Tuesday, February 9 , 2016, 3:30 pm | Partly Cloudy 83º

Erik Talkin: Facing Up to Our Addiction to Guns

By Erik Talkin |

A gun feels good in your hand: The weight, the balance, the way it distills complex marvels of engineering and physics into such a simple, focused function.

Erik Talkin
Erik Talkin

Why do you think they call it a firearm? It is a truly alchemic invention that literally allows “fire” to issue forth from your “arm.” That kind of potential power — so lacking elsewhere in the confusion, uncertainty and humiliation of everyday life — is at the root of our nation’s love of guns.

My father was a U.S. Navy officer, stationed overseas, and as a young teenager I was a member of my school’s army cadet force, where we spent many happy hours cleaning, loading and firing a huge array of automatic and semi-automatic weaponry. I wouldn’t clean up my room — but I would clean a gun. I didn’t want to shoot people, just “shoot stuff up.”

Perhaps this fascination could have become lifelong. In my case, it ended the day I met my first girlfriend — so make of that what you will, Professor Freud. Yet my modest experience with guns suggests to me that a major reason people own them is not to feel safe, or to hunt down their dinner, but to feel a little more powerful in a world that is good at making us feel powerless.

A recent op/ed piece in Noozhawk stated that trying to ban guns would create a fiasco, just like Prohibition. I thought this a revealing statement, because like alcohol, guns are addictive, and if your own relationship with the focus of your addiction is not controlled, it brings misery to both the addict and those around them.

I believe it is not the guns we are addicted to, but rather the way they make the user feel. This addiction has spiraled out of control, aided by: the liberal media, or the National Rifle Association, or the gun manufacturers, or video games or illegal drugs — you can pick your bugbear to point the blame at from anywhere across the political or social spectrum.

If people feel safer with a handgun in their dresser, then they should absolutely have the right to do that. (Personally, I wouldn’t feel safe if I was in someone’s house if they did have a gun, but I guess that is just me.) The real issue is owning assault rifles or semi-automatic weapons with large-capacity magazines that go way beyond the requirements of protecting your loved ones or your flat screen.

I thought we didn’t like weapons of mass destruction in America. I thought we didn’t like terrorism either. We have spent a lot of time and money rooting these things out overseas. But, as we have discovered closer to home in Newtown, Conn., an assault weapon in the hands of a sick person is a weapon of mass destruction that allows acts of terror to occur with numbing frequency.

We can’t legislate against people’s mental state. Most of us at some point in our life will experience a moment of crisis or breakdown, where we feel truly desperate. If there is a semi-automatic weapon sitting in our closet, then that could get dragged into our crisis. We have seen how people can fall prey to the temptation of having their suicidal urge turn murderous, so that their pain can be amplified many times over until the whole world knows about it.

Yes, “people kill people, guns don’t kill people,” yet many of us have a defective safety catch inside us that can temporarily flick from “safe” to “fire” without us ever comprehending why. For these reasons, we need to focus on the simpler part of the equation — the weapons themselves.

Relative to others, America is a young country. Firearms were a vital tool in the beginning of our history. Not any longer. Yet we are reluctant to leave these symbolic tools behind, even though we have grown out of them.

Our country is coming out of a troubled adolescence, and we are discovering our place in the world. We are not as all-powerful as we fantasized during that adolescence, but nevertheless as we move into painful, compromised adulthood, we have an incredible capacity to transform both this country and the entire world into a better place. To succeed, we may have to give up a little bit of freedom (owning weapons that belong in a military armory, not at home) in exchange for freedom from the tyranny of the bullet.

Maybe it is too much for us to go cold turkey on our gun addiction, but we could moderate our habit.

— Erik Talkin is CEO of a Santa Barbara County nonprofit organization, and lives with his wife and children on the Eastside of Santa Barbara.

» on 12.27.12 @ 11:05 PM

I don’t know any gun owners who are “addicted” to guns or shooting them. You may want to have that “feeling” of yours looked into by medical professionals.

» on 12.28.12 @ 11:35 AM

Mr. Talkin, I find your analysis of guns absurd.  Our country delivered itself from England with guns.  Our Civil War began when President Lincoln sent troops to Virginia to let them know that if they seceded from the US there would be a GUN battle.  Slavery, an additional issue, was presented too and GUNS were used over that issue in defending (ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL). 

