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Question for Gun-Rights Fanatics: Have You No Sense of Decency?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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I’m still brooding over the Connecticut massacre. Here are some points I’d like to add to those I raised in my column on Friday:

One respondent to my previous post chided me for my inflammatory language. Yes, my response was emotional, because I literally get sick thinking about what the hard-core gun-rights folks—and their appeasers–have done to this country. Also, reason and logic aren’t exactly prevailing. Perhaps we need more emotion, outrage, like that dramatic moment in 1954 when lawyer Joseph Welch stood up to the anti-communist bully Senator Joseph McCarthy, asking, “Have you no sense of decency?” That was the beginning of the end of McCarthyism.

I’m appalled by the recklessness and shallowness of the arguments of some opponents of gun control. Many eagerly seized on the fact that on Friday, a man in China stabbed 22 elementary school children. Should we outlaw kitchen knives? a clever commenter on my blog asked. Crappy comparison. None of the Chinese children died, according to The New York Times. All countries have deranged, violent people, but not all countries make it so easy for madmen to obtain weapons designed for mass murder.

Gun-lovers argue we need more people packing guns, not fewer. That’s almost as stupid as arguing that the world would be safer if more nations possess nuclear weapons. Two recent shootings in Florida show what can happen when armed civilians roam the streets. The first took place last February, when George Zimmerman, a self-styled neighborhood watchdog, shot to death Trayvon Martin, a teenager who lived in the neighborhood. Last month 46-year-old Michael Dunn asked four teenagers in a car to turn down their music. After a heated exchange, Dunn fired eight shots into the car, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn has been charged with second-degree murder, according to The New York Times. More guns will surely mean more lethal accidents, suicides, homicides and vigilante attacks.

Okay, now I’m really going to go off the rails. The potential connection between violent entertainment and real violence keeps nagging at me. I love violent flicks, like the latest James Bond and Batman blockbusters, and I’m a staunch believer in free speech. My son grew up playing first-person shooter games, and he’s a kind, considerate young man. Also, the surge in consumption of violent games over the past few decades has not been matched by a corresponding surge in gun violence. In fact, violent crime rates in the U.S. have fallen since the early 1990s. I nonetheless worry about the corrosive moral effects of violent entertainment on young people.

I’m even more worried about the potential link between our country’s hawkish actions overseas and mass shootings here in the homeland. President Barack Obama has signed off on drone attacks that often result in the killing of civilians, including children. There is a cognitive dissonance between our leaders’ condemnation of school shootings here and their violent actions beyond our borders.

What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that I see the Connecticut massacre and similar outbursts of violence as symptoms of a profound American sickness, a pathological infatuation with violence, which is also manifested in our militarism and atavistic adherence to the death penalty. All these forms of violence–whether carried out by crazed individuals or by our own government–violate basic human decency. When will we say, Enough!

Postscript: For good info on gun control, see these pieces by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, Ezra Klein of The Washington Post, and Mark Follman of Mother Jones. (I found this final source on the link-laden Facebook page of Scientific American‘s Bora Zivkovik.)


John Horgan About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. bailiff 5:09 pm 12/16/2012

    “… When will we say, Enough!”

    When you publish science on a blog titled “Critical views of science in the news”.

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  2. 2. PunPui 5:27 pm 12/16/2012

    Dear Mr. Horgan,

    Using your soapbox to attack the opinions posted by people who you invite to express their opinions is ill-mannered and discourteous. As and when you deliver on your promise to deliver “Critical views of science in the news”, you’ll receive like replies. You’ve chosen instead to pour your emotions into print and wave them in public; don’t act surprised that people criticize you for doing so on a Scientific American blog.

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  3. 3. mattwilson 5:29 pm 12/16/2012

    Thanks for saying what needs to be said. There’s a silent majority of us sick of the way that the gun industry and its fanatical supporters have hijacked the national conversation.

    What we need to do — what we should have been doing for generations — is using science instruction to show how and why using evidence and deductive reasoning to solve problems works, in everyday life to the big picture stuff. Had more of us Americans acquired that habit of mind as kids and carried it into adulthood our public policy across a broad range of issues would be in much better shape.

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  4. 4. SugarTax 6:15 pm 12/16/2012

    Mr. Hogan: “I’m still brooding over the Connecticut massacre.
    Please stop doing that here. It ruins an otherwise interesting blog.

