Gun Violence in America: Jungian and Depth Psychological Perspectives and Resources

In light of the recent shootings at Isla Vista/UCSB [Update June 5: Now adding Seattle Pacific University] as well as the hundreds of other gun violence incidents across the country and the world, I wanted to share/re-share some depth psychological resources and discussion around the topic. But first, some statistics courtesy of NBC News

  • Every year in the U.S., an average of more than 100,000 people are shot, according to The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.

  • Every day in the U.S., an average of 289 people are shot. Eighty-six of them die: 30 are murdered, 53 kill themselves, two die accidentally, and one is shot in a police intervention, the Brady Campaign reports.

  • Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 335,609 people died from guns -- more than the population of St. Louis, Mo. (318,069), Pittsburgh (307,484), Cincinnati, Ohio (296,223), Newark, N.J. (277,540), and Orlando, Fla. (243,195) (sources:  CDFU.S. CensusCDC)

  • One person is killed by a firearm every 17 minutes, 87 people are killed during an average day, and 609 are killed every week. (source: CDC)
Meanwhile, as many psychologists and commentators alike are saying, the problem goes well beyond gun laws. Our cultural container and systems for treating mental health are simply not adequate to treat people with the deep-seated issues that often precede such violent acts.
Depth Psychologist/Educator Glen Slater, PhD touches into the depth psychological perspective, saying, 
"Gun violence keeps the national psyche in a holding pattern, preventing it from a more conscious encounter with more soul-wrenching issues. The obsessive need for guns, the paranoid fear of having guns taken away, the lack of will to effectively legislate or litigate, and even the violence itself are bonded in a conspiracy of collective defense and denial against a deeper darkness and pathology. Cracking open the neurotic dynamics means going in search of mythic and archetypal roots." (In Spring Journal, Vol 81).
As you'll note in many of the following resources... (Click here to read full post on

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Comment by Holly Esch on June 21, 2014 at 4:11pm
I wish I could "like" the comments. :)
Comment by Holly Esch on June 16, 2014 at 4:40pm

"Anybody can travel to Africa."

But you actually did. :)
Comment by Holly Esch on June 16, 2014 at 4:39pm
After Sandy Hook a friend confronted me with: "Wow, don't you wish someone had been on the premises with a gun? That person could've shot Adam Lanza and those kids would be still be alive. No?"

And he smiled.

No,  I wish there were TWO people with guns there in addition to Adam Lanza.  In the chaos and confusion the three of you could have shot each other while trying to determine who the real gunman was,  removing not  one, not two, but THREE trigger-happy idiots from the gene pool.

Was I serious? No. But people that respond to tragedies like this with "More guns!" scare me.
Comment by Holly Esch on June 10, 2014 at 6:43pm
Lists rock:

"everyone here far outranks me in all things depth psyche."

The fact that you *can* draw comparisons between Crowley and Hesse, that you know their work so deeply, that you can compare and contrast them and draw inspiration from the conclusions, to me that means yes, indeed, the depth of your depth psyche knowledge most definitely is deeper than mine. If depth psychology were like cage fighting and we were thrown into the ring together all bets would be on you. Forgive the excessive alliteration under so morbid a post.

Charlotte actually traveled to Africa with Malidoma Somé. Bonnie is a Ph.D. candidate at Pacifica. I remembered to buy my bus pass this month. For me this is a big win.

If we were to survey the backgrounds of all -- what's the population count now? Over 3,000? -- participants here on this alliance my intuition (see here I am, valuing my intuition, thanks depth psyche!) is certain that I'm outranked both in depth psyche knowledge and experience. I don't eat, live, and breathe it like many here.

2. "Lemme tell ya"

A colloquialism. I was raised in the Southern United States.

3. "I got stories"

If you want to be a writer you should work with technical people. I think it was Nabokov that said "Caress the details! The divine details!" No one caresses or obsesses over details more than geeks. They're forever threading smaller and smaller needles, and they make fantastic character studies.

Kind of like you. :)
Comment by Holly Esch on June 9, 2014 at 9:06pm
Didn't mean "all," only that Roger Elliot and Adam Lanza were the first two people that popped into my head when Malidoma Somé made that remark. Again, it was a mere two-hour lecture that touched on many subjects (DO consider the video), so he couldn't go into depth, but I thought: is it possible that they *did* receive a shamanic call, and for reasons we may never know or understand, that call went horribly wrong?

