves anyway.

Grossman offered an ominous prediction for the future. People with massacres on their mind don’t hit hard targets, because they fear failure. And, increasingly, high schools are becoming hard targets. He predicts that the next wave of violence will be directed against targets like school busses, elementary schools, and day cares. “I pray that I’m wrong,” he said.

Impressively, Grossman held forth for four hours. Yes, that’s right, a four hour lecture. He did it extemporaneously, frantically creating his own visual aids with paper and markers in his color-stained hands. (He jokingly offered them to the audience as his ‘artwork’, and several took him up on that offer.) A person of not inconsiderable charisma, he pretty well held the audience in the palm of his hand throughout.

Can you take his data to the bank? Are his predictions worthwhile? I don’t know at this point. Data is what it is, and always has to be checked. I do know, though, that his ideas have intrigued me, and I’m coming home from the convention with a copy of his latest book, Assassination Generation.

34 Responses to Dave Grossman’s Bullet-Proof Mind

    • I train for a living (not LE/firearm related). There are serious problems with institutional reliance on “thought leaders” rather than field experience. I fall into this trap myself. My bosses are very convinced that it’s more important to have a good presenter than someone who’s been there and done it. Fortunately I’m both. Unfortunately, my counterparts are usually the former.

      • ^^^^^ THIS! I have coordinated deadly weapons training for law enforcement and while those “who have done it” might not always be the best, slickest presenters, they offer a more realistic view of it than those who talk a good game.

  1. Fake news, Hollywood paid for tons of research that proves violence in media has no bearing on people actually commuting violence. And I’m sure we can trust unbiased Hollywood types to be straightforward and not put millions of dollars ahead of the truth….

    Shooters makes murderers sound more like the typical gun owner so it’s makes us all look evil and the media loves that

  2. an interview with ICP comes to mind when subjects like this come up.

    Violent J:” if you go cut off a rednecks head and strap to your car…and go bumping, YOU’RE FUCKED UP. thats not my fault. if it wasn’t my music that set you off it would have been the next movie you watched or the next game you played or so on.”

    as the human population keeps growing, that means there are more people out their with malformed minds, therefore, psychos and killers are in greater numbers in the world. thats just pure mathematics.

    a lot of people fundamentally don’t understand the Nature vs Nurture argument. they seem to think it means “which is stronger” when its actually an argument about which caused the situation at hand. creating psychos by nurture can be stopped. psychos by nature, are harder to detect because they learn to hide their behavior.

    If guns were the death-machines liberals claim, then why do hardly ANY serial killers use guns? because they draw attention. so there goes the whole “guns make killing easier” argument.

    would banning weapons/kinds of weapons stop shootings? of some kinds, maybe.

    as someone pointed out a long time ago “why is it that we see our money, in banks, important enough to protect with firearms….but not our children?”
    an outstanding observation that no liberal can answer (because they fought for gun free zones).

    • And now ICP is hooked up with antifa & calling for street warfare & murder… Those guy’s “non-advocacy” of the crap in their trailer park lyrics is the biggest joke since OJ’s innocence. That doesn’t mean their music or anyone else’s encourages others to violence…but you’d have to be an idiot to claim that any transmission of words is incapable of moving humans to violence. ICP’s crap is just generic enough that they don’t run afoul of criminal laws & precedent that would nail them for specific incitement (i.e. a particular person or place/time) which puts them on equal footing with the Klan, Nation of Islam, and other hate groups who are dutifully protected from federal restriction.

      They are, however, well within the laws & precedent for civil suits as a result of their advocacy if they actually owned up to it, which is where their insistence on “non-advocacy” of the contents of their lyrics comes from. They just don’t want to have to pay for the consequences of their actions, is all.

  3. I read On Killing in college, after hearing Col. Grossman speak in Chapel (about a month before Columbine, if I recall correctly), and it was a powerful formative experience that changed the way I think. I attended the Bullet-Proof Mind seminar a couple years back, and found it quite helpful. If you want to talk about the ethics and morality of arming oneself, I think Grossman is required reading.

  4. If Lt Grossman is correct, that video games can teach kids to kill and desensitized them to violence, then was Tipper Gore correct when she said violent music lyrics would teach kids to be violent???