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  5. 5. Grizzled Stranger 7:12 pm 12/16/2012

    I think all of us are physically ill over the active killer attack on the children of Newtown. But that does not change one core fact. Gun control dates to 1495. In the 517 year history of gun control, not even one gun control law has ever reduced crime or murder rates.

    One need only compare the crime and violent crime rates for “gun free” England, the worlds most violent industrialized society, with the 68th place industrialized society, the “overgunned” United States, to see the comparative results of the gun controls you want.

    And we need only to look at the comparative crime rates of the 417 venues with permissive gun laws compared to those with restrictive gun laws to confirm one vital point. “Gun Controls Kill.”

    Since the inception of the gun control drive that resulted in the Gun Control Act of 1968, restrictive gun laws have resulted in more than 600,000 excess deaths. Is not enough enough? Have you no shame?


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  6. 6. yamanoor 8:38 pm 12/16/2012

    Why can’t a scientific publication talk about gun control?

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  7. 7. SugarTax 9:08 pm 12/16/2012

    yamanoor: Science publications should avoid Political Polemics for the same reason that Geology publications should avoid articles on Music Criticism; it is far, far beyond the remit of the publication.

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  8. 8. yamanoor 9:45 pm 12/16/2012

    No it is not. Guns are a product of technology. Violence is inherently a product of psychology and psychiatry. Our impetus to form cohorts such as militia, guns-rights advocates and gun-control advocates are all born out of human nature, a product of several sciences. Teachers in school teach science. The students who die from senseless violence die of science.

    Due to the violence here, did we just lose the next Einstein? Or Reagan? Or Obama?

    If we can never agree on gun-control, how can we use science to talk about protecting kids? Or about mental health?

    This blog post may be emotion but a discussion on gun related violence DOES belong here.

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  9. 9. Glendon Mellow 10:01 pm 12/16/2012

    Well said, yamanoor.

    I would add, a blog is not just its subject matter: it is its author’s place to write or post cat photos or to ruminate on disturbing events in the news that have clearly upset them. Many people read blogs for the author as well as the subject.

    From time to time a blog goes off-theme. That doesn’t mean it loses its integrity.

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  10. 10. Fossilnut 11:16 pm 12/16/2012

    I don’t have a gun. I don’t like guns but I do like science.

    This discussion has zip to do with science. A science discussion on the human species and violence can be framed without emotional input. Once emotion is introduced then it may an interesting debate but has left the realm of science. This is ‘Scientific’ American.

    I agree that it’s bad manners for a blog host to attack posters after soliciting opinions. The result is that it discourages discourse. If the host wants only confirmation of his own views, then he should send himself congradulatory emails.

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  11. 11. Fossilnut 11:24 pm 12/16/2012

    “Science publications should avoid Political Polemics for the same reason that Geology publications should avoid articles on Music Criticism; it is far, far beyond the remit of the publication”

    Agreed. Everyone has non-scientific issues they might like to promote. Issues thaey are passionate about. Yhey may be worthy issues but not in the realm of a science publication.

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  12. 12. Sciencefirstandforemost 11:38 pm 12/16/2012

    Although it’s called Scientific American it is an internationally respected source of science information that goes back decades. I’ve lived in 4 countries none of which are USA but always found SciAM to be encompassing in it’s world outlook.

    I’m not American and really don’t want to read about internal American political issues any more than I want to read about sectarian violence in Iraq or corruption running the courts in China. I can turn to BBC, The Economist, CNN and a thousand other sources for political views. Let’s hope that SciAM keeps a science focus as there’s just not much else out there of its high quality over the years.

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  13. 13. erbarker 12:20 am 12/17/2012

    Dear John
    What you are blogging is the politics of gun control NOT science. You are blaming guns. The talk shows today included violent games and movies. You may be correct or you may be wrong. In any event it is politics, not science. If we devoted half as much money and energy to finding the genetic causes of Asperger syndrome and other like defeats at birth and correcting them, as we will to the politics of gun control, we would not only prevent these tragedies, but at the time help the person with the disorder. If you want to blog about the politics of gun control and not about science, perhaps you should work for the huffingpost or, both good political blog. The blog should be about science. Tell us something about Asperger syndrome and how science is working to cure it.

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  14. 14. rfrybarger 1:02 am 12/17/2012

    I may have missed it, but I’ve seen no mention of media sensationalism in this “Unscientific” discussion.

    As to science, and appropriateness of the topic, the scientific topic that may merit investigation is the consequence of life in an overmedicated society.

    My kid has a problem. Maybe I should get him a prescription. I don’t feel good today. Maybe the Doctor can give me a pill for that.

    As to gun control, the obvious pragmatic answer is that implementing better security at schools is the only change that could actually be accomplished. Regulate 300 million guns or secure our schools? You do the math.

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  15. 15. rfrybarger 1:18 am 12/17/2012

    Your prejudgement of the Travon Martin case is juvenile. Certainly not factual support for your argument.

    And how effective were the gun control laws in Norway?

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  16. 16. Percival 3:15 am 12/17/2012

    As the commenter who chided you for inflammatory language in your previous column I must say I am glad I made some slight impression with my plea for reason in place of hatred.

    You still seem to believe that emotionalism is a valid response to problems; If I were to take a page from your playbook I might conclude that you, as a hockey player (“I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out”), are prone to violent emotional reactions due to your immersion in a violence-prone “contact” sport. That would, of course, be the same sort of stereotyping you commit by painting all gun-rights defenders as enablers of would-be mass murderers…

    Any such tendency on your part notwithstanding, you have managed to rationally drill down past your fixation on firearms by noting the media’s obsession with violence that infuses our culture and informs our youths’ worldview of what is a “normal” response to stressful situations. This not “going off the rails”.

    I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember Sly Stone. In 1968 he authored and performed a song that changed my life at a critical stage in my own transition from child to adult (I was 16), but Hollywood left him in the dust (even though he’s still working despite his drug addiction issues) in favor of overtly racist thuggery-oriented rap.

    Mr. Horgan, I am no better and neither are you, we are both everyday people. That we should be able to disagree on what a “sense of decency” is without hating on each other is essential to being Americans as Sly tried to tell us.

    It breaks *my* heart that America has been seduced away from the worldview Sly taught me and many of my generation. I despair that brutality-saturated music, movies, and videogames get rated as appropriate for emotionally malleable children; the rating systems ought to be overhauled as a first step toward reducing the national tendency to violence.

    Our national ideology was shifting from segregation toward greater unity in those days, but has shifted back toward a bewildering array of interlocking political polarizations; by income, by race, by religion, and so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby.

    Finally, why do you expect our international interactions to be any more coherent than our internal interactions? If we as Americans have been trained to violently disagree on who and what we are, how can we expect the rest of the world to have any clue how to deal with us?

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  17. 17. danarel 4:07 am 12/17/2012

    well said! thank you for posting this. Now if only the people in these comments would stop complaining that this isnt sciency enough for them. Sometimes, there is more to life that just science. Like childrens lives…

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  18. 18. In-Tokyo 4:27 am 12/17/2012


    Please show me the connection between Asperger’s and violence.

    If you can’t, then please apologize for your post.

    Yes, people with Asperger’s may get frustrated and perhaps even angry over small details that you think are irrelevant but where is the evidence that they are more violent?

    I suspect this had more to do with the side effects of drugs used to perhaps treat depression than with Asperger’s itself.

    Do yourself a favor – read the book “Look me in the eye” written by someone with Asperger’s who was called psycho and told he’d end up a killer and actually turned out pretty well.

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  19. 19. syhprum1 5:58 am 12/17/2012

    As a European (British) I visit Indianapolis each year for the motor race I am appalled by the gun culture and feel my life may well be in danger if I accidentally strayed onto someone’s property while out walking.
    I normally stay with a preacher a kind but eccentric man and find he carries a gun in his car when he goes downtown this would carry a long jail term in England or maybe put you in danger of being killed by the police.

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  20. 20. abolitionist 8:10 am 12/17/2012

    danarel: “Now if only the people in these comments would stop complaining that this isnt sciency enough for them. Sometimes, there is more to life that just science.”

    There are other blogs for those other times. Scientific American blogs should be about Science.

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  21. 21. Bora Zivkovic 9:47 am 12/17/2012

    This is John’s personal blog. He can write whatever the heck he wants. No editorial control. That is in his contract. That is in all the bloggers’ contracts.

    Bloggers on the network are chosen because they mostly write about science. They are welcome to occasionally write about other stuff. It is good for them to occasionally write about other stuff as this humanizes science and scientists, busts stereotypes of single-minded, one-track, uni-dimensional scientists. It shows that scientists (and science journalists) are people with other interests, with passions, with basic humanity.

    But, this (and previous) post by John is chock-full of science. Physics, astronomy, math and engineering are not the only sciences. Statistics is a science. Sociology, anthropology and psychology are sciences. These are interesting questions – what makes a gun-fetishist a gun-fetishist? Why are such people over-represented in the USA compared to other countries? Why are they more politically influential than in other countries? How is this related to gun-related deaths? That is science.

