Revolvers vs. Auto-Loaders – What They Didn’t Teach You In Your Concealed Cary Course.

I don’t often write about firearms training, even though its been a big part of my adult life. But, people who know me expect me to do it. I guess this blog started off as a way to keep from being a one-trick pony. I wanted to write about random thoughts, advice, travel, and other things that would surprise most people who do know me well. I also wanted to write about things that wouldn’t bore people who’re attempting to read my blogs. 

Technical writing is for technical people; people who are searching for knowledge, not entertainment. I’ve written technical pieces most of my life. This is definitely a technical piece of writing – warning, you may get bored if you’re not interested in the topic. With the proper warnings having been made, I hope you enjoy my perspectives on the pro’s and con’s of handgun types….

In every attempt, past or present, to contrast the differences between semi-automatic handguns and revolvers, the inevitable arguments over function superiority arise. Much like the arguments over political affiliations, there are those who will always refuse to acknowledge even the most obvious and objective criticisms, especially when holding tight to long standing beliefs. In a distinct comparison such as this article, it is impossible to paint an accurate picture of each individual pro and/or con that is not void of some important contributing factor such as how the weapon will be used (i.e., target shooting or self-defense), and who will be using them (i.e., experienced or inexperienced shooters). With modern online forums these days, there is even a great deal of subjectivity concerning the issue of experience and inexperience. So, let’s skip the ego-centric BS and just get right to the issue.

My background gives me a unique perspective on the situation due to the fact that I began my law enforcement career during a time where revolvers still dominated as the standard police issue firearm. I became very proficient with the revolver and I still have a lot of love for quality made revolvers to this day. Within the span of five years, let’s say around 1988-1989’ish, law enforcement began transitioning to the issuance of the semi-auto handgun. I had begun my career with an S&W Model 66, chambered for .38 Special, and had recently graduated to the S&W Model 686 (.357 Magnum) when I got my first department issue autoloader, a Browning Hi-Power chambered for 9mm Luger. Although I attended my Firearms Instructor School with an autoloader, it was still early enough in the evolution of police issue firearms that the revolver was still widely used and issued. Several of my Instructor Development classmates still carried revolvers in 1989.

My career took the direction of Drug Enforcement so my weapon choices became somewhat tailored to that profession and suddenly I was being issued two sidearms, a primary and a backup. Over the course of my law enforcement career, I carried the Browning Hi-Power, the Sig Sauer(s) P226 9mm, P228 9mm, P229 .40 cal, P220 .45 ACP, and the P230 .380. I also carried the Glock 19, the S&W Mod(s) 67 .38 Spec., 686 .357 Mag., 629 9mm, 645 .45 ACP, and the Berretta Model 92F. Not to leave you completely in the dark, I will say that I did experience one weapon malfunction during my career with my 1st Generation Glock 19, an incident that was duty related, that I’ll admit was mostly caused by human error exacerbated by certain physical characteristics of the 1st Gen. weapon.

The same malfunction would likely not occur with the modern Gen. 4 version of that handgun but it’s a scenario that is difficult to replicate in a non-deadly force environment because our available motor skills work differently in non-stress training versus high stress/life or death incidents. While it took me several years to be brave enough to carry another Glock, I eventually summoned the courage to do it after my partner Tony and my wife conspired to buy me a birthday Glock and I’m happy they did. My go-to handgun of choice, still today though, is my Sig Sauer P226 – like an old friend I guess.

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With that out of the way, let’s move on to the evaluation. We will primarily be discussing and evaluating the issues of reliability, maintenance, and accuracy. Handgun features such as rounds capacity, caliber, and grip size, etc., are all important considerations in the handgun selection process. That said, I will be assuming here that you, the reader, already understand those more commonly accepted attributes; foregoing those conversations for a later time and leaving room to explore and focus on what I consider to be the real meat and potatoes of handgun type selection. Within is an illustration of what I consider to be the most important aspects of the individual operational pros and cons of both revolvers and auto-loading handguns. This includes my thoughts on reliability, maintenance, and accuracy, as well as my opinions on the weight I feel each of these features carry into the overall equations of where I hope you will rank them.

The majority of quarrels made between gun enthusiasts for either side of this common disagreement center around the issue of reliability. So it is this issue of reliable function that should be the focus of this process. There are some commonly held beliefs that should first be explored. In fact, it is generally taught that revolvers are more reliable and much simpler designs that semi-autos. Let us closely examine the complete issue of reliability and design-simplicity in order to challenge this conventional wisdom and also to professionally evaluate the level of subjectivity existing in the opinions we hold so confidently. If it’s true, let’s explain why it’s true; if not, let us accurately discern what actually is true.

Conversely, is it simplicity of use or simplicity of design that are being discussed when speaking about the revolver? These two features are definitely not the same thing and both qualities should be carefully studied.

Reliability – Common Malfunctions

First, let’s look closely at typical and non-typical handgun malfunctions. We can break them down into two distinct types or categories; jams and stoppages. A jam is a major malfunction that ties the gun up so tight that there is no way that the shooter can swiftly restore the weapon to its functional state. A stoppage, however, is a minor malfunction that can be quickly and easily cleared by the shooter in seconds, using only his or her hands – restoring the weapon to an operational condition.

Jams are usually caused by breakages, tolerance issues, lack of maintenance and operational limitations. They can also be caused by human error. Stoppages on the other hand are almost always caused by either human error or ammunition malfunctions. Stoppages can sometimes also be caused by worn or poorly maintained equipment.

A jam in a deadly force confrontation would spell disaster. A stoppage might cause the shooter a slight delay but if you train properly and include stoppage drills in your training scenarios, a stoppage could simply be a hiccup in a deadly force encounter that may not affect the outcome whatsoever.

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Common Semi-Auto Malfunctions

The most common problems that occur with auto-loaders are stoppages. The reason for this is actually pretty simple. Auto-loaders require that the shooter do his/her part; becoming part of the machine itself so-to-speak. Revolvers are different in that way and do not require the shooter to do anything other than hold it and pull the trigger. The shooter of a semi-auto, by virtue of a firm grip, provides the resistance needed for the weapons recoil spring to do its job. A shooter actually has to hold the semi-auto properly and with a firm grip or the recoil spring will not function as it is engineered to do.

Novice shooters experience far more stoppages than experienced shooters because they rarely understand the mechanical relationship between the semi-automatic handgun and its marksman. One must know that the resistance you provide by having a firm grip is actually engineered into the functional design of the firearm.  Stoppages caused by poor grips account for the vast majority of the most common semi-auto handgun malfunctions.

Gripping the semi-auto improperly can result in the slide not moving rearward far enough to pick up the next available round in the magazine. Upon firing a round already chambered, the slide moves rearward and returns to battery ejecting the spent round (sometimes not fully) but without picking up and loading the next round of ammunition from the magazine. The gun is thereby rendered inoperable unless the shooter manually cycles a round from the magazine using his/her hand by pulling or moving the slide all the way rearward and releasing the slide to return to battery loaded.

Another common stoppage in an auto-loader is a failure of the extractor to fully extract the spent round. Sometimes the spent case returns to the chamber of the barrel and sometimes it will be left sandwiched inside the ejection port between the rear of the port opening and the barrel. In either case, the shooter must firmly and quickly pull the slide rearward then abruptly let go, which allows the spent cartridge to be expelled from the weapon and for a new round to be loaded into the chamber.

Added to that, I often see people pull the slides rearward on their semi-auto handguns and gently allow the slide to move forward into battery with a live round – loading the handgun. This, in rare cases, can sometimes put the handgun into a condition whereby the slide is not fully seated into battery. If it’s not, nothing will happen when you pull the trigger. The spring tension of that slide is engineered perfectly to return that slide into battery so use that engineering to your advantage. When loading the weapon, pull the slide all the way rearward and just let it go. This is the best way to ensure that the slide returns fully into battery.

Another problem for semi-autos that can occur is when a magazine becomes old and the magazine spring begins to lose its tension. Revolvers, of course, do not have magazines which can be dropped and bent or which stay loaded under tension and unused for months or years at a time. In this condition, a sprung magazine spring can lack sufficient power to lift the next round into position quickly enough for the slide to pick up the next round and property seat it into the chamber. Either the round stays in the magazine or the tip (bullet end) of the cartridge rotates up from the magazine and the slide drives it forward perpendicular to the barrel throat and feed ramp.

Jams and mechanical problems are very rare with quality-made autoloaders and some makes of auto-loading handguns such as the H&K P7 unequivocally state that their unique blow-back operated semi-auto action can actually continue to function reliably with a broken extractor. That weapon of course carries a very high price tag. There are, of course, dozens of individual parts, pins, and springs in both revolvers and auto-loaders; some moving and some non-moving. That said, any of those parts have the potential of breaking or becoming dislodged from the weapon due to recoil or abuse. Broken parts are among the rarest of all weapon malfunctions.

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Speaking of extractors, a serious but very rare condition for a semi-auto handgun will be a broken extractor which normally leaves the weapon incapable of extracting a spent cartridge. The weapon may try to load another round into the back of a spent round causing a malfunction which cannot always be repaired simply or without the help of an armorer or gunsmith. Most of the time, it is a simple stoppage, but these can rarely jam up the action.

Extractors are essentially spring loaded hooks which claw around the rim of a chambered round of ammunition upon the slide∣bolt being closed against it (in battery). Then, upon firing and the subsequent rearward movement of the slide∣bolt, pulls the fired case from the chamber rearward until the empty case comes into contact with the ejector which pushes the opposite side of the case while the extractor, still pulling, causes the empty case to be flipped or ejected from the weapon by means of the ejection port on the slide. That said, extractors have springs which can, over time, lose their tension causing the ejector to lose its reliability.

Another rare cause of weapon malfunction is a broken firing pin. Of course, firing pins do break occasionally in both the revolver and the semi-auto but broken firing pins are exceedingly rare malfunctions for either of these weapon types. Another rare malfunction which is equally common with both handgun types are broken or weakened main springs. The result of which causes the hammer to either not function at all or to strike the firing pin so lightly that the ammunition primer is not ignited. It is far more common for these springs to be intentionally shortened or filed down by novice gunsmiths, so as to lighten the double-action trigger pull on revolvers and semi-auto’s, and unintentionally render the weapon un-serviceable or unreliable than it is for the spring to break or loosen on its own.

As I initially stated, auto-loading handguns are commonly touted as being more complex machines than revolvers. Is this true? As we move to examine the common revolver malfunctions, let’s put this one away for now and pick it back up after we more closely examine the revolver.

Common Revolver Malfunctions

Now that we have learned the difference between a jam and stoppage, can you now see the significance in defining them in the way I have done? As I move into the realm of the revolver malfunction I think you will clearly see that most revolver malfunctions tend to be actual jams instead of simple stoppages. There is a very good reason for this too. Revolvers are more prone to jams due primarily to the fragility and close mechanical tolerances of the revolver mechanisms.

The swing out cylinder of the double-action revolver is, by its very nature, a somewhat fragile and finely fitted instrument; so, the alignment of the revolver’s cylinder, crane, yoke, and ejector rod must be perfect or the action will bind up. A blow to the gun that probably wouldn’t affect an auto-loader, such as accidentally dropping it on a hard surface, could easily spring a revolver’s cylinder in the crane, rendering it completely un-serviceable. Many police officers have had the occasion to use their side arms as field-expedient night sticks in years past, and revolvers are notorious for being seriously damaged after that kind of treatment. It sounds horrible on paper but when you’re fighting for your life, you do what you gotta do.

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Minute sized grains of gunpowder or brass shavings from spent cartridges in one or more of the chambers, a high primer on an unfired round, or an over-long cartridge can all create a condition of insufficient headspace that will bind a revolvers cylinder so badly that it will take a few whacks with a rubber mallet just to open the action. One of the most common revolver malfunctions, a shell casing stuck under the extractor star, is a jam that requires tools, time, and a great deal of patience to clear.

When fouling from gunpowder residue begins to accumulate inside the finely fitted revolver mechanism, tolerances swiftly plunge below operational levels. For instance, powder buildup on the front of the cylinder and the forcing cone will cause the two pieces to drag against each other, interfering with cylinder rotation. Grains of powder in the crane/yoke area can prevent the action from being closed. Fouling in the chambers can prevent rounds from fully chambering which can create a condition of insufficient headspace that will not allow the weapon’s cylinder to rotate.

Have you ever watched an action movie where the hero loads the cylinder of his trusty blue-steel companion then abruptly swings shut the cylinder with a flick of his hairy armed wrist? Most of you probably have; if you’re old enough to be interested in the revolver/semi-auto article you’re reading right now. Well, in so doing, the hero could likely have bent the crane and caused the cylinder to be out of time. He might even have gotten some lead shavings in his face while firing at the bad guys 12 times with his 6 shot pistol – you know, the one with the silencer.

When we were talking about those pesky parts of the semi-auto that don’t exist in the revolver such as the extractor, you revolver fans may have had a moment of relaxation but the revolver has important parts too, also not found on the semi-auto’s, such as the cylinder hand which can and sometimes does break or become damaged which would cause the cylinder not to be rotated into the proper alignment. A potential nightmare. Another tiny little unseen part is the cylinder stop which pops up into the cylinder detent as the cylinder rotates into the correct alignment with the forcing cone, stopping its rotation.

Either of these two tiny little parts will render the revolver unsafe to fire and could kill, blind or maim its operator. All of the above conditions either result in a weapon jam, not a stoppage, OR more importantly, create a very dangerous operational condition.

Ammunition Malfunctions

Ammunition malfunctions cannot be predicted, although you can lower the risk of having an ammunition malfunction by just buying quality manufactured defense loads instead of buying or making your own reloads. Personally, I reload all my precision rifle ammunition and my plinking handgun ammo but I never reload nor do I purchase defense handgun ammo. Not only do I never shoot reloads through my defense-use handguns, I also never use low-powered target ammunition. I practice with the same ammunition that I carry in my handgun – in order that I don’t inadvertently create a variable that trains my hands and brain to expect one thing, knowing up front that it will be different in a gunfight. Gun-fighting and training, even advanced defense training, are immensely different things. We can talk more about that in another article.

The three types of ammunition malfunctions are misfires (a bad round that does not detonate), hang fires (a round that has a delayed detonation) and squib loads (an under-powered round that has enough power to push the bullet into the barrel but not enough power to push the bullet all the way through and out of the barrel). Neither are desirable in any circumstance or weapon but in the case of the revolver, I personally believe there is a higher inherent danger present to the shooter when any of these malfunctions occur, principally during a gunfight.

Misfires

In training, if you have a misfire it’s no big deal right? I say that because you simply wait it out, ensuring that it’s not a hang fire, then either eject the bad round from your semi-auto and continue or continue firing the rest of your cylinder on your revolver, potentially trying to fire the misfired round once again – and sometimes the misfire will detonate on the second attempt. In a gunfight though, a misfire is not little thing.

With your semi-auto, you must quickly rack the slide rearward to manually eject the misfire, let go of the slide to reload the next round and continue. In the gunfight, however, you have no choice but to quickly dispense of the situation which could result in the misfire becoming a hang fire – and an out-of-chamber ammunition detonation resulting. An injury, especially an eye injury, could easily occur in that scenario.

