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Our pathological infatuation with guns

Published December 20, 2012 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last month I was asked to testify before the South Jordan City Council about the health threat to a nearby neighborhood from lead emissions from a proposed indoor gun range. I recited the federal government's official position — no amount of lead exposure is safe, especially for children.

Many young parents, worried their small children would suffer diminished intelligence from small amounts of lead continually emitted in their backyard, also pleaded against a permit for the gun range.

Despite legitimate health concerns and solid opposition from the neighbors, the council issued the permit. I went home muttering to myself about child abuse from America's pathologic infatuation with guns.

One month later, after the horrific slaughter of Sandy Hook schoolchildren, millions of Americans are muttering to themselves and each other about our pathologic infatuation with guns. In any other country this would be the crime of the century, but it's just another week in America.

The same weekend of the Connecticut shooting, authorities arrested a psychopath in Indiana threatening to shoot everyone in another grade school with his 47 guns; a gunman killed three people in Alabama, and another three were shot in an Oregon mall; a shooter opened fire in a California mall parking lot; a gun was used for a murder/suicide on the Las Vegas Strip; a North Carolina man shot his wife and mother-in-law.

There have been 31 school shootings since Columbine. Children are now bringing guns to school thinking they must defend themselves.

American gun carnage is anomalous among civilized countries — if indeed we still deserve to be called "civilized." President Obama said we can tolerate this no longer — we must change as a nation.

Of course we need reasonable gun control, public help for the mentally ill, and to cleanse the scourge of violent video games, TV and movies. But we must also change our pathologic relationship with guns.

Gun sales soared when Obama was elected the first time and again after his re-election. They are soaring again now. Evidently, tens of thousands of Americans believe a rational response to a Democrat in the White House and the murdering of children is "gun hoarding."

Owning a gun for self "protection" is both pathology and mythology. Gun owners are 22 times more likely to have that gun kill a family member than to use that gun successfully for protection. Owning a gun may make you feel empowered, but if you insist it's for protection you're kidding yourself.

Discussions about American gun violence seldom address the cultural undercurrent that, for "law-abiding citizens," firing lethal weapons is legitimate entertainment. Nancy Lanza was a law-abiding suburban mom. But she was also a gun enthusiast and talked often at a local bar about her gun collection.

Adam Lanza acquired a comfort with guns from his mother who took him target shooting at a gun range. It is a tragic irony that it was one of her multiple, legally bought and registered guns that her son used, with the proficiency he learned at her side, to take her life and 26 others.

More gun control may not have prevented this particular tragedy, but a mother immersed in a culture of gun fascination appears to have provided the opportunity and likely laid the psychological groundwork for her unstable son to commit this atrocity.

Of all the activities parents might choose to share with their children, there must be 10,000 that are fun and don't have the potential to end up facilitating mass murder.

No children should have to be exposed to lead emissions from a shooting range. No children should have to grow up in a society where shooting lethal weapons is just another form of entertainment with the result that just going to school is a risk to their lives.

I call upon the owners of the newly permitted indoor gun range in South Jordan to do the right thing for the community and walk away. Sell the building to someone else. You and your investors don't need the money, and we don't need yet another proving grounds for the next mass murderer.

Brian Moench, M.D., is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.






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