    There are millions of articles and blog posts published every day on the Web. Usually they have headlines that indicate what the article is about. Nobody can read it all. It is the duty of the reader to filter the information, to make choices which titles to click on and which to ignore. Why click on something one is not interested in? Beats me!

    And don’t forget the Rule #1 of Blogging: never ever tell the blogger what to write about. Likewise for media entities: don’t ever presume that your comment will affect the editorial decisions. Just makes you look as if you just discovered the Web today, do not understand how it works, and are making yourself look silly by not knowing the etiquette.

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  22. 22. SugarTax 10:06 am 12/17/2012

    yamanoor: “No it [gun control politics being beyond the remit of the publication] is not.”
    Hmmm, let’s examine your supporting arguments.

    “Violence is inherently a product of psychology and psychiatry.”
    False. Psychology & Psychiatry are used to describe and explain violence; they do not produce violence.

    “Our impetus to form cohorts … are all born out of human nature, a product of several sciences.”
    False. Human nature is a property of humans, not a product of any (or all) combination of sciences.

    “Teachers in school teach science.”
    While interesting and true for some teachers, that is irrelevant to the topic of discussion – the merits of retaining some thematic consistency in a category of publication.

    “The students who die from senseless violence die of science.”
    False. Science did not kill the children.

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  23. 23. VelocitySquared 11:20 am 12/17/2012

    Science? Snap out of it man!

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  24. 24. Sciencefirstandforemost 12:19 pm 12/17/2012

    “This is John’s personal blog. He can write whatever the heck he wants. No editorial control.”

    There is no editorial control what goes into Scientific American? No standards. So sad. It used to be reliable as a source of science information.

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  25. 25. FlexibleArrangement 12:28 pm 12/17/2012

    ‘There is no editorial control what goes into Scientific American? No standards.’

    So it would seem. :(

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  26. 26. patrickh74 1:20 pm 12/17/2012

    Dear liberal pansy, How about dealing with the real issue? Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Why don’t you address how the offending party got the gun? Or deal with the fact this was mental illness. You are never going to take all the guns from law-breakers (hense the term law-breaker (DUH!!)) I keep mine for personal protection. And the government (pushed by many liberal pansies) will have to pry my guns from my cold, dead hands. Yes, this was a tragedy but don’t compound 1 problem by ruining the entire country’s personal rights!!!

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  27. 27. chernavsky 1:25 pm 12/17/2012

    My wife and I both work at an animal shelter, one that houses both pets and farm animals. We’re also both vegans. When I started working at the shelter about ten years ago, I was a big-time carnivore. But after interacting face-to-face with cows and other farm animals, I could no longer eat them in good conscience. (By the way, I do have a point here, and I’m getting to it.)

    I’ve never owned a gun, and I’m in favor of much stricter gun control laws. But non-violence goes far beyond weapons. Non-violence starts at home. Gary Francione, a philosopher and a professor at Rutgers University Law School, summed it up like this: “Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.”

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  28. 28. VelocitySquared 2:28 pm 12/17/2012

    Now this is science:

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  29. 29. Sciencefirstandforemost 2:51 pm 12/17/2012

    Wrong. Veganisam is not eating animal products. One can be a vegan and slap a child as long as you don’t eat the child. ‘Violence’ is not a variable in veganism other than your own emotional overlay.

    I’m a vegetarian and don’t own a gun. However, go to India if you want to see violence in a society in which most don’t eat animals and few own a gun. …there is violence against the most vulnerable everyday. Way,way more than in the USA where millions of burger are eaten everyday.

    Science is not about emotional, visceral responses to situations.

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  30. 30. chernavsky 4:11 pm 12/17/2012

    Not-eating animal products is just one aspect of veganism. But veganism is much more than that — it’s a philosophy of life. Incidentally, there is probably more cruelty in a glass of milk or an egg than there is in a steak. That is one reason why I quickly abandoned ovo-lacto-vegetarianism. The distinction between meat and other animal products is an arbitrary one.

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  31. 31. Fossilnut 5:23 pm 12/17/2012

    Chernavsky you are confusing one aspect of life with others. Veganism is about dietary choices. It’s not about being nice to animals. Often it includes being nice to animals but that’s not central. My wife and I attend vegan potluck dinners and animal rights are never discussed. People wear leather shoes.

    Trying to define a vegan outside of dietary habits is like defining a Christian outside of a belief in Christ. Do they all believe in the Book of Mormon or in the in the pre-eminence of the Pope?

    Your logic is like saying that Christians

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  32. 32. vagnry 5:30 pm 12/17/2012

    According to

    The US has one of the highest murder rates among western countries, 4.2 out of 100.000 murdered every year.

    The rate in Canada is 1.6, in western Europe 1.0, in Norway 0.6.

    Even if you include the madman in Norway 2010, the norwegian murder rate would only be 2.4, still far lower than in USA!

    USA has more gunmurders per capita than Mexico, and nearly 7 times as many as Canada

    Of course, guns don’t kill people, but it makes the killers a lot more efficitent, as we can see by the example given by John Hogan, 22 wounded with a knife in China, vs. 27 killed with guns in Newtown.

    To do some counterfactual history, I can’t help thinking what the politicians behind the 2. amendment would have thought, if they had the guns of today?

    In 1791, a gun was a usually a rifle, always a muzzleloader, and a trained soldier could fire 4-5 shots a minute. After firing his one or two guns, he (never a she?) would be easily disarmed/killed during the time it would take to reload.
    Today, any idiot can fire 4-5 rounds pr. second, carry hundreds of cartridges in quickloading magazines, and never be defenseless during his rampage.

    Would the founding fathers in 1791, nearly 100 years before the Gatling gun and the Maxim-gun (the first really automatic firearm) have allowed every man to carry a pocket gatling gun if they had existed?
    Nobody knows, but I think they were far to wise to do so.

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  33. 33. Fossilnut 5:32 pm 12/17/2012

    Back to the topic.

    The knowledge that Scientific American no longer requires actual standards is actually a bit of a relief. The daily onslaught of articles on dire consequences of global warming are not peer reviewed or need editorial approval. No science litmus test but just agenda driven opinion.

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  34. 34. MARCHER 6:12 pm 12/17/2012


    You mean back to your deranged misrepresentation of the topic?

    This blog does not have standards set by Sciam, nice obfuscation though.

    And if you are so opposed to reading scientific fact and new discoveries, feel free to go elsewhere.

    But of course, as a troll who comes here to annoy people, you never will.

    Get a life.

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  35. 35. ssm1959 7:00 pm 12/17/2012

    I am a life long owner of firearms and, like all decent thinking people, am horrified by the events in Connecticut, Colorado as well as the daily violence that occurs on our streets. Yet given where I live, I sleep in proximity to more firearms (not my own) than most who will read or contribute to this post and I have no worries about gun violence what so ever. US crime statistics bear this out.

    Not that more firearms equal less crime. It is the nature of the firearms owner that makes the difference. The vast majority of owners in my area have interest in shooting sports. Consequently they have a great deal of interest in learning to use and store their firearms safely. This stands in stark contrast to those who purchase firearms based on fear. In my experience, these owners have little interest in learning the basic skills and responsibilities of gun ownership. They are under the mistaken view that just having a firearm makes them safe.

    This of course begs the question where does the fear come from and what can be done about it. It is well known that fear is the best motivators of humans it is also the most irrational. Given this preset in our heads, I know of no mental health professionals who believe that 24/7/365 immersion in glorified violence has a positive or neutral effect on people: particularly those of marginal mental function. Yet if we attempt to take action against violence and particularly gun violence depicted in the media we stand in conflict with the first amendment.

    We have proven in the past that fear cannot be legislated away. Attempting to do so only makes it worse, it must be educated away. Public health type program targeting the casual buyer is warranted. Provide a rationale for not buying a weapon that will sit in a closet awaiting the ill informed inviting a disaster.

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  36. 36. TimTampa 7:17 pm 12/17/2012

    Mr. Horgan makes a very unscientific analysis dismissing the effectiveness (in decreasing crime) of increasing legal gun carrying by using anecdotal evidence (the two Florida cases he refers to). He – and others – should actually look at the data that supports that. Mr. John Lott has studied this issue in detail ( If Mr. Horgan disagrees with Mr. Lott he should provide appropriate evidence and not go ‘off’ on another emotional diatribe.

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  37. 37. outsidethebox 8:19 pm 12/17/2012

    It just reminds of that terrible songs “Feelings”. “Feelings, nothing more than feelings…” No science. No thinking. Lets just ban all guns and turn ourselves into the murder capital of the world like our southern neighbor, Mexico, which did the same banning many decades ago.