For you revolver fans, the gunfight misfire in your revolver is either far more dangerous or nothing at all. Instead of ejecting the misfire like the semi-auto, you just keep shooting which will rotate the cylinder to the next round. If the misfire becomes a hang fire, it will detonate inside a confined cylinder – exacerbating the explosive power of the detonation, and the projectile (bullet) has nowhere to go. The gun is likely coming apart; you may lose the use of your hand or be blinded or worse. Or, if it truly is a misfire, nothing happens at all and you simply continue shooting. The training misfire is nothing; the gunfight misfire is governed by luck and karma.

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Squib Loads

In the case of a squib load, the revolver shooter could easily and inadvertently fire a round into the rear of a bullet lodged partway inside the barrel. Of course the shooter of an auto-loader potentially could also fire a live round into the back of a squibbed bullet but there is a strong chance that an under-powered squib load fired from a semi-auto would not have been powerful enough to push the slide of the auto-loader rearward far enough to pick up the next live round from the magazine, thus negating that argument. The determining factor is whether or not we’re talking about training or gun fighting. The revolver guy/gal is far more likely, shooting quickly in the life/death scenario, to drive another round into a squibbed bullet than the semi-auto guy/gal.

The autoloader, in this same squibbed scenario, is in one of the few circumstances where the semi-auto handgun will become useless but not inoperable. If it produces an underpowered detonation, it is highly likely that the semi-auto’s slide will not travel far enough rearward to either properly eject the spend cartridge case or strip a live round from the magazine and reload the weapon. In that case, it produces a stoppage and an unsafe condition.

If miraculously, the slide does eject the spent cartridge and loads a live round, it will neither produce a stoppage nor a jam, it just produces a condition that is dangerous as hell. What makes a squib load a squib load is that the round is typically loaded with too little or ANY gunpowder. This causes the bullet to be fired without the requisite energy for it to travel the full length of the barrel. Subsequently, it gets lodged inside the barrel, creating a problem for the subsequent round. Rarely too, a squib could be caused by a degraded powder charge or bad or compromised primer that doesn’t produce a proper powder ignition.

Hang Fires

Similarly, a hang fire would render an auto-loader unsafe if he/she were to manually eject the round, believing it to be a misfire, then the round detonate outside of the weapon. As we discussed with the misfire above, the situation with the revolver is far worse because the detonation would occur while that ammunition is still chambered in the cylinder. The revolver then becomes a pipe-bomb in your hand. While the hang fire scenario is never a good thing for either weapon type, and both could result in some type of injury, the revolver hang fire consequence could be far worse.

Auto-loaders are susceptible to malfunctions based solely on bad ammunition and any malfunction will stop the gun from functioning. Revolvers, however, will continue to function flawlessly with an ammunition malfunction. The only scenario where you benefit is a revolver with a misfire. I personally would much prefer that my weapon stop me from doing something stupid when an ammunition malfunction occurs, especially considering that these malfunctions in auto-loaders are predominantly simple stoppages which can easily and quickly be corrected.

All that said, contemporary ammunition malfunctions are becoming a thing of the past unless you are buying and shooting a great deal of reloads, but when you really put some thought into the whole “only as reliable as your ammo” argument that we are prone to employ, one has to ponder whether or not you’re better off with a gun which will flawlessly fail under those circumstances. We can always train ourselves to clear stoppages quickly. It’s difficult to train yourself to react to a serious injury.

Care, Cleaning & Maintenance

What about regular care, cleaning, and maintenance? What are the primary issues of reliability for both handgun types that can be directly attributed to firearm maintenance and regular care? For the record, a person should clean their handguns every time they fire them regardless of whether it is a revolver or an autoloader. You should also clean them in regularly occurring intervals such as once per quarter to ensure they are not rusting or accumulating dust and/or debris to ensure that the weapon will function properly when it is needed. However, there are some specific issues relating to the revolver and autoloader that I want to share.

Revolvers are particularly sensitive to the accumulation of fouling. Much more sensitive than a typical auto-loader. The revolver, by its design, is like a Swiss watch; it’s a finely tuned and fitted machine with very close tolerances. Any amount of drag or resistance in the area of the cylinder and forcing cone will interfere with cylinder rotation. Additionally, the chambers in the cylinder are prone to fouling as well. When this type of fouling is allowed to accumulate, it becomes difficult to extract spent casings from the cylinder which increases reloading time. This type of fouling can also make it difficult or impossible to fully chamber a live round inside the cylinder chambers which can leave the cartridge case rim slightly protruded. In most cases, the protrusion would leave insufficient head-space for the cylinder to properly rotate. That condition also puts more pressure on the cylinder hand, compromising its ability to rotate the cylinder correctly.

In contrast, an auto-loader can be fired for many more rounds before cleaning than a revolver before excessive fouling interferes with normal functioning. Auto-loaders are a closed system. There are no open gaps between the chamber and forcing cone like on a revolver. Therefore most of the fouling occurs inside the barrel of an auto-loader or out the end of the barrel. On the contrary, revolvers have an air gap where the bullet jumps from the cylinder’s chamber to the barrel’s forcing cone. When a revolver is fired, hot gasses carrying burnt and unburnt powder along with lead particles exit the gun from that air gap and coat the front of the cylinder and forcing cone with residue. That residue builds up over time and will cumulatively contribute to a malfunction sooner or later.

Being a partner of a private firing range and a firearms instructor for 25+ years, I personally witness and I am guilty myself of firing between eight hundred to a thousand rounds of ammunition through autoloaders without any cleaning and generally experience no problems or malfunctions whatsoever. You would be very lucky to get two-hundred rounds through a revolver without experiencing some type of operational irregularity.

All that said, if you leave a revolver in your car collecting dust and never use it or clean it for a couple years, it is highly likely that you can quickly retrieve it from your glove box and deploy it flawlessly in a defense situation. In comparison, your semi-auto left in the same condition, especially with a fully loaded magazine, has the potential of losing magazine spring tension. The first round will probably be fine but who knows if a second round will chamber.

While the revolver does seem to handle neglect fairly well, it is far less able to survive abuse, which is the primary reason auto-loaders were adopted by most of the world’s armies early in our previous century. In my opinion, the auto-loader is far superior in this category due to its near indestructibility and propensity to keep functioning long after the revolver would be rendered unusable.

Accuracy

In spite of all of this, accuracy tends to be the great equalizer of handguns. Most, but not all, auto-loading handguns have a floating barrel that rocks back and tilts the feed ramp of the barrel downward while in rear battery which helps in feeding and chambering a new live-round. This very small amount of potential movement along with a typically stronger and stiffer trigger pull create a more challenging condition for auto-loading handguns to be fired as accurately as revolvers. Revolvers have fixed, and in most cases longer, barrels with crisp and light trigger pulls. These features allow revolver’s to possess a higher degree of accuracy over that of most auto-loaders. It also becomes especially important if the weapon is used more for target practice or competition rather than for self-defense.

Another aspect of accuracy can be directly attributed to grip. A proper grip for an auto-loading handgun requires the shooter to actually become part of the machine itself. If the shooter holds or grips the weapon too loosely, the slide will not travel rearward far enough to pick up the next round from the magazine – returning to battery with an empty chamber. The shooter must provide the resistance required to make that machine operation work properly. That same increased hand pressure, for some, undermines finger dexterity. Fortunately, this is a situation that can be helped through experience and training.

In comparison, the revolver is a machine that only relies on the shooter to make it fire ACCURATELY. Thus, the revolver can be fired with a much more relaxed and less tense grip while the auto-loader will not work unless the shooter uses a firm grip. Some novice shooters have a difficult time learning the difference from a firm grip and a death grip, which can also lead to inaccuracy.

