Gun Violence: The Psychology of Errant Behavior Essay

There has been a recent phenomenon of gun violence in the United States. The wake of this violence has been such a real shock to the society as spate of violence has seen innocent and defenseless victims succumb to perpetrators’ psychological disturbance. It was indeed disturbing when the next victims of gun violence were increasingly becoming schoolchildren. In some incidences, the perpetrators have shot indiscriminately at young learners before shooting themselves. Such incidences have necessitated discussions in gun policy and school safety programs. While the wider society has expressed a desire for authorities to respond appropriately for the safety of children, there is a standoff on the best political approach. The Obama administration has favored a policy towards gun control, but the Republicans do not approve of such measures as the best solution to the problem. Even so, it appears that the best solution to gun violence behavior should lie in understanding the motivation for such behavior. This paper will analyze gun violence as a social problem, which is a product of behavior maladjustment.

Literature Review on Gun Violence as a Social Problem

Various scholars have made an effort to offer various explanations and motivation for gun violence. Together, such perspectives, opinions and studies make up the psychology of gun violence. In an analysis of gun violence as a social problem, scholars such as Carl Fisher and Jeffery Lieberman (2013) have examined the issue through the prism of mental stability. The scholars argue that a correlation between gun violence and mental illness is inevitable. According to them, gun violence is indeed a public health issue. Fisher and Lieberman affirm that although there are some correlation between gun violence and mental illness, such close correlations have been exaggerated out of misconceptions. They agree that persons with mental disorder pose potential threat, as they cannot rationalize their actions. Even so, they contend that mental illness is the major cause of gun violence. The researcher argue that it is not always the case that people with mental illness are able to orchestrate what appears to be well-planned gun violence. It is important to note that the researchers, nevertheless, point out that certain mental disorders such as depression and bipolar have been noted to be responsible for some spate of violence. The researchers offer a proposal that the society should consider clinical care as a solution for reducing gun violence. Their position is informed by an analysis that treatment of mental illness has been observed to reduce the risk of violence by mentally unstable individuals. They argue that there is the need for the society to promote mental health treatment. According to them, this will help reduce cases of violence, suicide and murders. Their concern is that in the past, there have been a high number of gun-related suicides whereas the present case is that of gun-related homicides. The sudden shift in the pattern of gun violence, they observe, necessitates an urgent measure.

Research by Hong, Cho and Lee (2010) present an observation that gun violence is a problem that goes beyond ethnicity and race. Hong et al. note that whereas many incidences of gun violence had involved white suburban teenage boys, the context of gun violence remains largely unpredictable. They give an example of the Columbine incidence in which the perpetrator was a South Korean immigrant student. In fear or reprieve, the Korean community sent various emails advising one another on how to deal with a potential hostile response. The authors analyze gun violence through the perspective of ecological systems theory. They note that there may be various reasons for violent behaviors, gun violence included. Hong et al. argue that several emotional problems at tender age may be responsible for violence in the latter stage of life. For instance, they offer that where there is a strong parent-child relationship, the child always feels that he/she has a protector. Consequently, children from such backgrounds are less likely to be violent. However, they observe that the reverse may hold for latter violence in a person’s behavior. They authors argue that a child who has grown with little or no parental love may make a violent individual as they have learned that they have learned the hard way how to defends themselves. The authors also argue that prolonged peer victimization may make a person resort to violence out of frustrations. They claim that gun violence may be a random behavior that develops out of perceived victimization by everyone. In what appears to back the findings of Fisher and Lieberman, Hong et al also note that barriers to mental health services are also cause for gun violence. According to Hong and others, language is a cultural barrier for many Asian immigrants. These communities face lack of information on where and how they can access mental health services. The researchers conclude that there are many complexities to understanding the psychology of gun violence. They offer that policy makers should consider such variants in their entirety to that they may find a working solution and appropriate approaches.
On the other hand, a research by Babat David sees that the spate of gun violence has risen owing to over-focus on blacks as the potential source of gun violence. The author notes that when gun control legislation was passed, it concentrated much on preventing African-Americas from acquiring guns. He offers that the psychology then was that African-Americans were thought to be exceedingly irrational. He observes that at the time the Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968, the environment was pensive owing to various demonstrations by blacks. In such demonstrations, blacks marched in the public with some of them holding guns. In effect, the act was passed primarily to control blacks. Consequently, he offers that the climate has since changed and the law should be revisited. In essence, David argues that the current state of gun violence is a product of bad law (David, 2009).

