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The psychological and public health benefits of gun ownership

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    FILE: March 7, 2012: Gun owners and supporters participate in an Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day rally at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (AP)

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    Jan. 9, 2013: Daniel White of Estes Park, Colo., waves a placard at a pro-gun rally as the Colorado Legislature opened its general session across the street in the State Capitol in Denver. (AP)

Those who advocate gun control measures as solutions to tragedies like those in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado seem to be ignoring the fact that the perpetrators of the carnage in those towns were severely psychiatrically ill and could have chosen other lethal means to cause just as many deaths. 

Explosives are one obvious example. 

In 1995, Timothy McVeigh used explosives to kill 168 people at the Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. Between 1978 and 1995, Ted Kaczynski used homemade bombs delivered by mail to kill 3 people and severely injure 23 others. Back in 1982, 12 people, including a 12-year-old girl, died when someone (who has never been apprehended) poisoned Tylenol capsules with potassium cyanide.

Sadly, I could cite dozens of examples.

But, equally important, gun control advocates also ignore the potential widespread psychological harm that disarming Americans could cause.

The right to bear arms is a critical component of feeling competent and autonomous as individuals, rather than relying on the goodwill of a super-powerful, unassailable government.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote to his nephew Peter Carr in 1785, "A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the Body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind . . . "

The right to bear arms is a critical component of feeling competent and autonomous as individuals, rather than relying on the goodwill of a super-powerful, unassailable government.

A disarmed population is, by definition, a population that has completely ceded the power to defend its homes against local, state or federal authorities. This implies a level of trust much more consistent with that which children have for parents than that which thinking adults have for the institutions they have created to perform vital functions like defending the nation, keeping the peace, maintaining schools and providing clean water.

A disarmed population is allowed the toxic luxury of feeling as though our way of life and our safety from oppression comes without the tremendous responsibilities and moral complexities of wielding force. The same people who passively pay taxes that put tanks on the streets and fighter jets in the skies over our enemies' nations can cringe at the idea of owning guns themselves — projecting their survival instincts onto an all-powerful father figure (the state).

History is replete with examples of cultures in which taking guns away from law-abiding citizens foreshadowed catastrophic abuses of the power thereby invested in government. One need look no further than Nazi Germany.

While gun control advocates point not only to episodes of terrible violence, but also to the toll of accidental deaths and murders involving firearms, I believe such tragedies highlight the need for citizens to take more personal responsibility for the handguns they own, not any justification for them to be infantilized by banning them from owning handguns at all.

It may well be that putting more—not fewer—guns in the hands of law-abiding American men and women and training them to safely store those guns would actually be one immediate way to immunize the population from feeling like potential victims of the Adam Lanzas and James Holmes among us.

It may be that putting more—not fewer—guns in the hands of law-abiding American men and women would be a way of immunizing them from feeling like passive participants in history and in safeguarding what we value about our way of life.

The psychological truth is that every gun privately and legally owned in America is a tiny impediment to the citizenry assuming a docile, nearly delusional perspective that the world will always be predictable, that one's home and loved ones will always be safe and that government will always tend toward light and never toward darkness.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at info@keithablow.com.