Subsequently, the revolver is a much easier gun to learn and manipulate. Its design renders it a weapon which can be easily deployed and fired by novices. Quite a few women, generally having less hand strength, have a difficult time manipulating the slide of an auto-loader as some models, especially the smaller and more concealable versions, have very tight recoil springs. Thus, the revolver has gained a reputation of simplicity. Sometimes people misunderstand or misinterpret what that simplicity really means and mistake the weapon as being more simplistic than an auto-loader.

Going back to that original question, is the revolver really a more simple machine design? In my opinion no. If you research exploded diagrams and parts lists for most modern revolvers and auto-loaders, what you will find is that revolvers typically have significantly higher numbers of parts than the typical auto-loaders. And that number includes the magazines which usually have four separate parts each. An example would be a classic Colt 1911 which has 51 total parts while a Smith & Wesson model 19 has 93 total parts. If you compare only the moving parts, the revolvers still exceed the number of moving parts than in a typical auto-loader.

That said, I still believe that though the revolver is a much more complex machine, the learning curve to fire it accurately is shorter for most people. Revolvers are very simplistic to use and fire but they are incredibly complex and fragile machines. Auto-loaders, however, require more training to fire properly but are in essence very simplistic designs with fewer moving parts. It is this phenomenon that encourages folks to believe that the revolver design itself is simpler and that less can go wrong with a revolver. I hope we have put that issue to rest.

Usability

In the beginning of this article I said I would forgo discussions about rounds capacity, caliber, and grip size to move on the “meat and potatoes” and I believe I have. When you forgo a discussion on rounds capacity you also leave out the obvious which is the autoloaders feature of multiple loaded magazines which give the autoloader a distinct advantage in firepower and ease of reloading.

But, those are the most obvious features and frankly get written about incessantly. What I intended to offer in this article were the less known and discussed pros and cons which address the reliability and usability of each pistol type. I hope I have done that.

In closing, both revolver’s and auto-loading handguns have their place in contemporary times. Each have their strengths and weaknesses and each can certainly fit the needs and requirements of most gun owners. It is important, however, to know the limits of your weapon of choice. Each system has its inherent deficits and vulnerabilities and each has unique performance characteristics.

Guns that cost more are just like toilet paper that costs more. It does the job better and keep your hands looking good. If you are rappelling off a 600’ cliff, would you buy a rope on sale at a flea market or would you research the best ropes, made specifically for rappelling, and buy that one instead? If my life hangs on the rope, you better believe I’m going for the best rope I can buy. Gun selection is about making the same choices and so is ammunition selection. If it is your life or the lives of your family that motivate you to own a firearm, then please choose wisely.

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The Psychology Of Police Misconduct 

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Television media has become obsessed with reporting the failures of law enforcement lately. As much as I want to believe that the media is cultivating this anti-police sentiment, law enforcement officers across this country continue to surprise me with growing numbers of critical incidents where innocent civilians, sometimes children, die at the hands of men and women hired and trained to protect them. In responding especially to incidents with men and boys of color, many mistakes continue to be made which convolute and confuse those of us who believe in our men and women in blue.

These are different times we now live in. The majority of people today are carrying around high-definition video cameras in their pockets. Civil litigation against our police doesn’t really punish bad cops, it punishes taxpayers. Video recordings mean that no longer will our cops get that benefit of doubt in court; no longer will they get those second career-chances when chaos and confusion result in the death of an innocent person.

It has become abundantly clear to me that many of our nation’s police officers fundamentally lack the emotional aptitude required to manage the tumultuous circumstances facing the 21st century police officer. Everyone agrees that something needs to be done, but what would that be? As a former law enforcement officer, having worked in uniformed patrol, undercover drug, violent crimes, investigations and in senior management, I have, of course, very strong feelings regarding what’s been happening.

I just heard yesterday that the family of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old black boy in Cleveland, Ohio, received a settlement of Six Million Dollars from the City of Cleveland for the shooting death of their young son back in 2014. A rookie Cleveland police officer shot and killed him after finding him in possession of a pellet pistol. We could say that it was a lack of training that caused the rookie police officer to fire his weapon so quickly but I believe, more than anything else, it is emotional aptitude that essentially decides the fate of persons entering a law enforcement career path.

The overall professionalism of law enforcement has definitely increased over the previous 30 years and most people in the profession believe that it is low salaries that prevent local and state governments from attracting and acquiring better police candidates. In no way could anyone deny that low salaries do have a detrimental effect on police recruitment efforts. I would think that all college graduates and high-aptitude individuals, who are otherwise non-degree’d, look first at potential pay in their principle decisions over a career path.

That said, I have personally known and worked with police officers who held advanced degrees, a few from Ivy-League institutions, who were willing to do the sometimes rewarding work because of a higher calling or intense personal interest in the humanitarian work police officers can and often do. Working against all of us, however, is this unexplained magnetism that many people have with a career in law enforcement that draws in both the brightest among us who believe it to be a perfect platform to do good as well as equally high numbers of others who are less-evolved, insecure, have emotional, psychological and social problems, and in some cases may even have diagnosable mental disorders.

Fortunately some 28 states, including my own state of Tennessee, have standards, training commissions and state laws that explicitly mandate that a licensed psychologist administer a mental and physical health evaluation as a minimum qualification for potential police recruits. That’s great for those 28 states but there’s still a major problem in that most of these states have exceptionally vague language in their law statutes requiring only that a police candidate “be free from any impairment, as set forth in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” that would, in the professional judgement of the examiner, affect an applicant’s ability to perform any essential function of the job“. In the end, it’s completely up to the examiner to make that determination. If their particular arsenal of diagnostic tools is limited, so then will the ability of the psychologist to make sound and consistent judgement’s on these men and women who are trusted with the authority, dictated by their own judgement, to stop us; to detain us; to arrest us; or, to kill us.

There is really no consistency among psychologists who perform these pre-employment psychological evaluations for police officers. In one particular police job I worked, the requirement was for me to show up at a Psychiatrist’s office for four days straight whereby the psychiatrist asked me to perform a battery of different styled tests that were designed to examine not only my personality but also my IQ, my hand-eye coordination, and my observational skills. These were all culminated by a three-hour interview with the physician to ensure that my test results weren’t in some way skewed by unknown factors. In other police jobs, mostly in rural jurisdictions where budget is always a concern, I was merely asked to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI – MMPI²) test then interview with a psychologist and answer questions for 30 minutes. For another job, a psychologist simply interviewed me for an hour then cleared me to be hired.

The MMPI test is by-far the most widely used diagnostic tool trusted by psychologists to determine whether personality disorders might exist with police recruits but the laws governing mandatory testing are so vaguely written that unscrupulous psychologists can and do make judgments from time-to-time that are more consistent with how a Sheriff or Police Chief may view the candidate than with how the candidate fared with the diagnostic test results. I’ve personally seen incidences where police candidates who were personally known and favored for employment by a Sheriff but who could not get an acceptable psyche report from the contracted psychologist were quickly sent to another more agreeable psychologist in order to obtain a guaranteed opposite result. If any Sheriff really wants to hire his deranged fire-starting grandson then he can do it because there’s not enough specificity in these laws to set parameters whereby psychologists can’t easily circumnavigate.

Not only should we be looking at changing our laws and policies that would eliminate the loop holes in our police hiring practices, we should also be examining and modernizing those important diagnostic tests in order to keep up with trending psychological shortcomings.

These psychological evaluations are the last line of defense for keeping individuals out of law enforcement who have the potential of causing great harm to others and to the national trust of government and police work in general. Good law enforcement officers across this country are getting proverbial black eyes from the idiots out there who have no business whatsoever wearing a badge. Not only should we be looking at changing our laws and policies that would eliminate the loop holes in our police hiring practices, we should also be examining and modernizing those important diagnostic tests in order to keep up with trending psychological shortcomings. The tests should be modernized and improved and the laws should be amended to create some real and measurable level of consistency across the country.

