After a mass shooting, the nation debates the merits of strengthening gun safety laws or improving the mental health system. But what if it were possible to teach people how to decrease their desire to kill? James Kimmel, Jr. — an author and psychiatry lecturer at Yale University — believes that by focusing on motive control, we can move beyond the usual political arguments about gun safety or mental health and actually prevent a shooter from pulling the trigger.
Kimmel claims that many people who commit acts of violence are trying to achieve justice for a past wrong and are driven by a craving for revenge that, he says, “operates in the same pleasure center of the mind that activate for narcotics addiction.” “We know with narcotics addicts, that many people do drugs and they’re able to pull away from them successfully, but here is a core group of people who are vulnerable,” Kimmel told ThinkProgress.
That vulnerable population now has a new resource: SavingCain.org. The site, launched by Kimmel earlier this month and modeled on suicide prevention holtlines, hopes to engage shooters in a moment of dialogue before they act. It urges revenge seekers to consider calling a hotline for help or, among other things, a therapeutic tool called the non-justice system.
Developed by Kimmel in 2005, the system allows individuals to role-play a sequence of nine steps in which they imagine themselves in a courtroom as the victim, the defendant, the prosecutor and the judge. It aims to provide an outlet for pent-up frustration and and the tools for dealing with it.
“We use methadone for a drug addict because it provides a heroin addict with a safer way to be high that allows them to finally separate from the drug. Likewise, the non justice system provides someone who is craving justice in the form of revenge with a safer way to gratify that craving, without harming themselves or anybody else and then be able to move past that craving,” Kimmel said.
That craving to kill, he argues, should be seen by society as an addiction that could be addressed through education about impulse control. “There have been multiple campaigns that society has gotten involved in, like anti-smoking, anti-gambling, anti-substance abuse,” Kimmel explained.
“That is the sort of dialogue that if we start to permeate the knowledge base of society that this is a brain issue, it is something that can be corrected. We may begin to save lives.”