APA 2019 Main Stage: James Garbarino on Gun Violence

APA 2019 Main Stage: James Garbarino on Gun Violence


the next speaker Dr. Jim Garbarino
studies the links between violent men and trauma he has spent his entire
career studying youth violence in why young people turn to violence what we
can do to help them he has authored books that examine why girls have turned
to violence in how to protect young people from becoming bullies from from
being harassed and from toxic behavior he is a consultant a researcher and a
scholar please welcome Jim Garbarino to the stage for almost 30 years I’ve served as a
psychological expert witness in murder cases mostly involving young offenders
here in Chicago and around the country and I’ve also been involved in school
shootings and war zones around the world and all of that makes me very very sad
and because a man that makes it makes me mad and you men would rather be mad than
sad so let me take a few minutes to try to illuminate some of what makes me so
sad and ultimately mad about gun violence I went to graduate school at
Cornell University and my mentor was your bronfenbrenner developmental
psychologists that I’m sure many of you know URI made sure that we came out of
that program understanding that human development behavior always takes place
in a particular context so much so that if you ask the question does X cause Y
the best scientific answer is almost always it depends it depends on the
context in which you’re looking at that XY relationship and this issue of gun
violence and what to do about it it’s so deeply rooted in the context of American
culture and political life that it’s hard to talk about psychological
interventions without first talking about that cultural context and part of
that context produces ridiculous solutions ridiculous social policies let
me give you just three examples I was speaking in Iowa now a few years ago
just after the legislature in Iowa had passed a law validating the right of
blind people to carry weapons in public now I in my talk I said well I thought
this would clearly be an example of how ludicrous public policy discussions are
in America about guns but don’t you know during the break somebody came up the
guy who was a former deputy director of the FBI to argue with me about this he
said we know blind people can be very good weapons carrier
you know they’re hearing becomes better so they can aim and shoot based on how
well they hear how do we engage in sensible gun control if that’s where
we’re starting now of course there are a number of very dramatic interventions we
could do that are clearly rooted in the in the data we have for example we talk
about gun violence but most people know that it’s not gun it’s male gun violence
more than 90% of those who do the shooting are men or boys so not too long
ago I was giving a speech and somebody said in the question period can you tell
us something concrete and specific we could do to reduce the level of gun
violence in our community the community in Illinois I said well yes there’s one
policy that would quickly have a dramatic effect round up everybody with
the penis and move him to Indiana down goes gun violence as far as I can tell
it hasn’t happened yet after the Columbine school shooting back in 1999 I
was doing a talk for the FBI and one of the FBI agents said dr. Garbarino can
tell something concrete and specific we could do to reduce school shootings
I said yes I can you take the school you jack it up you put it on wheels and you
drive it to Canada at that point the rate of youth violence lethal youth
violence in Canada was one-tenth what it was here now I have to disclose my wife
is Canadian and so Canada becomes a solution to most of American problems
and I mean that sincerely so if my wife asks you you can tell her I told you he
said it seriously Arthur Evans said there’s he objects to
the term senseless violence I agree I think that allowing the term senseless
violence in the public domain is a disservice and an impediment to solving
the problem because every act of violence makes sense to the perpetrator
at least at the time he does it and that to call senseless violence the central
issue is an impediment to understanding that this is a genuine human phenomenon
understood and genuine human terms but again it’s taking place in a particular
context a context in which as you know by now there are more people than guns
there are more places to buy guns than there are gas stations but think about
this study if you’re a clinician you know that about half of schizophrenic
skeer voices it’s called auditory hallucination now because their voices
in people’s heads I don’t think people thought they should take them seriously
but a team of anthropologist asked the question what are the voices telling
them in the United States in India and in Ghana now gone is a country in
northwest Africa since we’re Americans we don’t know much about geography so I
thought I’d throw have had it I’m assuming you know where India is and
this is what they found in the United States 70 percent 7-0 percent of the
voices were telling the schizophrenic to commit an act of violence against
themselves or others 70 percent in India 20 percent in India most of the voices
in people’s heads were telling them to clean their houses better annoying but
not lethal and in Ghana only 10 percent of the voices were telling them to
commit acts of violence in Ghana most of the voices were thought to be positive
conversations with God now what’s mind-blowing about this is we
think of schizophrenic as being disken connected from reality and yet American
schizophrenic are attuned in enough to American culture to beginning the
message of aggression and violence it’s a very very disturbing finding so that’s
part of the context in which to look at the psychology of guns and gun use
particularly among young people and of course guns in the hands of young people
are the most dangerous guns there are when I was in Kuwait after the first
Gulf War for the United Nations we were in danger driving around the streets of
Kuwait because teenagers who had been part of the Kuwaiti resistance had
automatic weapons and one night actually was we drove up to a checkpoint very
nervous fifteen-year-old picked up his automatic weapon to shoot it at the car
that I was in with two journalists that’s always a bad problem because we
know that human brains don’t mature till the mid-20s
teenagers are particularly vulnerable to problems with executive function making
good decisions anticipating consequences looking to the future and effective
regulation managing emotions the worst possible combination is a teenager who’s
in the state of high arousal and thinks that he knows what he’s doing who has a
gun in his hands one of the classic studies that
illuminated the psychology of gun possession and therefore a gun use among
teenagers was done back in the 1990s by jeremy shapiro and his colleagues and
working in cleveland not that different from Chicago at the time they found four
motivations in young people to have guns which dramatically predicted whether
they did in fact carry guns those who had none of these four motivations less
than 1% were carrying guns those who had all four of these motivations in excess
of 30% were regularly carrying guns the first of them was an aggressive response
to shame one of the most high-risk groups in America for murder are people
who can incorporate in their consciousness what is called the
southern culture of Honor the culture that says if you
respect me that is such a fundamental existential threat that I must respond
with aggression and Shapiro and his colleagues found that that was one of
the predictors of gun use now yesterday I was in Stateville prison about an hour
south of here talking with a young man who committed two murders as a teenager
and since I knew I was going to be on this stage today we talked about his
experience with guns and he talked about precisely this aggressive response to
shame that as a as a black kid knowing the consequences of racism as the kid
whose father had disappeared as a kid who didn’t have the right clothes to
school he was constantly in a state of shame and once he was offered a gun he
said I stood up straight the second thing that Shapiro found was comfort
with aggression that guns are used by people you know that you’re introduced
by guns by people you know that you have comfort with this kind of aggression and
this boy yesterday this young man yesterday Jeremy explained to me his
first access to a gun was that he and his cousin’s were visiting their
grandmother and while the adults were all talking his older cousins took him
out let him have a chance to fire a gun in the in the air and it became the
entryway to his use of guns because this was a family matter the third thing that
Shapiro found was excitement that guns provoke a sense of excitement in the
user in the boy in the man Jeremy spoke to this himself he said firing that gun
made me feel powerful it made me feel excited it reinforced the gun use and he
came back to it and the fourth thing that Shapiro found in his research was
power and safety that guns convey a sense of power and safety that you feel
secure carrying a gun and that other people respect you for doing so and
Jeremy spoke to this himself he was drawn into a gang by the time he was 12
he volunteered for the gang much as a soldier might volunteer to join the army
and it gave him a sense of identity it gave him a sense of power and it gave
him a sense of security the vulnerability that he felt
is shared by many inner-city kids and it leads to their motivation to join with
others who are armed and they’ll feel safer
he described when he was 12 that gang leaders gave him a chance to show that
he belonged in the gang they handed him a gun
they said you crossed the tracks to the other gangs territory and shoot at the
first group you see and he did and he got approval for it and now he’s sitting
serving life without possibility of parole for the natural consequences of
the context he was in the micro context of his neighborhood and the gang the
macro context of being in America and his life is forfeit again those who had
none of these motivations less than 1% were carrying guns those who had all
four it was in excess of 30% this is a study from the 1990s this isn’t breaking
news recently a couple of documentary filmmakers came to me who had put me in
a documentary about violence in Chicago 24 years ago and they said they were
going to update the video and did I want to update my statement and I watched the
video and I said you know the only thing I would update is I used to have hair
and it was brown as you’ll hear from the next speaker I think we have a set of
tools a toolbox to reduce gun violence if we approach it as a public health
issue if we have the will to do so but having the will to do so requires a kind
of courage that is generally lacking so let me end with a parable a parable of
course is a teaching story this is called the parable of the lamppost a
friend of ours named Joe comes home one night from meeting like this in the dark
and finds us and his friend George on the street under lampposts groping
around and Joe says what’s the matter George these as well I’ve lost my car
keys and I can’t go home until I find him well since Joe being a good American
let me help so he gets down on the ground and they search around for the
key and they don’t find it well finally just as well George maybe we need a more
systematic approach and being a psychologist we can use psychology
psychological in inter pensions here this is first let’s take a
behavioral approach so he pulls out of his pocket a bag of M&Ms and they he