But even when candidates are selected who do possess all of the “suitable” characteristics for a good cop, the stressful job duties performed by cops with regularity can impart deep psychological consequences for the individual officer over time. The culture of law enforcement, which is unique to them, makes it very difficult for any police officer to willingly admit when they are over-stressed. The legal requirement for psychological wellness puts an added level of anxiety on police officers who may be experiencing psychological trauma. This is because police officers fear job termination if they expose themselves to having psychological problems.

The other factor that no one is willing to openly discuss is the fact that these situations where police officers typically fail are extraordinarily intense and psychologically demanding. Until you’ve stood in front of a mob while attempting to arrest someone who is not willing to be peacefully arrested, carrying on your side a weapon that could potentially be used against you should you end up in a physical altercation with the suspect, then you really can’t comprehend how difficult it is to be a cop. What is it like to be in that scenario? These “powers” cops have can and do cut in both directions.

How would you feel if that mob was cursing at you, insulting you, and yelling at you while you’re trying to arrest a suspect who is fighting with you? That angry mob is encroaching on you and your suspect in a threatening manner attempting to free your suspect with whatever means; you want to just leave but you’re simultaneously trying to live up to the culture standards of policing which denies you the option of leaving without arresting the suspect, then suddenly feeling what may be an imminent fear of serious bodily injury or death by otherwise unarmed people? If you’re not holding your gun yourself, you’re basically just a holster for an attacker to kill you with your own gun. But you can’t effectively fight with a gun in your hand, and if you kill an unarmed attacker, even if he’s going for your gun, then your life will be changed forever.

What about that rookie cop in Cleveland who made that famed two-second judgement before killing that child? The gun did look like a real gun. If you’re the cop, do you wait till a person is threatening and points the gun at you, putting you in an un-winnable defensive situation or do you take an offensive position and just shoot to stop the potential threat? If you have never been in that kind of situation then it is impossible for you to judge anyone, no matter how egregious their acts may seem. How can anyone make a fair assessment of whether this officer was acting appropriately or inappropriately if we didn’t see what he saw?

If an officer is working in a high-crime neighborhood with an unusually high number of any one race of residents and he himself is not a member of that same racial background and that same officer is constantly involved in numerous altercations where he is physically threatened by large scary groups of protesting persons, then of course that officer can easily develop latent feelings of bigotry toward that race group. That would be a very natural and human reaction, albeit indefensible.

It would be difficult for anyone not to develop an emotional connection similar to that of being a victim of crime when you’ve attempted to act within the law and peacefully make arrests then be systematically accosted by large threatening movements of angry mobs intentionally trying to disrupt your otherwise lawful acts and threaten your life and safety in the process. When you’re the cop in that situation, it doesn’t feel like a validated social awareness movement, it just feels threatening; it makes you angry, puts you in fear, and it compounds the issues of race and crime with yet more fear and more distrust.

These so called victims’ rights advocates don’t just show up and protest when police have acted foolishly. They also rally together with the intent of interfering with active arrests, physically attacking police officers as they are trying to make other arrests. They’re constantly challenging the authority of law enforcement in general. Some of these groups are more akin to terrorist groups than victims’ rights advocates – not only advocating for the rights of individuals who’ve been wronged by government but also for people who clearly were arrested or killed for committing serious crimes or even trying to kill the police such as in the Ferguson, Missouri Brown case – a case still often cited by the media as a legitimate antecedent for the Black Lives Matter movement.

All police officers know that their weapons can easily be grabbed by an attacker then used against them – giving everyone in arms-reach the potential to kill a cop, not just the obviously armed individuals. It’s not necessarily the obvious situations that threaten or kill cops. Michael Brown had his hand on that officer’s gun and had broken some bones in the officer’s face in an attempt to take possession of that gun, ultimately with the intent to kill that officer. But the media focused only on the fact that he wasn’t armed when he approached the cruiser.

If you have your hand on my gun then you’re armed; period! The media takes advantage of situations like this in order to fuel interest in their stories, knowing that law enforcement officials can’t immediately defend themselves through the media as they will later have to do so in court when the family files suit against them for wrongful death. It becomes a political blood bath, fueled by a greedy media then exacerbated by stoic and quiet police officers unwilling and ordered not to talk about it. But statistics tell us that many of the officers who commit the most egregious of these acts are doing so because of severe emotional instability during the event, not bigotry or a lack of experience as many believe.

While 28 states do mandate some sort of psychological testing requirement, there are still a whopping 22 states that do not mandate any psychological assessments. Not only should these psychological inventory’s be required for pre-employment, they should also be highly considered for police officers who have served at least ten years or who have experienced severe traumatic circumstances such as a fatal officer-involved shooting. The psychological health of anyone working in such a fatalistic environment evolves over time. Tests such as these should not be used to help departments terminate tenured officers but instead to determine if corrective or restorative treatments should be made available for those officers who are on a dangerous path of sacrificing their own mental health for their careers.

The unusually alarming statistics for police officer suicides, divorce, and spousal abuse, only touch the surface in illuminating the long-term detrimental effects of working in such a profoundly negative environment. Diagnostic tools should be made available and potentially required by police departments that keep these citizen soldiers mentally healthy throughout their careers. One such thing being talked about lately is the requirement for police officers to undergo systematic counseling, to help officers cope with the stressor’s of police work and as an early detection system for cops who might be troubled.

Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland, Ohio police officer who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice in November 2014, was just such an officer who’d been previously deemed “unfit” for police duty by his deputy chief in late 2012, after having served only six months as a police officer with the Independence Police Department in Ohio. Then later in March 2014, he managed to get another police job in Cleveland – where he would then go on to shoot Rice within two seconds of arriving on scene to investigate a complaint regarding a boy carrying what turned out to be a harmless pellet pistol.

Loehmann, according to internal records, was also found to have failed the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department’s written cognitive entrance exam when he applied for a deputy sheriff position there in September of 2013. He also couldn’t make the cut at police departments in Akron, Euclid, or Parma Heights, failing similar exams. But despite his previous failures, there was one assessment Loehmann did pass during his brief tenure with the Independence Police Department: his psychological evaluation. Another thing about Loehmann which provides some illumination on many police recruits, he was absolutely determined to be a police officer. Interesting too is that personalities who typically don’t do well on these psychological screenings are the ones who try hardest to land jobs in policing.

Once upon a time I had a friend who’d bent over backwards to get my attention and win my friendship. He also had numerous other cop friends, surrounding himself with associates who carried guns and badges. He’d also applied to be a police officer earlier but failed his psychological. So instead he became a reserve police officer which allowed him to have a badge and a commission card but gave him no particular responsibilities. His motivations for his involvement were completely suspect and selfish, having an intense desire to be respected and an overwhelming want of power over others. This was clearly such a case where the MMPI saved the day but the loop-hole of reserve policing still gave him a way inside. New rules in my state now thankfully require that reserve officers submit to the same psychological tests that full-time officers are required to take.

Loehmann’s psychological assessment, which also evaluated his personality type and behavior, determined him to be fit for the job prior to his hiring. Just a few months later, Independence Deputy Chief Jim Polak recommended Loehmann be terminated, writing that Loehmann was “not mature enough in his accepting of responsibility or his understanding the severity of his loss of control” after he had multiple emotional breakdowns during training. Loehmann was allowed to resign. I don’t know if he took the MMPI or one of the other diagnostic tests but the inconsistent end-results from multiple departments is revealing of the insufficiency in Ohio laws.