Our country used GUNS in WWI and WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan etc.  Our country used guns to overthrow other governments and our country’s citizens continues to buy and use guns with regard to our SECOND AMENDMENT RIGHTS!  We, also, have a Constitutional Right not only to bear arms but to have a militia to protect ourselves from invaders and our own government. 

Your simplistic, unprofessional analogy of what you think and how you feel is asinine.  How will you protect yourself or your family when you are confronted by friend or foe when you are defenseless?

Using words of “I believe” and “I feel” do not fit in this equation.  “I think” is legitimate but that’s it. 

You may have cleaned your gun but perhaps you should have cleaned your room and learned some discipline that most gun owners have. You cannot base the horrible murders at Newtown based on one mentally disturbed individual. 

Giving up a little bit of freedom?  Are you mad?  We have been giving up a little freedom for a very long time.  Our government is doing all it can to enslave us all.  Before that happens those of us who have guns will protect our sovereignty and I suppose yours too!

My first rifle number in the USMC was 618018 and I have never forgotten what that number represents to me.  Especially, when in combat in Vietnam.

» on 12.28.12 @ 12:55 PM

Erik, I found your analysis original and thought-provoking.  Thanks for sharing it.  And I apologize for my fellow countrymen who have been acculturated to responding with vitriol to anyone raising any questions about our society’s relationship with guns.  Given that we live in the safest place and time in the history of the world (statistically, for those who respond to facts and data), we do need to begin to explore why we among all civilized societies cling to guns in this way.

» on 12.28.12 @ 01:22 PM

Well SB, I see that you feel I should be more soft spoken in my approach to this issue, but you are mistaken.  Tell the Jews during WWII who were shot dead by the millions, without a second thought or the Poles who Germany overran and slaughtered even though the Poles put up a fight.

Why do you think we are living in the safest era in history?  We have the bigger guns.  Our military alone evidences this statistical information and our military’s posturing evidences this kind of thinking too. 

You have to be naive to believe without the ability to defend yourself that you will not be challenged.

I would prefer that you do not apologize for me but apologize for yourself

» on 12.28.12 @ 01:56 PM

Itm, you are wasting your time responding to the anti gun nuts. They see guns as the reason humans are violent, not as the result. Those that actually do believe human nature to be flawed think the answer is confiscation, containment and acquiescence. As you pointed out, that has never worked and usually results in a worse situation, not a better one.

With 300 million weapons in circulation they will never eradicate them all unless all freedom is abdicated al la Nazi style first. That means there will always be means for some nut case to be a deadly danger.

As someone who served our country, you know far better than I that being prepared for danger is far better than sticking your head in the sand. That being vigilant and aware are much better tools for dealing with danger than ignorance and blind complacency and that personal responsibility is the price for freedom.

Its too bad far too many of our fellow countrymen have become so acculturated to an institutional life of dependency and slavery and now prefer that over freedom.

» on 12.28.12 @ 03:09 PM

Thank you AN50. 

Many of our citizen’s are unaware of our President’s kill list or John McCain and Joe Lieberman’s CISPA, SOPA FISA (Dianne Feinstein), warrantless spying of US citizen’s phone conversations and email, 1000’s of drones now flying over our country spying, our currency that has nothing to back it up but a promise to pay by our Federal Reserve Bank that is privately owned.  Our government is already out of control in so many ways particularly ignoring habeas corpus, ex post facto and freedom of speech. 

When we collapse because our currency will have no value, there will be chaos.  Mr Talkin and like minded folks won’t have to beg for mercy because they will be murdered in their sleep. Our 4th amendment:“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” was voted on yesterday and congress agreed to extend it once again.  Our own Congress putting the screws to all US citizens.  God, there is so much more it is mind boggling. This is my last response to those that do not comprehend.

