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.