Dr. Thurston Cosner, the licensed psychologist who oversaw Loehmann’s psychological evaluation at Independence, noted that Loehmann “seems fairly rigid and perhaps has some dogmatic attitudes that could be problematic in police work” – surprisingly Cosner still recommended his hiring. Dr. Cosner also emphasized that Loehmann “appeared particularly stiff and naïve during his evaluation, which had been expedited to meet a July 2012 hiring date, according to internal emails obtained by Cleveland Scene. Of course he was stiff during his evaluation, he knew from experience that there was a high likelihood that he’d fail.

The revelations of Loehmann’s previous shortcomings have focused a national spotlight on the need for stricter background investigations of police recruits, but less attention has been paid to the question of whether Loehmann’s psychological screening should have determined him unsuitable for the job, even before his post-hire training – and nothing is being said about forcing departments, by statute, to use specific validated testing or to set parameters by measurable standards that automatically disqualify police applicants, despite whether a licensed psychologist is willing to sign off on a recruit or not. I personally don’t see the Police Chief’s and Sheriff’s association lobbyists allowing that to happen.

This case, however, does two things for us. First, it proves just how important mandatory psychological testing is for police candidates. Second, it vividly demonstrates the shortcomings in the actual test and the process by which a psychologist can recommend candidates even when their personality tests deem them to be wholly unsuitable for such a psychologically intense profession.

This case, however, does two things for us. First, it proves just how important mandatory psychological testing is for police candidates. Second, it vividly demonstrates the shortcomings in the actual test and the process by which a psychologist can recommend candidates even when their personality tests deem them to be wholly unsuitable for such a psychologically intense profession.

We must be cognizant of the fact that we citizens give up our individual freedoms to law enforcement officers who have power over us in order for them to safely conduct their difficult tasks. Officers who understand the significance of this and who respect the rule of law do well with that power and mostly do not abuse it. Individuals who are emotionally unsuited for this kind of power use it as a tool for personal satisfaction, irrespective of the rights of citizens.

Laws dictate what authority police officers have and case-law guides them to make good judgments but in the end, it’s a personal opinion made quickly which ultimately decide the actions of a police officer – and police officers often make judgement calls outside the envelope of acceptability. If mistakes weren’t being made daily, our courts wouldn’t continue to create new case law on police misconduct on a daily basis.

The point behind such psychological evaluations isn’t solely to determine whether an applicant has a diagnosable mental disorder, but also to flag potential recruits whose personality types and behavior are unsuited for a job in which sound judgment, cool temperament, and the ability to make rational quick decisions is key, as is emotional stability in tense situations. It’s a determination that plays a substantial role in keeping potentially bad cops from ever soiling the good reputations of good cops – and thus keeping more innocent people alive. It also keeps otherwise decent people from entering a profession in which they are not psychologically well-suited – allowing them an opportunity to ruin their own lives by making judgement calls they’re not qualified to make.

When law enforcement agencies forgo psychological screenings, the result is often violence, some of which results in police brutality litigation. Many of the officers involved in police misconduct cases are known to have either not been given a psychological evaluation during their hiring process or were pushed through the process using inferior testing measures. Consistency is paramount but we cannot have consistency without governmental oversight or a change in the laws of every state. Commissions, such as what we have here in Tennessee, can promulgate rules that have the effect of law, and do some of the things I’ve discussed in this blog.

In my opinion, the problem of low wages only exacerbates the difficulties with hiring unqualified people because the more highly evolved individuals among us are not particularly interested in jobs with low pay, making it very difficult to attract and retain good candidates. The types of people who are naturally attracted to law enforcement can either be idealistic, desiring to do something positive for society or alternatively they may have authoritarian or worse instincts. Maybe they’re just lazy and want a government job with retirement and insurance without having to get sweaty. How would you know the difference without valid testing?

The field and practice of police psychology is still a relatively new and emerging specialization in psychology, officially recognized only recently by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2013. The APA’s committee on professional practices and standards for police psychology is currently in the process of drafting guidelines for all mandated assessments. But guidelines such as these are only a suggestion and licensed police psychologists, as with Cosner in his evaluation of Loehmann, must often conduct their screenings in a rush to meet official hire dates.

A big problem is that psychologists can choose whatever personality inventories they prefer to use and can do whatever other tests they might want to do, all within what the departments are willing to pay for, which creates an inconsistent, unstable protocol for doing psychological police evaluations. These inconsistencies lend themselves to a kind of loophole in which one psychologist may determine that an applicant is unsuitable, but another, using a different set of assessment tools, may determine just the opposite, potentially allowing applicants with violent tendencies into police ranks.

Furthermore, the personality assessments routinely used by psychologists vary greatly in their design, predictive validity, and what traits and behaviors are actually measured. Not every test used is specifically designed with the police applicant in mind or are designed to identify traits such as aggression in police candidates. As previously stated, the most common test used for law enforcement candidates is the MMPI which has proven to be problematic in several aspects, possibly even discriminatory. It has been reported by some psychiatrists that the test’s normative data for police officers under-represents women and minorities; elicits responses weighted toward sexual orientation, sexual deviance, and religious attitudes; but, fails to measure conscientiousness. Who cares if a local cop is gay, there are far more important things to assess than sexual orientation.

However relevant the MMPI test may or may not be, it was certainly designed to be used in conjunction with other assessments and tools, such as interviews and background information, to paint a more comprehensive picture of the candidate. While the MMPI may be really good at identifying individuals who actually suffer from a personality disorder, it does nothing to recognize whether or not a person has the proper personality traits to be a good police officer.

The MMPI essentially screens-out unfavorable profiles instead of screening-in resilient, stable, and conscientious personalities less-likely to abuse the powers of their badge. There remains no consensus as to the ideal personality profile for potential new police recruits and even if one existed, there are no laws that would guarantee that states, counties or municipalities would employ those tests. Also, even if such a test is required for initial screening, the arrest powers and authority that applicant gains upon hire, and the nature of police work itself, is widely accepted by researchers to affect the personality and psychology of experienced police officers throughout his or her career.

A person’s behavior is determined to a large extent by the situations and contexts in which they find themselves – cementing the notion that abusive behavior cannot always be found in a person’s pre-existing characteristics. Without thorough tests designed to eliminate poor police candidates, the incidence of diagnosable mental disorders in police departments will statistically mirror what’s found in the general population which is about 3 to 5 percent. That said, police work often puts officers in situations where, despite the officers intentions, they must exercise power over individuals, frequently in harmful or violent ways, just to do their job. Despite the particular merits that an individual officer may possess, abuse is often part of the job description, thus can expose the officer to a change in psychology that could be emotionally detrimental to that officer over time.

Studies reveal that police officers often experience cognitive dissonance when performing duties that are contrary to their personal beliefs or internalized attitudes. Conflicting social roles can lend themselves toward more fixed attitudes to police work over time, as officers seek to rationalize internal conflicts. Officers can cognitively restructure unethical behaviors in ways that make them seem more socially acceptable, thereby allowing themselves to behave immorally while preserving their self-image as ethically good people. I believe that police officers should be routinely offered counseling, perhaps annually, instead of waiting for them to be reprimanded for bad behavior or found dead by a suicide.

We are asking a great deal of our police officers. We put them in nearly unwinnable situations and ask that they perform those dangerous duties in ways that won’t look so violent when played on television. The problem is that those duties are incredibly violent and it is difficult to make a violent arrest look non-violent on television at any angle. When a person forcefully resists being arrested then the cop has to react with a greater force in order to not only protect himself but also to effect that arrest – that stuff is uncomfortable to watch because you can’t feel what they are feeling or experience what they are experiencing.

