Impulse Control, the Key to Gun Control?

Want to change hearts and minds about gun control? Control your impulses.

I recently read the first Facebook thread I’ve seen since the Orlando massacre where respectful discourse between disagreeing parties occurred. Like a mythical unicorn, this thread reignited my belief that real change might be possible.

By real change, I mean a more peaceful existence. With very few exceptions, we all share this desire. Disagreeing about how to achieve peace is what trips us up. It’s a human nature trap that’s as common as our predisposition to fight about the best driving route to a given destination.

For that reason, I humbly submit the opinion that the “how” and not just the “why” of mass killing (and killing in all forms) matters, and is part of the equation we must solve.

There are some instruments which, when coupled with poor impulse control in disturbed individuals, invariably lead to death. The British Coal Gas Theory, discovered by accident, proves that when humans have easy access to sure-fire deadly instruments, the rate of killing increases.

In the 1950s, Britain used a form of cheap and plentiful coal-derived energy. The unintended consequence was that coal gave off a high level of carbon monoxide which, given an open or leaky valve, could induce asphyxiation within minutes. By the late 1950s, “the gas chamber in everyone’s kitchen” (as one psychologist put it) accounted for 2,500 suicides per year, or half the nation’s total.

By the early 1970s, nearly every home in Britain had converted to cleaner energy. During that conversion period, the national suicide rate dropped by one third and has remained there since.

With the utmost care and diligence, we must untangle the “they’ll-just-find-some-other-way-to-commit-suicide” argument, and it’s next-of-kin, “they’ll-just-find-some-other-way-to-get-guns.”

Here I must pause, acknowledge and apologize for my ignorance in using that exact argument in opposition to the high fencing added to Seattle’s Aurora bridge, second only to the Golden Gate bridge for number of jumpers. Our environment matters. It offers very few natural, painless ways (gorges? canyons?) to kill ourselves and others. When humans add deadly elements to the environment, it is our responsibility to restrict access to those deadly elements.

We are impulsive creatures. Some of us, in moments of despair or rage, seek a physical solution to a spiritual crisis. Assault rifles reward impulsive behavior with immediate and catastrophic results.

And some of us, in moments of despair, lash out with words of anger and condescension at the continuing ignorance.

The “how” and not just the “why” of our debate tactics will determine whether we successfully ban assault rifles. Like any major shift in tide, it will come down to you and me, and the tone of our conversations on the street, on Facebook, and in our homes.

Credit: AMERICAblog

Credit: AMERICAblog

Peace lovers, if you want change, control your impulses. Challenge yourself to engage respectfully with even the most obnoxious anti-gun control proponents, or not at all. Post open ended questions and be kind and genuine in your responsive moderation. Do not allow impulsive responses – especially from your side of the argument – to go unaddressed in your feeds. Channel your inner elementary school teacher.

It has been a long road, an uphill battle. The hair-trigger responses are nothing if not understandable, but the unintended consequence there is, they stall change. Convert to a cleaner form of energy. Renew your inspiration and perspective by remembering those revolutionaries who continued to respectfully speak the truth even when they knew it could cost them their lives.

I don’t know exactly how, but it all comes down to impulsivity. To “win” this debate and change the culture, we need to exhibit impenetrable control of our impulses though our ability to respectfully engage.

Beneath the surface of every anti-gun reform argument is a foundational belief that ultimately, humans are incapable of controlling their impulses. Ironically, clinging to weaponry provides a sense of protection from that lack of control. This underlying belief, that humans are incapable of impulse control, must be proven wrong.

You can start that process right now by respectfully engaging in discussions at all costs.



Anderson, S. (2008). The urge to end it all. New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from:

Gardner, J.R. (2011). The girl on the bridge. Seattle Met. Retrieved from:

Klapper, E. (2011). Automatic weapons vs. french cheese: Which is easier to buy in the u.s.? The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: