After the Texas elementary school shooting, some people experienced “learned helplessness.” ‘Learned helplessness’ is a mental state in which people believe that nothing they do matters. It calls for breakthroughs.

Call it a cycle, call it a script, call it madness. Nineteen children and two adults were shot at a Texas elementary school. Collages of their beautiful faces, photos of families who will bear heavy grief that we succumb to the thought of carrying it ourselves. The happy parents wrap their bodies around their living children as if it were enough. We read the same headlines, see the same hand-wringing, criticize or call for the same prayers, and find ourselves desperately having the same debate. Until we move on and a moral imperative evaporates.

This is a political story, but it is also a psychological story. A story about what some people say they value but refuse to protect, what some people claim to want but never demand. It is a failure of American democracy, a failure of humanity, a “learned helplessness” whose only antidote is a demonstration that change is possible.

gun control debate

“Learned helplessness is a mental state that occurs when people discover that nothing they do matters,” says Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “The main consequence is that people give up and stop trying. It applies to most Americans who have shown for years that they want more control and balances regarding gun control. And despite that, the American voters, especially the Democrats, have found that nothing they do works, which predicts that people would give up.”

In the US, gunfire on school grounds is at an all-time high. On Monday, a day before the Uvalde, Texas massacre, the FBI released data showing an alarming escalation in public shootings. In what is arguably the second most notable Supreme Court case this term, judges are expected to rule every day on a possible extension of gun rights under the Second Amendment.

‘A Bad Day for…Hope’: Why Gun Control Proponents See No End in Sight

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On social media, you might think there’s no consensus on the issue, but 2018 Gallup polls show that to prevent mass school shootings, 92% of Americans support background checks for all gun sales, 87% for increased safety, and 68% support raising the legal age at which people can buy certain firearms. Banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons is more divisive, with 56% in favor and 42% against it.

Experts in gun violence and social psychology say the deadlock over gun control has to do with the basic functioning of our political system and its responsiveness to the public it claims to represent. They blame several factors for social paralysis, including the unchecked influence of the gun lobby on the Republican party, the reflexive tendency after each new chapter of death to chase us further into issues that divide us, and a devastatingly high tolerance for individual and collective trauma.

“We talk a lot about how exhausted and overwhelmed and overworked, but we don’t talk about how we can envision our everyday political culture as healthier,” said Jennifer Carlson, a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona. Who studies guns, trauma, and the law. “There has never been a reckoning about the layers and layers and trauma that have been built into this country. … The rest of the world looks at us and feels sorry for us because we are incapable of taking care of ourselves.” to face.”

Experts say more dialogue is needed with liberal gun owners

While experts emphasize that there is broad agreement on certain gun reforms, there are still deep partisan divisions in how people view guns — the right to carry them, their symbolism, and their usefulness.

“On the one hand, guns represent aggression, violence, and a somewhat paranoid and anachronistic perspective that you need to protect yourself from outside threats,” said University of Alabama criminology professor Adam Lankford after the 2017 Parkland shooting. On the other hand, guns represent safety, security, and self-sufficiency.”

This leads people to come to very different conclusions about solutions to gun violence.

“If someone embraces further gun restrictions, they’ll see gun violence and say, ‘Obviously, this means we need more restrictions.’ Someone who embraces gun rights is going to see more guns as a solution to these kinds of events,” Carlson said. “It doesn’t matter how bad it gets because people on both sides think fundamentally differently about the issue.”

Carlson said efforts should be made to move people out of rigid political positions. In pursuit of that, Carlson said there is an important, untapped group that may be able to provide some answers about how to proceed: liberal gun owners.

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“We have amanyguns in circulation and mun-owning people who didn’t own guns before 2020. Those people don’t fit the profile of the stereotypical gun owner. They’re less likely to be men; more racial minorities. “, she said. “The liberals who own guns are the people we need to start listening to so we can bridge these dividing lines.”

‘It’s not sad in a way that seems to mobilize most people.’

Jay Van Bavel, a professor of psychology and neural sciences at New York University and director of the Social Identity & Morality Lab, said that as polls show consensus on some gun reforms, the issue becomes one of mobilization.

“Sandy Hook was a moment when many people felt that there was a politically and morally clear case where people should have done something, and nothing happened,” he said. “It’s deeply saddening but not saddening in a way that seems to mobilize most people.”

Van Bavel said it is easier to mobilize anger and hope. But the bitterness fades, and hope fades. The grief is paralyzing.

Van Bavel said it is important that voters who care about gun reform understand how deeply entwined the Republican party is with the gun lobby. Despite disagreeing with their stance, no Republican voters are willing to abandon candidates for not voting for gun control measures.

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“What you probably need is a counterbalance, 10 or 20% of voters making gun control their top priority,” he said. “There are so many issues, there are so many potential priorities, that I think it would be helpful if there were a mobilization of people who just made up their minds, regardless of what a politician stood for if they weren’t standing for popular gun regulations that they’re” no’ would vote for them no matter what.”

This group could exert what psychologists call “minority influence,” when a committed group of people influences a wider group.

‘Our system is broken.’

Carlson said that while she still believes it is worth advocating for two-pronged measures such as universal background checks, she is skeptical of what the current political system can achieve. The sources and consequences of gun violence are multifaceted. While there is a legitimate compulsion to say, “we need to do something,” it is equally fair to point out that many of the solutions on the table will not address the depth of the gun violence problem in American society.

“We, as a country, have broken the political process in government. Both sides believe with very, very different arguments and very, very different evidence that democracy in this country is in danger. And yet the main way we solve this is It comes to this mismatch between knowing that something is fundamentally wrong and the lack of viable tools to do something that would increase the magnitude of that problem,” she said.

Carlson said we need to rethink our political institutions and how we engage in politics daily.

“Our system is broken, partly because we proactively broke it,” she said. “It’s a reinvention from above and from below.”

Carlson said that a better political culture would promote civic grace, which she defines as a recognition of the dignity of our fellow citizens and honor that our political views are limited and contingent and, therefore, open to change. A healthier political culture would embrace social vulnerability, which it defines as an acknowledgment of our inherent ability to experience loss, pain, and suffering.

‘Breakthroughs are needed to make people believe.’

The Uvalde shooting comes just over a week after a white gunman opened fire at a Buffalo supermarket in a black neighborhood, killing ten people. Gun violence in the US has increased during the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more Americans died from gun-related injuries in 2020 than in any other year.

“This problem is definitely getting worse and will only get worse until something is done about it,” said John Donahue, a Stanford University law professor, and gun policy expert.

To address it, experts say people need to sit in pain, connect with it, and mobilize their way out.

“The parents whose children were murdered, the people who are so directly affected, it’s not up to them to carry on with the burden of pushing, even if it’s because everyone else is just walking away,” Carlson said. “The change happens when those of us who haven’t experienced this violence find out right away what we want to do.”

Seligman said encouraging people to act means showing that their efforts matter.

“That requires demonstrations of actions that work, showing that people who believe in greater gun control can become agenetic and overcome these barriers,” he said. “It requires breakthroughs. That’s what drives people to believe.”

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I have been blogging since August 2011. I have had over 10,000 visitors to my blog! My goal is to help people, and I have the knowledge and the passion to do this. I love to travel, dance, and play volleyball. I also enjoy hanging out with my friends and family. I started writing my blogs when I lived in California. I would wake up in the middle of the night and write something while listening to music and looking at the ocean. When I moved to Texas, I found a new place to write. I would sit in my backyard while everyone else was at work, and I could write all day.