Fighting cannot be made to look peaceable no matter how many sophisticated acronyms you can come up with to describe it – and fighting is part of the job description. Over the span of their careers, we teach our cops that violence is ok, speeding is ok, breaking in houses is ok, and whatever it takes to get evidence or get the job done is ok, so long as it is within the boundaries of the law and in an effort to do good. Over time, even the brightest and most responsible among us can lose sight of what all that really means. Can we fix this problem? I honestly don’t know.

Fully Automatic Prozac – The Weapons of Delusion

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What comes to mind when you hear or read the words Sandy Hook Elementary? What about Columbine High School? When you and your family go to watch a movie nowadays does the 2012 Aurora Colorado movie theater massacre come to mind? When you drag your hand across the bottom of the popcorn bucket and pull up 30 kernels of buttery corn goodness, do you stop to remember those who’ve lost their lives in the line of movie-going before shoving the whole thing into your mouth – grateful to have skipped the latest Liam Neeson film? What are people thinking about now that all of the media-hype and sensational reporting are mostly over?

Members of the media and other left-of-center political advocates want you to believe that some “reasonable” level of gun control could have saved these and hundreds of other victims of gun violence over the previous couple of decades but is that really true…or should I say more sensibly, is that really probable? How do you feel about gun control and why? Does the issue of public mass-shootings make you believe that our government should amend the constitution and eliminate the private ownership of guns altogether or pass laws that limit or control gun purchases and ownership?

I have an opinion and I’ll share it with you at the end of this blog but I’d prefer for now to just share some historical facts and ideas with you then allow you extrapolate your own opinions intellectually instead of emotionally. I personally think it’s impossible to write any story about any subject which doesn’t contain some level of writer’s bias and my blogs are certainly no exception because of course I have my own personal life experiences which have shaped and honed my world perspective thus I share my thoughts with you under the inebriation of those experiences.

Politically, few of us are what I’d call dumb. We are all just ignorant of the other person’s perspectives. Although intentional bias does occur, especially when it comes to guns, race, conservatism and religion, most writers do form their opinions honestly and we ALL THINK we are in possession of the BEST ideas. That said, lots of people will disagree with me here and I get that. It’s one of the reasons I seldom write about guns even though no one who knows me would question my expertise on the matter. But controversy aside, I felt a strong personal obligation to write about this subject today.

OK, let’s move on to the more subtle but well-meaning bias…I mean theory. I opened this blog in the first paragraph with a number of well-studied and reported mass killings. What do they all share in common with one another? The number one thing that we all focus on is that they all involved the use of guns. So in theory, if there were no guns then there would have been no mass murders right? But are there other more important commonalities that matter to us more than the issue of firearm ownership?

crazy-gun-weapon

To answer that question, one needs to study a couple things, motive and causation being two but also whether it could be possible that mass killings would occur without the use of or access to firearms. In other words, do we now know the motives behind the killings and what caused these people to commit seemingly indescribable acts of violence? The answer is yes. After the dust settled, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have pieced together a substantial amount of information related to the perpetrators, their motives, causation’s and other contributing factors.

The answer to the other question about whether killings could occur without guns is a resounding yes. Although one could argue that knives or other weapons may not be as efficient at killing as guns; that has not discouraged a number of people who lacked access to guns to try and mirror what the armed kids have done.

Stabbing deaths and injuries occurred in schools on 17 different incidences just in the year 2014 alone; one of which occurred in Murrysville, Pennsylvania on April 9, 2014. That particular incident involved a 16 year old student, Alex Hribal, who allegedly went on a stabbing rampage through classrooms and halls of the Franklin Regional High School only apprehended after 25 victims were stabbed – 7 with “life-threatening wounds” to the torso and back. That’s an enormous number of student-victims for a kid with a knife which demonstrates just how dangerous any committed killer can be.

If a person is inclined to kill people and committed to die themselves, they will use whatever tools they have available to them to execute whatever heinous agenda they have. That said, it’s a pretty convincing argument when I point out that all of those 17 different incidences occurred in 2014 – not over a decade. I might also sarcastically point out that many of the Neanderthal skulls on public display in the Smithsonian show evidence of death due to blunt force trauma from the very rudimentary weapons of their time. This is to say that it is an historically proven fact that big ole rocks are pretty effective weapons for killing people in the event you can’t get your hands on a gun, knife, bow, deep pit, bluff, billy-club, sword, piano wire, axe, fire poker, frying pan, lamp, aluminum flashlight, spear, shuriken star, sharp stick, or poison.

What then is the other thing I spoke of; the most important thing that all of these mass killings have in common?

Without exception, every single one of these events as well as 100% of the last 20 incidents of mass public or school shootings were perpetrated by individuals who were in some way mentally impaired. The single largest common denominator in all of these shootings is the FACT that all of the perps were either taking powerful psychotropic drugs or had been taking them in the immediate past before they committed their crimes. Additionally, there are scientific studies going back more than ten years as well as internal documents from pharmaceutical companies that preponderantly demonstrate well-known but under-reported side effects from the use of SSRI drugs (Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors) that include suicide and other violent behaviors.

It might be hard for a ten year old to understand all of this stuff but most adults, including myself, have had family members or close relationships with someone with whom suffers(ed) mental illness in varying degrees of severity from depression and eating disorders all the way to bipolar schizophrenia and murderous psychopathy. Many of these individuals are taking these powerful SSRI category drugs.

By far, most people who suffer mental illnesses are benign and non-threatening to the rest of us. There are, however, significant numbers of others who are suffering from delusional thoughts with genuinely felt emotions that include killing and suicide as solutions to personal and community or world-wide problems. Many of them don’t want to be bad, but want to be recognized by others as important figures who brought attention to major societal issues. They know we all think they’re crazy but in their minds they are far from crazy which makes them feel victimized by friends, family and society.

A perfect example of this was Eric Harris, of Columbine High School fame, who suffered from bouts of depression, anger and suicidal thoughts. He was prescribed Zoloft and Luvox – anti-depressants, to treat his growing anxieties but sometime before the shooting decided to stop taking his prescriptions.
The FBI published a report saying Harris was a clinical psychopath and his partner in crime Klebold was depressive. Harris having been the mastermind described by the FBI as having a messianic-level superiority complex and hoped to demonstrate his superiority to the world by bringing attention to the problem of bullying.

I personally think that someone like Eric Harris would have done something just as horrific and grandiose had he been denied any access to firearms – remember they found bomb making materials at his home – but his access to firearms by unwitting and irresponsible parents made his journey ever so easy. The same could be said about Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary. His mother, having grown insensitive to her son’s odd behavior for years with no government options to assist her – a broken marriage and disassociated father – took the path of least resistance which was to emotionally detach herself and try her best to live a normal life outside of her enormous domestic responsibilities to her son. How many parents do you know who fit that description?

If she’d have had options and help, she might have asked for assistance when her son Adam, already diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder, Asperger syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia started to become fascinated with mass-shootings, most notably Columbine High School and the Northern Illinois University shooting in 2008. But, she didn’t see it because she was emotionally missing, much like most of us would do under the same circumstances. So, he took her guns, killed her then drove to school and wreaked havoc on 20 innocent children and the adults who stood between him and his victims. His motive was that he had self-identified (learned through the discovery of his writings) as a pedophile who secretly advocated for the rights of pedophiles and mentally equated sex and killing. Seems odd huh? Of course it does because you’re not suffering from mental illness so you’re incapable of understanding it.

School Shooting Transparency

When you begin to get it – let the rest of us know so we can avoid you. I should have said that I would turn you in to the authorities but we all know that the authorities can’t and won’t do anything to help you in a case like that. That’s much of the reason I’m writing about this subject. We should all be smarter than we are – it’s 2015.