    People can argue about the music they don’t listen to. Jewish people hate Wagner. They say it was Hitler’s favorite. So it’s banned in Israel.
    I like Wagner. But I also think violent hard core rap music does promote violent actions.

    Mein Kampf is just a book. But it’s banned by people who say you shouldn’t ban books. In fact they tell people not to read it. And they are the same people who want you to listen to violent rap music, and they want you to play violent video games.

    I would not let my daughter play those games. And I would not buy her violent or curse word music.
    And Yes, I did introduce her to shooting. And I’m glad I did.

    • You may have left out violent hardcore metal. I’ve been in enough C&W bars and seen enough fights to question whether it’s chicken or egg. How do lyrics about I lost my girl, my dog, my pickup and my belt buckle stimulate the patrons to engage in brawls?

      Oh it’s the alcohol. No wait it’s guns!
      See?

      It’s parenting. Games and music are reflections of our inner demons. How we channel our emotions is the key. Parenting again. Do those media stir up the predisposed? Evidently. Most folks with good “home training?” Not so much.

    • Chris, that’s a fair question. I’ve read Grossman’s work and, while he makes a very compelling case that violent artwork desensitizes kids to violence and removes some of the mental blocks which make killing repulsive to human beings, he doesn’t seem to call for a ban on violent depictions. I get the impression that he’s merely arguing that exposure to violence (specifically inasfar as it is coupled with pleasure, i.e. watching a slasher film while eating popcorn) indeed affects people, not that it is the proximate cause of their real-life violent outbursts. It’s a factor, but not THE factor.

      Think of it this way. If your kids hang out with kids who are sexually active or do drugs, some of the taboo is removed and your kids are desensitized to the notion of doing drugs or premarital sex. But hanging out with bad kids isn’t itself the one thing that will cause your kids to go off the rails. I think he’s more saying, “Violent artwork is another thing parents need to guard against and warn their kids about,” not that it’s something which should be banned.

  5. After reading Sebastian Junger’s book, Tribe, for the third time (really short book) I went back and re-read Grossman’s first book, On Killing.
    It was this quote from Junger’s book that caught my eye:
    “A 2011 study of street children in Burundi found the lowest PTSD rates among the most aggressive and violent children. Aggression seemed to buffer them from the effects of previous trauma that they had experienced.”
    I’ve been thinking of how that squares with Grossman’s hypothesis that PTSD at least partially results from people’s intrinsic unwillingness to kill other humans, especially in direct contact. The cognitive trauma that lingers is from that stark struggle of being forced to do something you really didn’t want to do, and it’s consequences.
    I think both authors arrived at the same place, but from different points or origin.
    I’ve known guys that wanted combat, truly wanted to go face to face in that life or death struggle, And once they got it, they just wanted more. I’ve never seen any of those guys have PTSD, and I’ve seen them become productive members of society.
    I’ve also known guys that didn’t want to fight anyone, much less kill them. But once they were in that situation and prevailed, they became much more aggressive, without resorting to cruelty. Those folks adjusted to home life well themselves.
    The guys that I saw have problems were the ones that didn’t want to fight, then recoiled from it once it happened, even if they did well at the time. They seemed to always keep on their heels from the violence after that, and struggled to return to peacetime life.

    • Interesting observation. How did you fare? (no mal-intent)
      While i was deployed, my platoon withstood intense combat on the outskirts of Badgad. No one in my platoon was spared from combat. My good friend was one of the men that greatly desired to see combat. He dreamed of, for lack of a better term, spilling the blood of the enemy. When we was given the opportunity, he indulged. After several fights, he withdrew and became increasingly unwilling and eventually unable to kill. Several weeks later, he had to pull the headless body of his friend out of a humvee after it was hit by an EFP. He suffered for years (and still does) from significant life disabling PTSD. The handful of men in my platoon that desired to kill were the ones that eventually were overcame by significant PTSD issues. The men that had no desire to kill but did so in order to protect their friends were the ones who had very few problems with PTSD.
      I do not think that the desire to kill is the only link to PTSD. However, in my platoon, it appeared to be the strongest.

      • fascinating, what I saw was exactly the opposite. The guys that lived for the fight seem to just chug along, and did the same when they got home.
        I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life in combat. Nowhere else have I felt so complete and satisfied. I was exactly where I was supposed to be doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and I was good at it. Extremely fulfilling.