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  38. 38. Postman1 8:38 pm 12/17/2012

    This entire problem rests squarely on the weak shoulders of the ACLU. They fought a great fight for the rights of the mentally handicapped and we ended up with millions of mentally deficient persons walking among us. Yes, for the majority that isn’t a problem (aside from the increase in the homeless population), but it caused millions more, who might have previously been placed in special homes or schools to stay in the general population. They have the same rights as any sane American and can legally purchase and own firearms. The problem is not with the vast majority of gun owners, no sane person would commit such a crime. We need to identify those with mental problems and not allow them legal access to firearms.

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  39. 39. gmperkins 9:12 pm 12/17/2012

    There is far more going on with that tragedy than gun laws can fix. Freedom demands constant vigilance. For example, the psychiatrist of the movie theatre gunman contacted police with concerns. Concerns that were not acted upon. The only solutions are to identify and stop violent people before they can act or, because we are human, do what we can during and in the aftermath.

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  40. 40. rshoff 9:22 pm 12/17/2012

    There really is a science behind violence. It’s time that we step up to recognizing that, and doing something about it. Like taking unnecessary weaponry off the shelf.

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  41. 41. jimfromcanada 9:32 pm 12/17/2012

    Perhaps the ability to resolve differences with negotiation rather than violence is more important than the availability of guns in a society in reducing mass murders.
    Increasing interpersonal alienation because of the increase of electronic communications instead of face to face relationships may mean that people are less capable of engaging in negotiations.
    Availability of guns is not the only factor in the rate of mass murders. Countries like Norway, and Germany and Britain also have incidences of mass murder.

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  42. 42. starb10 9:42 pm 12/17/2012

    John – i don’t think your job here as a writer is to get sick over things!

    We are not gun fanatics – we are law abiding citizens who do not bring lesser weapons to better weapons confrontation with a government. There should be no gun control – gun laws yes but no gun control. The people are right – once we demonize one thing we can demonize everything i can hit a person 1 time in 1 place and kill a person – therefore are my hands weapons? And please again we are not Gun Lovers either!

    Stop stereotyping the mass, do not use one bad case to belittle the rest of gun owners. Oo yea we impose ourselves on everyone just like all the embassy killings – we did not do anything about that.

    You don’t get it – or you don’t agree – or you are stupid! Guns are for prevention of tyranny not for hunting.

    And Brooding – what a choice word – you seem as wacko as the mentally incompetent. And Puckish – what a great way to be a professional for a science company.

    there will always be weapons – humans minds are weapons – animals are more predictable than humans, but we must have the means to protect ourselves – we will always get punished for the likes of others (mass punishment) – so i carried a loaded weapon for 22 years and served as a policing force or combat yet i had no fatalities or safety issues so why should i go through the extensive checks to purchase a weapon and why does a police officer get to carry his weapon when he retires? I had to make the same critical decisions as an officer does, i had to answer to my peers verbally and in written form when i took action. I reported to a board upon designation.

    I don’t mind specific guidance against certain individuals but why include blanket legislation to include mentally ill, automatic weapons, and other things – none of that is specific to the event except mentally ill!

    Consider this in closing : you are in your house you have no weapon and the perpetrators are killing your family – would you have wished for a gun? would you have wished for less control so you don’t have to be judged for your actions and purchases? What if your neighbor did not have a weapon also because of gun control and he could not help you? what can the government do to help you? You know the bad guys is always going to find a way to get a weapon – just like there is always someone smarter than us born with each passing second.

    Rules are to be broken and promises are to be kept and threats are to be eliminated but by an equal amount of force.

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  43. 43. Postman1 10:10 pm 12/17/2012

    jimfromcanada True, what you said about Norway, Germany, and Britain. China has had several mass murders where the weapon of choice was knives. Also, Switzerland and Israel require mentally competent citizens to be armed and have the lowest incidence of gun violence.

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  44. 44. SilverTusk 10:21 pm 12/17/2012

    rshoff: “There really is a science behind violence.”

    Science describes or explains. It does not cause.

    “It’s time that we step up to recognizing that, and doing something about it.”

    The sciences which might do that are psychology and neurobiology. Heal the minds and brains that need repair.

    “Like taking unnecessary weaponry off the shelf.”

    More politics.

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  45. 45. Fossilnut 11:00 pm 12/17/2012

    “This entire problem rests squarely on the weak shoulders of the ACLU. They fought a great fight for the rights of the mentally handicapped and we ended up with millions of mentally deficient persons walking among us.”

