In his new book, Moral Disengagement: How people do harm and live with themselves, psychologist Albert Bandura does a masterful job of showing how, for example, the National Rifle Association (NRA) promotes moral disengagement to promote arms sales at all costs.
For example, leaders of the NRA have offered moral justifications (or at least pseudo-moral justifications) for unlimited arms sales, asserting, for example, that if the German people had been armed during the Holocaust, “we wouldn’t have had the tragedy we had there.”
NRA spokespeople also make generous use of euphemistic labeling to sanitize the activities of the gun industry—essentially equating guns with free speech, and portraying gun laws as a form of governmental gag order.
The NRA leadership also make ample use of the moral disengagement process of advantageous comparison, suggesting that if it was not immoral for people at Honeywell to make nuclear weapons components, then there certainly can’t be anything wrong with making and selling guns. Charlton Heston, former president of the NRA, invoked the Nazi persecution of Jews as a rationale for buying arms.
Another moral disengagement mechanism that Bandura identifies in the NRA arsenal is diffusion and displacement of responsibility. How could it be the fault of the gun industry, NRA proponents ask, if guns fall into the wrong hands and good people don’t have the guns they need to protect themselves from the bad guys?
In our next post, we will consider additional mechanisms of moral disengagement used by the arms industry to get people to arm to kill, and ways to combat their tactics.
Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology