By Hakim Hazim
This commentary raises a question about priority. It is an attempt to better frame the discussion on curbing the violence currently taking place in our country. We must proceed with facts.
According to the FBI’s most recent report, violent crime rates continue to decrease, a pattern that has continued for five consecutive years.
However, recent massacres and target killings have shocked our senses. The Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy repulsed and captivated the public as we meditated on the blend of evil and mental instability we have unfortunately become accustomed to witnessing.
Images of a weeping president moved us as Barack Obama vowed to reform gun laws, giving rise to a debate that will rage far into the foreseeable future. The primary debate positions are framed below:
Gun control proponents seek a balance on who should be allowed to purchase specific types of weapons. The logic behind their reasoning: minimize lethality when crimes occur.
Gun advocates ask, “How can gun control solve anything?” Their view: if you disarm good citizens, the predatory, criminal element will not abide by these rules and people will be left defenseless, relying on a police force that primarily responds to crime, but inept in terms of prevention.
We do need robust debate that is purposeful, but I am convinced a focus on lethal minds should take priority over lethal means. This nation must develop relevant, scientific research that seeks to answer this question. What are the precipitating factors and causes that produce violent offenders and how can we mitigate them?
I’ve spoken with hit men, gangsters and young adults who have killed their parents. The majority of them retain an attitude of detachment from the act, but some are quite emotional. Most equated killing in terms of justification, vocation or desperation.
A few described it as an extreme, emotional purging they participated in. According to some observers, it was similar to a dream or out of body experience. Over 20 years ago, I spoke with a young man who described his experience of shooting both of his parents in such terms.
We ask “why,” and by looking at human behavior via the lenses of ABA or Applied Behavioral Analysis, we may arrive at some answers.
ABA states that all conscious behavior seeks three outcomes:
1. To get or obtain
2. Escape or avoid
3. To meet a sensory need or desire
Violence, like all behavior, should be viewed in terms of what it provides for those who engage in it. As we gain a better understanding of violence, we can seek prevention.
Attention-seeking killers primarily want to obtain an audience. Their distorted reasons propel them to act and they are on the rise—and unfortunately, here to stay. Target Killings by the late Chris Dorner, former LAPD officer, and the deceased Evan Ebel, former inmate, teach us this lesson—killing is worth the risk for some.
Free societies have produced criminals who now compete with one another for body counts and/or notoriety in the media. To date, we have not produced the death toll of an Anders Breivik of Norway, but be assured—the twisted ideology found in his manifesto has infested unstable minds.
We must shield people from this poison through proper mentoring and education. Once a young person experiences violence and develops a taste for it; it’s difficult to turn them around.
The military has had issues of its own. A lieutenant colonel stated, “Blood lust is something you have to deal with. Some can’t handle it.”
If this applies to respected, trained, service men and women, what about the youth of our day, the mentally unstable, and those brought up in dysfunctional, violent homes? Violence creates a sound and fury that causes a reactionary response. We must be solution-oriented, and never simply appalled or fascinated by it.
Now is not the time to follow the crowd or the loudest voices on this issue; we need to figure this out and take a scientific, spiritual, and logical approach. If we do not, I fear my nightmare may come to pass. An excerpt from my unpublished poem, “Roar of Lions”:
I followed the direction of the roar and tumult, like so many others. I found myself in the fog. A shadowy figure emerged and to my amazement, I was greeted by the devil.
Hakim Hazim is the founder of Relevant Now Consultancy and has been immersed in research for at-risk populations since 1993. Hazim is a certified Crisis Prevention Institute Senior Trainer and Behavior Intervention Specialist with expertise in counterterrorism, radical religious sects, gangs, juvenile delinquency and law enforcement approaches for mentally ill or challenged individuals. He is the author of American Realism Revisited: Lethal Minds or Latent Threats (Iuniverse, 2005).