        • Mr. Taylor,

          I have an exceedingly simple and powerful explanation that some people will despise because it involves faith and our Creator. The Bible tells us plainly that God created different people with different gifts, skills, and talents for specific purposes. He created people to be teachers. He created people to be peacemakers (diplomats if you will). He created people to be leaders. He created people to be encouragers. He created people to minister to others, and …. It stands to reason that He also created some people to be warriors to fight for righteous causes. I would argue that fighting the evil that you encountered in the Middle East — and you know first hand the depth of the absolute depravity in some of the people over there — was a noble and righteous endeavor. So, it sounds to me like God made you to be a righteous warrior, along with many others.

          And the corollary: many people over there were probably created to be teachers, ministers, peacemakers, etc. rather than warriors.

          This explains in the simplest terms why you and others like you did well — and why others did not do well.

        • I also thoroughly enjoyed the fight and i miss it tremendously! It was incredible. I didnt live for it but it certainly BRIGHTENED my day when i was able to open up that M2 on someone who deserved it. There was simply too much political BS (my 1SG was John Hatley). My platoon and I eventually lost the will to fight with brass looking over our shoulders and micromanaging every action we took. I would not have come home if it was not for Hatley.

        • Jon, Jesus, that sucks. I was very fortunate to be with a small group of men who very much wanted to be there. My command had great attitude, and the NCOIC for my first team remains of my greatest heroes.

    • JWTaylor, respectfully, I would suggest that Grossman at least partially addressed in On Killing what you observed during your time in the military. He explains in that book that approximately 2% of the population are sociopaths and that they have no aversion to killing at all. Just thought I’d add that. Not trying to be a jerk.

  6. It’s important people embrace the monster within them. This monster gives them teeth. The monster gives them dominance. The monster gives them confidence. It’s important that people embrace this monster within. The monster is capable of amazing acts of horror. Genocide. Destruction. Terrible things. And most importantly, parents must teach their children and educate them on life, tragedy, and a reason for existing. When children embrace a life of nihilism, they empower the monster. It’s critical parents and teachers show children the proper way and to teach them how to control themselves.

    Now that Paulsen has Grossman’s side, I encourage him to watch some lectures by Dr. Jordan Peterson (Psychology).

    Plenty of us played violent video games and DID NOT murder a bunch of people. Now I agree with Grossman that exposure to violence teaches violence. But It is my strong opinion, that is only part of the issue here.

  7. ” Yes, it’s true, he says, that raw homicides are down, but that drop is due to improved technology in the medical, transportation, and communication sectors.”

    Another factor, I believe, is the near ubiquity of recorded video today.

    Now, I’m speaking of premeditated homicide here. (AKA, “I’m gonna *kill* that sumbitch!”)

    For example, it would be near impossible for me to get to the other side of town without showing up on a camera somewhere. Most every road here has DOT video cameras on intersections, and many businesses (and some homes) have viable and IR recorders running. Add to that the facts your phone records and internet use can be subpoenaed, and it’s getting tough nowadays to get away with literal murder without leaving tracks *somewhere* that can be found.

    I’m convinced that is a substantial part of dropping murder rates…

    • Goeff PR,

      Ah, interesting idea. As I understand it, most people who murder someone will commit more murders until captured or dead. (I heard a saying something to the effect of, “The first is the hardest, the rest are free.” or something like that.) Since video recording is more ubiquitous, law enforcement is capturing and imprisoning more murderers and eliminating the additional murders that they would have committed if left on the streets.

      That very well could be contributing to a lower murder rate.

      • “As I understand it, most people who murder someone will commit more murders until captured or dead.”

        Eh, I *seriously* doubt that.

        Serial killers I believe are a very small sub-set of murderers as a whole. The majority are the ‘heat of the moment’ thing, like that woman a month or so back who gut-shot ‘the other woman’ thinking it would “give her something to remember”, when instead that .410 shot killed her. Then there are the revenge “being a dish that tastes best cold” types. And whatever others there may be.

        I guess I wasn’t clear – I was referring to those who may very well want someone dead, but *doesn’t* dare do it, out of fear of the cameras they don’t see, or the electronic records (phone, computer, etc.) that will lead a detective back to *them*.

        *That* I believe is the real driver of lower murder rates.