» on 12.28.12 @ 03:22 PM

There is nothing like a grandiose burst of ego to inspire one to scribe an analysis of history, society, and pimp a tragedy for the sole purpose saying to the world “I am the adult in the room and I’m not one of them.”  Mr. Talkin’s cheap “shots” at gun owners disqualifies his article as serious debate and presents no factual support for his point of view.  He is basically implying nothing more than his own megalomaniac opinion about himself being more mature than those addict gun owners.
Mr. Talkin, implying gun owners are addicts like a crack head is counter intuitive and specious at best.  Such dishonest diatribes prohibit a serious dialog on how to keep guns out of the wrong hands.  The immature statement about finding a girlfriend and losing an interest in firearms is an outright lie and nothing more than another cheap self serving attempt to say to the world “I don’t need a gun to be a man unlike those crazy gun owners.”  The only gun owners that need a gun to be a man are the gangsters and career criminals, but Mr. Talkin left that fact out.  To juxtaposition gun owners with the worst of the worst in society, and avoid the topic of the mentally ill with guns represents a lack of substance and solution in his article.
Personally, I am glad Mr. Talkin doesn’t own a gun.  He is probably careless and subject to fits of anger and uncontrollable outburst like all ego maniacs.  That’s my “Professor Freud” read.

» on 12.28.12 @ 04:32 PM

Nicely written and logical, in so far as it goes. May I suggest that you look at a book titled “On Killing”, by Dave Grossman. He makes a strong case for the natural human abhorrence of killing another human. The military has done a lot of research, and learned that it requires a lot of “programming” to get soldiers to kill before they get killed.

It is rare for ex-military to use firearms off the battlefield. The exceptions are the same as for the non-veterans, where a mental disorder is involved.

Do not take my “book report” as accurate, read it for yourself.

» on 12.28.12 @ 05:07 PM

One has to admit the level of humor this brings up is fun.

Most heads of non-profits view themselves as prophets, and rake in large paychecks in the process.  His position stating we have outgrown a clear threat to dictatorial government; well there you go.

As a vet., and having seen the real problems associated with unchecked government I’ll keep my “toy(?).” 

Oh and just make a further point.  The police in this town seem unwilling or able to curtail open threats to person and property by a known ex-con, thief, drug user/sale, and batterer, who has attacked one of their own.  Want to take a little guess what stopped him and his criminal brood from stepping over the line?

» on 12.29.12 @ 01:02 AM

Frankly, I think that folks like Talkin are motivated mostly by fear (“Personally, I wouldn’t feel safe if I was in someone’s house if they did have a gun”, i.e. all gunowners are nuts) and the certainty that their way is the only way forward. I prefer individal freedom and the individual responsbility that goes with it. 

Reduce crime with right-to-carry laws - check out the states that have done it - if the bad guys know the good guys might be carrying, they think a bit differently. Additional evidence - re an article in LA Times this week, in those areas where names and addresses of gun owners has been published in the media, crime went DOWN in neighborhoods where there were relatively many gun owners.  Mr. Harkin may, when faced with actual data instead of fear, wish to reconsider the matter of his safety when in an armed home.

» on 12.29.12 @ 01:06 AM

I could go on.  Chicago - city with the toughest gun laws in the nation - and the highest murder rate.  California - state with the toughest gun laws in the nation - and top ten in armed crimes. Florida - since the right to carry law went into effect in 1987 (25 years ago) - armed crime against Florida residents dropped while armed crime against tourists rose.

Passing laws may make sense in states where they are lax, but enforcement is much more important.

» on 12.31.12 @ 01:08 AM

Thanks, Mr. Talkin - excellent opinion piece. The hysterical shrieks in the comments to your article only serve to prove your point about the addictive nature of the disease.

As to the LA Times article on the publication of registered gun owner addresses, one study proves nothing, and does not take into account hundreds of other variables affecting local crime rates. A quote from the article (http://www.latimes.com/news/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-newspaper-gun-owners-20121226,0,2883615.story):

“In an email, Acquisti said that, to his knowledge, the study was the first to examine how publicizing the location of guns affected crime rates. He called the issue “extremely complex” and cautioned about making generalizations from one study. Even though he didn’t find evidence that publishing gun owners’ general locations put owners in danger, he said a “lack of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Acquisti said it was an “open question” whether increasingly precise location data, like that published on the Journal News’ website, would affect burglar behavior. The findings don’t clear up a different NRA talking point—that as its top strategist Cox had put it, “The essence of right-to-carry is that in a world where wolves cannot distinguish between lions and lambs, the whole flock is safer.” In other words, instead of claiming gun privacy as a means of protection for those who choose to carry, the lions-and-lambs argument holds that gun privacy protects the general public, including those who don’t own a gun.”

Trying to use local statistics – like the Chicago example - to make general points about the supposed benefits of gun ownership is fallacious. There are too many other variables affecting local crime rates than the one factor of gun control. However, none of Mr. Talkin’s attackers can dispute that gun homicide rates are dramatically lower in other developed, affluent countries - e.g., Japan, the U.K. - where stricter gun control is imposed, and that it is precisely fewer guns in circulation that is responsible for the lower gun homicide rates. It’s a simple numbers game: the proliferation of guns results in more gun homicides.


“The United States has the loosest gun control laws of all developed countries. In the US, there are virtually as many guns as there are people. According to FBI crime statistics, 8,775 of the 12,996 murders that occurred in the U.S. in 2010 were caused by firearms. With a gun being the weapon of choice in so many of the homicides in the United States, consider other countries, with stricter gun control laws, and how murders involving firearms there are much lower.

Japan - In Japan, most kinds of guns are illegal, and almost no one owns a gun. Japan is known as one of the strictest gun controlling nation in the world, with only 0.6 firearms per every 100 people. In 2006, there were only two homicides caused by guns in Japan. In 2008 there were 11. The country has nearly eliminated murder by firearms.

United Kingdom – The rate of private gun ownership in the United Kingdom is 6.72 firearms per 100 people. In 2009, only 18 people were murdered with a firearm. Within the last 14 years, the year with the highest number of gun caused homicides was 2004, with 52 people killed.

Australia – Ranked at No. 25 in comparison of number of privately owned guns in 178 other countries, about 15 out of every 100 Australians owns a firearm. Annual homicide rates involving firearms in the country is relatively low, at 0.1% per every 10,000 in 2009.

Germany – Ranked No. 4, in a comparison of the number of privately owned guns in 178 other countries, approx. 30 out of every 100 people in Germany own a firearm. Germany experiences far fewer gun related homicides annually than the United States. In 2010, there was a total of 158 homicides committed with a firearm.

United States – The United States is ranked at No. 1 for civilian gun ownership in comparison with all other industrialized countries. There are approximately 88.8 firearms for every 100 people in the U.S. In the past 14 years, the year with the greatest number of homicides caused by a firearm occurred in 2006, when 10,225 people were killed by the use of a gun. Annual firearm suicides within the United States are high as well. In 2005, 17,002 suicides were committed using a firearm.

The United States far surpasses other countries in terms of gun related violence and death. The numbers above tend to indicate that fewer gun-related homicides is a direct result of stricter gun control laws. A particular quote by Benjamin Franklin says, “Anyone who will trade freedom for security deserves neither.” Although the freedoms enjoyed in this country must be protected and upheld, statistics show that personal security within the United States is greatly hampered by lenient gun control laws.”

John Douglas

» on 01.22.13 @ 11:08 PM

Mr. Talkin it sounds like your initial infatuation with guns had less to do with liking guns and more to do with being insecure as a young man. It also appears to me that you don’t trust yourself now with a gun around you. That’s fair and I commend you for your restraint. I fundamentally disagree with the rest of your article however.

I would like to respond to three comments/ideas you put forth.

First, the only thing alcohol prohibition and gun prohibition have in common is that they are terrible ideas.

Second, by attempting to take guns out of peoples hands you are indeed trying to legislate their mental state.

Third, in response to your last comment about giving up liberty for supposed safety I give you one of the greatest men America has ever known. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” -Benjamin Franklin 1775

» on 02.12.13 @ 09:05 PM

Mr. Talkin,
I would highly recommend that you study the writings of the founding father and their contemporaries so that you can understand the true purpose of the 2nd amendment.
The right to keep and bear arms is not about self defense alone but the ability of the people to defend themselves against a tyrannical government.
Thus, it is absolutely necessary for “we the people” to have military type weapons.
Yes, that means that our constitution guarantees out right to rebel against the government if it violates the constitution.

» on 03.06.13 @ 09:28 PM

I sincerely hope you will use your platform to loudly protest the proposal to place a Drone Operation in Ventura County.  These are the ultimate guns.  We don’t need to be spied upon or attacked from the air by our own government.  If the government uses the drone against one citizen, it is a threat to every citizen.  Once this genie is out of the bottle, it will never go back.

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