says I’m gonna reinforce your key seeking behavior and they do and he’s
moving right and left and it’s very impressive but they don’t find the gun
there the keys excuse me the guns they don’t find the keys they says no no
maybe we need a psychoanalytic approach so it begins asking his friend George
about experiences of childhood loss and soon as George realizes that he’s
connected the loss of the keys with the loss of his teddy bear when he was four
and they process this at great length and great expense and eventually he
develops insight about his loss issues but they still haven’t found the keys he
can’t go home well this is all right maybe we need a more cognitive approach
maybe the problem is your understanding of the term key we could reframe that
and they do but he still can’t go home well said he says well you know I mean
there are other approaches we could take we could take an educational approach
I’ve got a book on the history of the key in Western civilization we could
take a legal approach we get an injunction
you know habeas kiyose injunction to have the key returned but it’s really
stymied down so he says alright let’s take a really radical approach George
where were you when you dropped your keys there’s all jars about a hundred
yards up the road when I drop some keys the judges will George why are we
looking here then he says well the light is much better here and I’m afraid of
the dark until we can find the courage to walk into the dark where the key
really lies reducing gun violence in a major way is going to be like looking
for the key under the lamppost all the technique in the world cannot get affair so knowing this Joe says George take my
hand and we will walk into the darkness together thank you would you like to say thank you for that
wonderful presentation particularly digging into some of the seductions and
the reason why young men reach for guns and want to be around weapons I
appreciate that I have a couple questions for you that you didn’t dig
into that I was hoping that you could address now in 2013 there was a shooting
in Chicago at a public park there were 13 people shot among those 13 people
there was a three-year-old who was shot in the face and I was one of the
reporters who covered it one of the things that I noticed was that his
mother referred to him as a soldier she said that he was a soldier and he was
going to be strong and survived because he was a soldier I was hoping that you
could talk a little bit about the vocabulary of war zones of military
actions being used in certain communities and what that means and how
that translates into actions there’s a way in which I got my start in this area
by being in Chicago and having students come and talk about the experience of
community violence and then going abroad to what were efficiently war zones
around the world and being struck by the parallels it’s very instructive
particularly in areas where you have semi or fully organized gun violence
which typically translates into gangs to understand that there is a warzone
mentality that develops here as it does for soldiers abroad and the two
components are a hypersensitivity to threat that you know we say somebody
is being paranoid if they see threats that aren’t there but these are people
living with actual threats and they develop a hypersensitivity they also
develop a legitimization of aggression that includes preemptive assault and
when you combine those two things you get this warzone mentality where as a
soldier you are alert to see threats perhaps even when others wouldn’t and
you know and you prepared and you are morally justified in responding to that
threat not waiting until you’re the one who’s a victim
so it is award zone mentality I remember having a conversation with colon Powell
when he was still a military officer about this and he said you know we
understand that we’re training soldiers we’re disinhibited their aggression
we’re training them to be alert and prepared to kill but we put it in the
context of a chain of command and a very strong ethic about the use of your gun
we have the chain of command but within a gang structure it’s often very
antisocial rather than pro-social this guy yesterday was telling me that and
used to be back in the old days and women and children were off-limits he
said now that is breaking down and one of the gangs that he was connected with
one of their slogans as will kill your mama and and so the organized part of it
may deteriorate so I think it’s a really serious issue and I understand that
parents have to cope with this but to call your three-year-old or
four-year-old a soldier is setting them on this pathway that’s going to bring me
to sit across from them in prison someday so when we hear this language
being used should it serve as almost a flag as an alert for us when we go into
communities when we’re talking to parents when we’re talking to even youth
that consider themselves soldiers well I think that we you know we need to
recognize that one of America’s dominant strategies to solving social problems is
to go to war against it the war on poverty the war on drugs the war on
crime the war on bullies if we could develop a peacemaking orientation and
it’s very effective in communities as it is with individuals to make peace with
violence rather than to go to war against it because if you go to war
against it you lead to the kind of thing that happened in the 60s one of the some
of you’re old enough to remember a comedian and his whole bit was that he
always got things wrong and this comedian said when Lyndon Johnson
declared the war on poverty he went out and threw a hand-grenade at a beggar
horrible joke but speaks to the fact that the war mentality has no place in
this peacemaking process so we have to shift I thank you so much thank you
you

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