The idea here is that no law or rule or catechism of ethical standards could possibly dissuade a person from exercising their will, illegal or not, when that person suffers from that kind of delusional mindset. Additionally, school officials and police had all been made aware of Lanza’s behavioral issues but no laws or rules or procedures now exist nor government facilities that could have caused the Lanza kid to be observed and studied long enough to understand what evils lay entrenched in his fragile mind.

The 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting by James Eagan Holmes is yet another one that stands out. Holmes also suffered from mental illness. One month prior to the shooting Dr. Lynne Fenton, a psychiatrist who treated him, reported to the campus police that Holmes had made homicidal statements to her. Additionally, two weeks before the shooting Holmes sent a text message asking a graduate student if he’d heard of the disorder “dysphoric mania” and warning the student to stay away from him because “I am bad news.” The police knew about this and yet nothing was done because nothing can be done…we don’t have mental institutions anymore.

Does this surprise anyone? I will say it again: We don’t have mental institutions anymore because our government thinks it’s too expensive to provide institutionalized mental care. Now, we have community care programs which are designed principally for those who have no problem following directions, take their meds on their own, and generally live benign lives. What about the population of mentally ill who refuse to take their meds and have dangerous and delusional thoughts of mayhem? Well, those people are summarily denied assistance by the government for their real problems which are health related and instead they’re expected to commit petty crimes and end up in local jails so that local taxpayers are burdened with building new 30 million dollar jails to accommodate a growing percentage of prisoners who really just need a .30 cent pill, regular counseling and some oversight.

We are locking up these victims of mental illness and treating them as criminals when they’re really just sick. We are all afraid of them so no one cares until your taxes are raised in order to build new jails (the new asylums) or when it’s your brother or father who gets locked up alongside rapists, predators and gangbangers for something they wouldn’t ever have done if they’d just had someone to manage their care and keep them on their meds.

No one is saying that we should build scary Victorian looking institutions that conduct forced lobotomies and shock treatment. But we should have places that manage the ethical mental health for those who without appropriate medical supervision and regularly taken medications could carry out destructively deviant acts upon masses of innocent people – just as they are now doing. This is not a local issue, it’s a National issue that should be driven by big government and no longer ignored.

It is already illegal to transfer weapons to someone who is under the care of a physician for mental conditions but these individuals have not been branded on their foreheads with big “M’s” and it is illegal for the government to put these folks on any sort of register or database so in the end gun retailers have no idea that a prospective buyer meets those restricted sale criteria’s unless the purchaser himself/herself chooses to be honest on their application. That’s a lot to ask from a homicidal and suicidal maniac don’t you think?

What differs most between the diagnosed mentally ill and criminals with respect to the typical gun acquisition is that criminals usually don’t buy their guns from retailers and subject themselves to criminal background checks and paper-trails while mentally ill persons usually do buy guns legally but are dishonest on their applications. Since the criminal background checks that gun buyers are now subjected don’t include a registry for the mentally ill, the check only serves to disqualify honest people whose names are similar to convicted felons. The so-called “reasonable background check” advocates don’t consider either of those two issues and the only people who are burdened by these background checks are law-abiding citizens.

Have you called your insurance carrier lately or tried to get in touch with Verizon about your bill? If you do, you’re immediately confronted with a computer that is designed to cut labor costs for the organization you’re dialing and supposedly get you to the right department as expeditiously as possible. What really happens is somewhere between the movie Lawnmower Man meets Healthcare.Gov. The same thing is happening with gun purchases and background checks. Yes, it’s an unintended consequence but it is happening nonetheless.

In Tennessee, if you attempt to purchase a gun today, the retailer enters you name, date of birth and social security number into a State issued device and voilà; a computer which operates much like the one in the above described scenario decides if it shall kick your application aside which has the immediate effect of denial or instead approve you for a gun purchase. The problem is that there are plenty of people who share the same name with you and even the same or similar dates of birth so the computer software is intentionally designed to loosely interpret the data and kick out people who are close biographical matches to bad guys.

Otherwise, people who may have fraudulently obtained biographical data from innocent people might trick the system into approving a purchase. So, the state very intentionally denies innocents of gun purchases every single day which is justified by the low cost and simplicity of a computer doing an inexpensive and less burdensome investigation rather than hiring a number of persons who could simply distinguish individuals by social security numbers – intentionally not considered in the automated search.

So how does the State deal with these mistreated souls? Well, they require you to fill out a form and submit it to them which appeals that automated decision and nearly 100% of them are summarily approved – only like 30 or 45 days later. The good thing for the State is that they get to use this unusually high number of automated denials as a marketing tool that praises the good work done by this knightly and chivalrous computer; keeping guns out of the hands of thousands of suspected criminals. The bad thing is that almost 100% of those suspected criminals turn out not to be criminals at all – just regular Joes’ who happen to look digitally similar to a lot of bad guys. I suspect that the few applicants that make up the rest of that 100% are people who didn’t even file the appeal form in the first place.

Now that we’ve established the reason background checks don’t work, let’s get back to the issue of the mentally ill. The reason we have so many mentally impaired people who are perpetrating these crimes and other crimes is not because we have an out-of-control pro-gun lobby or because the NRA is too powerful. The reason these events are occurring and will continue to occur is because our own government has decided to opt out of the mental healthcare business and leave those problems for families and communities to deal with. Instead of owning their own failures and decisions to get out of the mental healthcare business, they’ve decided that it’s easier and much more popular to make the NRA and the 2nd Amendment their scapegoat than it is to actually solve the problem.

My personal opinion and one that I share with millions of other so called delusional conservatives is that guns are not the problem. We know what the problem is, we just need to acknowledge what it is in an honest conversation and recognize that until we convince our government that it needs to get back into a business it started one thousand years ago, mental institutions, then we will continue to have these unfortunate events occur. The only level of gun-control that would have saved these victims would have been a complete ban and confiscation of all privately owned firearms in America, some three hundred fifty million guns, which is not only impossible to accomplish but is something that is never going to occur in this country nor should it.

There is also some evidence that a restricted and HIPAA compliant National registry or database of persons diagnosed with certain mental disorders be created and available to gun retailers by a simple computer query with a simple YES/NO answer that assists responsible gun retailers in deciding whether to transfer or sell weapons to certain individuals – similar to the one used to perform criminal background checks. A simple fee at the point of sale will pay for the database and search.

The NRA is not the problem. Gun ownership is not the problem. A government which fails to take care of its most vulnerable citizens is the problem. Government officials who prefer to politicize pork projects and cater to special interests, spending thousands of millions of dollars on programs designed to tender votes instead of simply taking care of mentally vulnerable people who have no way to care for themselves is the problem. Local jails with up to 60% of their inmate population diagnosed with some level of psychological disorder and no special beds/dorms/segregation facilities available is a problem which ultimately costs local taxpayers in the expense of lawsuits and expensive new government mandated jail facilities is a problem.

If you really want results instead of rhetoric, don’t waste your time, money, energy and emotions on trying to outlaw guns which is contrary to our constitution, ignorant of the rights and needs of an entire populace, and lacking any hope whatsoever of being effectively enforced. Focus instead on doing something that can be done; should be done; helps innocent children live yet another day; keeps our most vulnerable ill from being further victimized in a jail environment; stops and/or mitigates the senseless acts of mass-violence in our homes, schools, movie theaters, restaurants and other places; saves tens of millions in tax dollars per community in the construction of new jail facilities; and finally, these things will help families to properly love and care for their mentally ill family members in an environment designed to respectfully keep them safe from us and us safe from them.

We need to stop chasing an ignorant socialistic dream which solves no problems yet creates a multitude of new ones. It’s the fully-automatic prescriptions of Prozac that delude our thinking, not the most ingenious piece of political expression known the world over – our United States Constitution.