And although I'm not familiar with the Hillman quote (everyone here far outranks me in all things depth psyche) it's cool that you introduced it, because I think it echoes a point Bonnie makes in her essay "The Shadow of Society and its Role in Mass Shootings" -- how impersonality it is to kill from a distance:

"More, by placing a finger on the trigger of such a device that can kill at a distance, it makes us remote–removing ourselves from the human connection. Slater refers to connection between bullets as projectiles and the psychological projections we easily make in blaming others for our failures. The we can’t possibly see rises up, projecting fault and simultaneously seeking to obliterate anything that might be perceived to be linked to our failure, lack of ability to connect, and our corresponding exile to edges of acceptability in a society so focused on success. "

After "Inglorious Basterds" was released I heard Quentin Tarantino tell an NPR reporter that the reason he uses strangulation in his movies is because of its intimacy. He called it the most intimate form of murder, if not for the fact that you're physically holding someone, but that you're looking into your victim's eyes as he or she dies. Removing yourself from human connection, the stupefaction at destruction, the "apocalyptic transformation" these mass shooters seemed to seek as described in their manifestos -- it almost sounds like a psychologically violent ego death, only projected outward instead of within.

I didn't think the story of how you discovered Hillman was crazy at all. I work in IT. Lemme tell ya, I got stories. :P
Comment by Charlotte Knoflicek on June 8, 2014 at 7:51am

I went and looked it up.  My memory isn't too bad.

"Quite different is the transcendent experience of the nuclear fireball.  The emotion is stupefaction at destruction itself rather than a heightened regard for the destroyed.  Nuclear devastation is not merely a deafening cannonade or fire-bombing carried to a further degree.  It is different in kind; archetypally different.  It evokes the apocalytic transformation of  the world into fire, earth ascending in a pillar of cloud, an epiphanic fire revealing the inmost spirit of all things, as in..."

"Or like that passage from the Bhagavad Gita, which came to Oppenheimer when he saw the atomic blast;  

If the radiance of a thousand suns 

were burst at once into the sky

That would be like the splendor of the Mighty one."

"The nuclear imagination leaves the human behind for the worst sin of all:  fascination by the spirit.  Superbia.  The soul goes up in fire.  If the epiphany in battle unveils love of this place and that man and values more than my life, yet bound with this world and its life, the nuclear epiphany unveils the apocalyptic God, a God of extinction, the God-is-dead God, an epiphany of Nihilism."

page 129, Facing Apocalypse

Spring Publication


Comment by Holly Esch on June 7, 2014 at 8:46pm
I'll defer to you on that then. :) Of course he couldn't elaborate fully in a mere two-hour lecture, but if my memory is correct (maybe I'll purchase the video -- I recommend it highly) he said that shamans often begin as psychological cases: people going nuts. "When you're acting crazy, when you've been put on display, you've been touched by the ancestors." Nobody could have predicted that Roger Elliot or Adam Lanza would act out violently, and as countless therapists have pointed out, it's the exception, not the norm, for a "mentally ill" person to commit mass murder. But they *were* acting out. They were shunned because of it. Their parents were at their wits' ends. Again, I'll defer to you on anything shamanic, I'm writing from complete ignorance and I welcome being set straight, but I assumed that shamans confront both the angelic *and* the demonic. Is it not possible that Roger Elliot and Adam Lanza *could* have been "touched by the ancestors" only to be overwhelmed by the darkness, and without proper guidance, surrendered to it?

Unrelated but related...maybe...(logic leap in 3...2...1)...the biography "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer" (GREAT book, highly recommended) mentions Oppenheimer wanting to murder one of his professors while he was an undergraduate. The uncertainty over whether he was serious was strong enough to warrant inclusion in the book. Of course, he didn't. Whatever anger he felt toward this individual he worked through and he went on to become...well...the father of the atomic bomb. People argue that he deserved a Nobel Prize. The darkness can be just as powerful as the light. Who knows who Roger Elliot or Adam Lanza could have been if they emerged from the depths physically and spiritually alive.
Comment by Holly Esch on June 7, 2014 at 3:15pm
Last night in Salt Lake City I had the privilege of attending Malidoma Somé's presentation "Healing The Relationship With The Ancestors." He spoke briefly about how shamans, or those that the ancestors choose to become shamans, often are those that society believes are mentally ill, and we shun them or imprison them in psychiatric institutions rather than recognizing and nurturing their shamanic development.

The first two people I thought about were Roger Elliot and Adam Lanza.

We're a skeptical society that increasingly rejects the mystical. Maybe there's more at stake than simply losing a connection with something outside of ourselves. Maybe it means our lives.

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