        And face it, I’m cool with that. Those who might want to whack somebody might not be as cool with that…

        • Geoff PR,

          I was not referring to serial killers and did not mean to give the impression that a run-of-the-mill scumbag who murdered one person would go on to kill dozens of people if not captured. Rather, I was thinking of the run-of-the-mill scumbag who murders one person: he/she will be inclined to kill one, two, or three more people if they are on the streets for another 30 years. Each time our criminal justice system imprisons one of them, they probably prevented at least one, if not two or three future murders.

          As for ubiquitous video surveillance systems stopping would-be murderers, I doubt it. Someone who murders someone in the heat of the moment is operating on emotion, not reason. Whether or not a video system is recording them doesn’t register in their brains.

          I suppose the existence of video surveillance systems could deter a handful of disgruntled people who half-heartedly want to “rub out” someone. If a disgruntled person is committed and not stupid, though, they will find a way to carry out their objective without providing video evidence.

          Whatever the causation, I agree that our murder rate would be somewhat higher without ubiquitous video surveillance.

  8. “Yes, it’s true, he says, that raw homicides are down, but that drop is due to improved technology in the medical, transportation, and communication sectors. A wound that would have a 90% fatality rate during World War II now has a 90% survival rate. With 1940s technology, the homicide rate would be ten times higher.”

    I’m not buying it. Yes, the medical technology is better, but a higher survival rate would show as an increase in aggravated assaults or attempted murder in lieu of a homicide. However, all violent crimes are trending down (or were until recently).

    If there is a specific victim, killers aren’t going to inflict one wound and run away unless they see that wound was fatal. They will keep firing/stabbing/hitting/choking until they think the job it done. Medical technology doesn’t matter because the victim is dead before anyone has a chance to render aid. Making sure a .22 or .25 hits the brain makes it fairly effective. Something like a drive-by would be different. When the hits per target are fewer and the locations random, communications and medical technology would be factors in improved survivability.

    Spree killings seem too distinct to group together. In some, like Aurora theater, the killer is wildly spraying rounds, but in others, like 101 California or Port Arthur, head shots are delivered at close range to frozen victims. Medical technology didn’t help much at Pulse since there were 3 hours before the victims could be attended to.

    • Not only that, but homicides are down 49% since 1993 – what major medical breakthroughs in the treatment of gunshot wounds have been made in the last 25 years? None that I can find. If anything, that decrease correlates with the widespread popularity of first person shooters (Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem, etc. all came out in the mid-nineties). I call bullshit on this “violent video games = violent people fear-mongering. It absolutely doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

    • @Anymouse: In case it was unclear from my text, Grossman was speaking generically about survival rates, not specifically about mass murder survival rates (akin to Jonesboro or Columbine).

      Would be interested to see the source re: violent crime rates. (Not disputing, just want to know what you had in mind.)

      • Johannes Paulsen,

        Here is a nice data source that shows all the classes of violent crime have been trending downward since the early 1990s or so:

        http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm

        Note the bottom half of the web page which shows crime rates per capita.

        Aggravated assault (which is probably the crime if an attempted murder was unsuccessful due to medical advances) was 237.8 per 100,000 people in 2015. You have to go all the way back to 1976 to get a slightly lower rate.

        Robbery was 101.9 per 100,000 people in 2015. You have to go all the way back to 1966 to get a lower robbery rate.

        Forcible rape did trend up slightly since 2013’s rate of 25.9 per 100,000 people. Prior to 2013, you have to go all the way back to 1973 to get a lower rate.

        I suspect, without communication and medical advances, the murder rate would be in similar territory with the lowest murder rates since the early to mid 1970s.

  9. Why does the gun community keep putting Grossman on a pedestal? He’s an anti-free speech activist.

    The rise of violent video games correlates directly with the decrease of violent crime across the spectrum. Video games are more graphic and more prevalent than ever yet Violent Crime rates are roughly half what they were prior to 1993 when DOOM first hit shelves. It’s the same kind of bogus argument as saying psych meds cause mass shootings. 20% of Adult Americans are on some kind of psychotropics. There should be a lot more mass shootings.

    Correlation does not equal causation; mentally disturbed people are more likely to be on psych meds, and at this point saying they played violent video games is like saying they listened to rock-n-roll music, watched movies, or listened to the radio. These arguments are as bogus as saying guns cause crime and mass shootings, and we don’t do ourselves any favors using them.

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