While others have focused on the psychology of gun violence, Nickitas (2013) focuses on the power of the electorates to elect leaders who will affect the much-needed changes on gun law. She supports Obama’s position that the Congress should amend the current law to address the current issue. She observes that the issue has become quite a concern for many Americans. Consequently, she argues that civic leaders should treat the issue with the serious that it deserves. She urges the citizens to take an active part in debates that define the direction of public policy in the country. Like Nickitas (2013), Ron Carlee (2013) observes that there is a need to take precaution. He observes that although the recent spate of violence has targeted minors in schools, the fact that violence has gone institutional necessitates a broad range of measures. He manager should take appropriate steps to ensure that incidences of gun violence are minimal. He offers a series of steps as a plan for mitigating the situation as a precautionary measure.
In averting the current social problem of gun violence, one may analyze various errant behaviors through the prism of Skinner’s Operant Conditioning. In Skinner’s theory, behavior modification is possible through a number of ways. The scholar mentions that when an individual has exhibited a particular behavior, rewarding the behavior reinforces the behavior. On the other hand, the behavior may be discouraged through punishment. In this theory, Skinner forwards that reinforcement and punishment are very critical for behavior modification. In relation to how to respond to gun violence, Skinner’s theory would most appropriately apply in relation to prevention measures and responses in the aftermath. Actually, the legal system seems to apply Skinner’s theory in practice. One may notice that when perpetrators of gun violence who are not mentally ill are apprehended, being imprisoned is a negative reinforcement for the behavior. Consequently, the legal system should not be lenient with perpetrators as way to discourage gun violence and positive reinforcement.

An evaluation of Skinner’s theory in relation gun violence reveals the following. Taking away freedom from such offenders is a negative reinforcement (Skinner in Blackman and Pellon, 1993). For those with mental illness (Fisher and Lieberman, 2013), one may say that clinical treatment is a negative reinforcement against the likelihood of being violent. Such a treatment discourages the probability of violent behavior by bringing an individual to a rational state. On the other hand when one reports victimization (Hong et al., 2010), authorities should respond appropriately. This way, they authorities acting will be seen as a positive reinforcement for victims not to take the law into their hands.

This is because they will be satisfied with the power of the law to protect them. If they are ignored upon reporting violent behaviors against them, they will only be encouraged to be violent in return as a coping mechanism. Ignoring such reports will be negative reinforcement. On the other hand, if such victims report and they are promised actions that they do not see, eventually they will stop reporting and respond in their own ways. This will be the extinction of the reinforced behavior. All other cases should be discouraged with legal action as a negative reinforcement.
In conclusion, one may observe that gun violence is social problem that is a result of individual behavioral maladjustment and other conditions. It is not possible to generalize gun violence along ethnic, gender or age categories. Probably the only common denominator with all gun violence incidences is that there is some element of irrationality. There is a need to come up with an appropriate policy that may mitigate the issue of gun violence. This paper teaches gun violence and violence in the society is not an issue that sprouts out of nowhere. There are factors and conditions that brood such violence. Various scholars have proposed several causes and solutions for the problem. Where possible, one should help avoid propagating conditions that would lead to violence such as peer victimization. One should also encourage people to report issues to authorities rather than resort to violence. This paper also teaches the ethics of decision making to readers, particularly with reference to gun control act of 1968.

This paper has found out that the psychology of errant behavior is that behavior is motivated by different internal and external factors.


  • Blackman, D.E., and Pellon, R. (1993). The contributions of B.F. Skinner to the interdisciplinary science of behavioral pharmacology. British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 84 (1).
  • Carlee, R. (2013). Gun Violence: It Can Happen Anywhere. Public Management April 2013.
  • David, B. (2009). The Discriminatory History of Gun Control. Senior Honors Projects. Paper 140.
  • Fisher, C.E., and Lieberman, J.A. (2013). Getting the Facts Straight About Gun Violence and Mental Illness: Putting Compassion Before Fear. Ann Intern Med, 159:423-424.
  • Hong et al. (2010). Revisiting the Virginia Tech Shootings: An Ecological Systems Analysis. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 15:561–575.
  • Nickitas, D.M. (2013). With Our Voices and Our Votes: Advocating Gun Control. Nursing Economics, March-April 2013a.
  • Reeher, G. and Mack M. (2002). The Insider’s Guide to Political Internships. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.
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