Beyond Democracy: Shootings And solutions


SEATTLE, WA -- (INTERNET WIRE) -- 12/22/99 -- This important though controversial Editorial Opinion on gun control was published in the Seattle Times on Friday Evening December 17th 1999. As a perspective, Vernon M Neppe MD, PhD, an internationally respected neuropsychiatrist and psychopharmacologist and expert on aggression is author of three books.

His latest book, the recently published Cry the Beloved Mind: A Voyage of Hope, has a section confronting the dilemma of gun control in the context of the psychiatric patient. Cry the Beloved Mind is written in the new style of sciction --- science through literature--- for the general public as well as patients, family members, students and even medical and psychological colleagues and also deals with brain medications and other ethical and social dilemmas encountered by psychiatrists and neurologists.

This op-ed is reproduced below courtesy of the Seattle Times newspaper.


Beyond democracy: carnage and change

by Vernon M. Neppe
Special to The Times

Carnage! Tragic murders in the workplace and shootings at schools, from Seattle and Honolulu to Columbine. It's becoming an everyday event - adults and children committing the ultimate acts of mass violence.

But "it's not the guns that are responsible, it's the people. Don't blame the guns!"

When will we learn? Do we need the 10 plagues before we respond to this? Yes, guns alone don't kill. But guns come with people, and the combination is orders of magnitude more likely to kill than people without guns. A child at school in a fight before may have had a bruise from a fist; now, shootings take place.

The victim is society, and the perpetrator's actions are rationalized according to the latest psychological, medical, social or cultural theory. It's easy to latch onto one of several logical explanations for any of these events:

  • The enticing psychological concepts - alienated; inferior; teased; evil; unidentified mental illness; impulsive aggression; underlying repressed anger; paranoid projection of resentment.
  • The all encompassing biological speculations come next - abnormal brain function; genetics; illegal drug use; treatment not given; medication side-effects.
  • Then there are the popular socio-cultural explanations - distorted family dynamics; powerfully bad influences of clans and gangs; ignored cries for help; too much leisure; availability of weapons of greater destruction.
  • The truth is most likely multifactorial, as it is with most events. More than guns are, however, involved. We should recognize that not all people are equal emotionally, and that logically, the population at risk to become perpetrators is growing as:
  • Acute and long-term effects of recreational drugs play a greater role given their widespread abuse.
  • New societal influences are arising. virtual reality games of destruction, as well as the witnessing of numerous murders every day on TV, have potentially lethal influences. These conceivably anesthetize the horror of violent death, impair reality and ego-boundaries, and provoke identification with aggressive acts.
  • Moreover, subtle influences in certain movies may provoke inappropriate, sometimes even delusional, identifications with characters and actions.

The vulnerable sub-populations may be a small percentage of the whole but their reactions to these stimuli may be dangerously different. Until such risk groups are well-defined, we may need to impose broader limits. We have reached the crossroads.

Our society needs to re-examine factors that can help prevent future catastrophic attacks on groups and individuals. We're compromising everyone's safety by allowing the vulnerable potential perpetrators to identify with killing, to play violent games, to learn know-how pertaining to bombs, to access weapons, and to receive publicity.

We have, paradoxically, gone beyond democracy by allowing equal access to potentially lethal materials. Because we sometimes cannot predict future dangerousness, the necessary, albeit unfortunate, solution may be added controls.

We need to confront reality with change. Solutions exist, though they are difficult and often major.

  • We should not allow easy access to weapons of destruction, such as firearms of all kinds, as this loads the bases.
  • The word "censorship" raises great consternation, but it is time to look at what we are exposing our children and our society to - graphic, concrete and planned violence in the media, in movies and on television.
  • The possibly positive reinforcement of the virtues of aggression in virtual reality and other "action" games should be recognized. Life should not become a fantasy where winning implies killing.
  • Science and knowledge may be neutral and we must not confine such information to a few. But the advent of inappropriate presentation of dangerous information on the Internet (e.g., how to make a bomb) presents an urgent dilemma of producing appropriate rules.
  • Research should be reviewed and, if necessary, further undertaken to establish whether fame-seeking perpetrators of crimes should not have their names published by the media.
  • We must recognize that ultimately the individual is responsible for his actions; but actions are in part determined by availability of the means to the end.
  • Most important, we need to educate. There must be an awareness of the three dangers of firearms - impulsive, planned and accidental acts - and we must recognize that the "firearm-people duo" does much, much more harm than any kind of protection this duo may afford against criminals.

We have gone beyond democracy because we have allowed pseudo-freedoms: Freedom implies safety from harm and the sense of basic security that attends that; freedom does not imply license to act wherever and whenever we choose. We need to urgently review the evidence and act decisively.

Vernon M. Neppe is author of "Cry the Beloved Mind: A Voyage of Hope" (, director of the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute in Seattle and adjunct professor of psychiatry and human behavior at St. Louis University.


Vernon Neppe, MD, PhD, FFPsych, FRCPC is a specialist in neuropsychiatry and psychopharmacology as well as a forensic expert. He and his family live in Seattle, Washington, where he practices medicine as Director of the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute (, as University of Washington clinical faculty (where in 1986 he founded and directed the first Division of Neuropsychiatry in a Department of Psychiatry in the United States) and as Attending Physician at Northwest Hospital. Dr. Neppe also is adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO. During his prestigious career, he has received numerous board certifications, specialist qualifications and international professional awards and he has published and lectured extensively round the world. His deep empathy, special expertise and important discoveries form the foundation of Cry the Beloved Mind directed towards general readers, patients and families, as well as students in psychology, medicine and related areas. He is in-demand as a speaker on brain and medicines and and because he has a special skill in communicating with different audiences. he is ideal for media interviews. His expertise ranges from brain conditions like amnesia --- he was, for example, interviewed for TV in the famous Jody Roberts case --- to aggression and gun control, unusual behaviors and seizures. Discussing the impacts of mind-altering chemicals on the brain, generic substitution, normality and the paranormal, and medicolegal issues, make his profile for news media even broader.

Cry the Beloved Mind: A Voyage of Hope By Vernon M. Neppe MD, PhD. 1999.
Published by Brainvoyage. com in conjunction with Peanut Butter Publishing in Seattle. 367 + XVI Pages; Bound book: $22. 95, ISBN: 0-89716-823-2; Electronic Version, $17. 95, Mac/ PC, ISBN: 1-58412-000-2.

More information on Cry the Beloved Mind: A Voyage of Hope including an author interview and media data is at; order bound or electronic book:



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