    Not really. Not this shooter, the boys in Columbine nor the Colorado theater shooter, are nut cases that would be in lock up. Nothing short of all of our brains hooked into Brain Central is going to identify these perps from millions of other disturbed individuals.

    Isolating variables doesn’t explain the 99.999% of whackos who don’t go on a rampage and kill people.

    Folks can discuss the role of guns and it’s impact but all of the pycho talk from ‘experts’ about violence in society is meaningless. Tens of million of males are playing the same video games and watching the same movies and listening to the same music as this whacko. Trying to isolate a variable is junk science.

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  46. 46. Mythusmage 11:12 pm 12/17/2012


    Grant me the strength to control the things I can control,

    The patience to accept the things I can’t control,

    And the wisdom to know the difference.

    In other words, should your proposals be enacted are you ready to accept the consequences. For that matter, do we have the resources.

    Remember: in 1912 the mentally ill were not running around killing people because, by and large, the mentally ill were hospitalized.

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  47. 47. 13inches 1:24 am 12/18/2012

    Horgan stated: “I literally get sick thinking about what the hard-core gun-rights folks—and their appeasers–have done to this country.”

    The USA was started by a bunch of armed civilians. Guns CREATED America. Without guns there would be NO America. Armed American soldiers and armed American police protect you every single day of the year and allow you the freedom to spew forth wrong-headed viewpoints on your blogs. You should be HUGGING guns instead of condemning guns

    Horgan stated: “….I see the Connecticut massacre and similar outbursts of violence as symptoms of a profound American sickness, a pathological infatuation with violence, which is also manifested in our militarism and atavistic adherence to the death penalty.”

    What is ‘violent’ about the execution of a convicted murderer by lethal injection ? The murderer simply goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up. I hope I too can exit this life in such a peaceful and humane manner through assisted suicide when I am too sick and frail to continue to fight the good fight.

    I am an ex-hunter and I grew up in a home with about twenty guns. I now don’t own any guns, but I certainly respect the rights of gun owners to keep their guns and use their guns responsibly. I also think FEWER guns on the streets of large cities would be a good thing, but beating the drum for massive ‘gun control’ (as this blog attempts to do) is NOT a productive way to reduce the number of guns on the streets. The NRA and ‘Preppers’ and survivalists and constitutionalists and others get their panties in a big wad when they hear the phrase ‘Gun Control’. A more rational approach would be to simply focus on large magazine assault weapons restrictions and armor piercing ammunition restrictions and more stringent background checks for prospective gun buyers. The ‘gun control’ phrase and ‘gun ban’ phrase should NEVER be used by the anti-gun lobby because these phrases fly in the face of the Second Amendment and the Second Amendment will NEVER be repealed. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy it is time for some rational measures to move toward preventing such horrific events from happening in the future, but simply beating the Gun Control drum and condemning the entire American culture and military (as Horgan has done) will do NO good.

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  48. 48. tempedan 1:27 am 12/18/2012

    So. If he had had two pistols and a knife, do you suppose he would have killed as many babies as he did with two pistols and an assult rifle?

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  49. 49. MultiWoman 8:30 am 12/18/2012

    tempedan – So the important criterion is body count? I don’t think politics should be decided on that basis.

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  50. 50. kellyh07 10:30 am 12/18/2012

    I find it just a tad hypocritical for you to mention that your son grew up playing violent video games “killing” people on television screens, yet he grew up to be a considerate young man. Exposure to violence in any form can act to desensitize you to such violence.

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  51. 51. DavidNakashima 10:47 am 12/18/2012

    In the past few days I’ve read several insightful and compelling articles about violence and the role guns play in spree killings on the Psychology Today web site ( Both sides of the “gun” argument are examined and I was left feeling smarter than when I started. I was hoping to find similar insight on this site. I guess if SA wants to let Mr. Horgan use their site for airing his personal opinion that’s their right and I appreciate that. I also appreciate the therapeutic properties of ranting. But ranting never solves anything (it didn’t stop McCarthy) and there are resources out there that offer real scientific perspectives.

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  52. 52. rshoff 3:11 pm 12/18/2012

    @Tusk, we are biological and part of the physical world. Our individual and group behavior can be studied by science. Grants are given to institutions all of time to study human behavior. Violence can be studied by science.

    “Science” -Noun
    The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural…

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  53. 53. SilverTusk 4:52 pm 12/18/2012

    rshoff: as I explained to you #43, “Science describes or explains. It does not cause.”

    I’m pleased to read that you’ve concluded that I was correct when I posted that here then. The Science is not “behind,” “over,” “under,” or “floating around there sorta closely”. Science describes or explains. It does not cause.

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  54. 54. jgrosay 6:56 pm 12/18/2012

    Some questions from someone that has no connection at all with the subject of gun-rights. How does the number of deaths related to guns compares with deaths in vehicle crashes? And with deaths from tobacco-related diseases? How many deaths in the past 50 years from insane men or women, these last are less prone to use guns, specially how many in mass murders? How many were suicides, and killings of close relatives by suicides, that sometimes think killing them would avoid them sufferings, when that kind of depressive behavior gives hints previously to the final catastrophe, and can be detected if appropriate screening measures are taken? Is it true that the USA had less deaths among the youngs that were send to fight in the WWII, than if those people had stayed at home, and thus, having a possibility to die in car and other accidents? Even in systems where having guns is difficult and highly controlled, some cases of mass murders appeared, also, if you don’t have cars, you don’t die in crashes, and finally we all will die, some deaths are more frightening, and you may think deads may have lost some pleasant things in life, but in the end: does the way to die make any important difference?

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  55. 55. rodrigomattososilveira@gmail.c 7:25 pm 12/18/2012

    At the risk being repetitive, guns, particularly semi-automatic, automatic and assault weapons, kill people (these days defenseless kids) rather than defend people or property. As with the alcohol and tobacco lobbies, the gun lobby has a stranglehold on our society. This whole thing is about money; the second amendment is nothing more than an old and tired scapegoat.

    I agree: EIE, enough is enough.


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  56. 56. MarkHarrigan 7:32 pm 12/18/2012

    To all those id&^ts on here who claim guns don’t kill people and can’t abide the idea of better gun licencsing to reduce the death rate – and ask for “science”. Here’s some

    Since we changed our gun laws in Australia after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre there has been a significant reduction in gun related killings. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in my country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.

    There has also been a corresponding drop in suicides and NO increase in killings using other weapons.

    Look again at what happened in China when a madman rampaged with a knife – no one died.

    Wake up Americans – you are our friends and we don’t like to see you die. But your own gun licencing laws are killing you.

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  57. 57. rshoff 8:03 pm 12/18/2012

    @Tusk – very literal in your interpretation of the word ‘behind’…. And in this case the word ‘underlying’ works as well. Science does apply to violence. Or to be specific- violent behavior. I do not agree with your opinion or your tone. But why bother to argue when you will split hairs over words. It obvious to me that at best you prefer science to be an analysis of the world around us to be left sitting on someones desk or in a database. Never to reach the real world for practical application. Much like the medical field.

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  58. 58. dbltapp 8:10 pm 12/18/2012

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  59. 59. bucketofsquid 10:31 am 12/19/2012

    Just a few observations;
    1. It is sad the number of posters that are too stupid to know the difference between a blog post and an article. SciAm should do a better job of identifying the two different categories but they are clearly indicated in the URLs.
    2. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Guns just make it much easier.
    3. In the modern era when basic health care could easily be made available for free or at extremely low cost, it is inexcusable that our mentally ill are “mainstreamed” which is to say dumped on the street without support or oversight.
    4. I don’t like guns, I much prefer flamethrowers. It is harder to miss with them and if you are subject to return fire you needn’t worry about long recovery times in the hospital.
    5. A much tighter permitting process for gun ownership combined with harsh penalties for the original owner of lost or stolen guns will cut way down on stupid people allowing easy access to their guns.
    6. SciAm blogs should have a report abuse option.

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  60. 60. cccampbell38 12:42 pm 12/19/2012

    Once again, the moment that anyone suggests that access to guns should be limited, the rationalizations, the lies, the irrational and delusional nonsense begins.

    OK, if anyone is actually interested in immutable facts here is one: A person who does not have a gun cannot shoot anyone.

    And, speaking as a retired psychotherapist with more than 40 years of working on a intimate level with more people than I can count and trying to understand something about human motivation, denial, rationalization,and self delusion I have long since come to the conclusion that we do not even begin to address one of the real reasons that people are so drawn to firearms.

    Holding a loaded gun vastly increases one’s personal sense of power, control, and for men, virility. Having been raised with guns (I was given my first shotgun at age 12 and expected to provide for the table), owning guns today, and having friends and former clients who were “gun nuts” I have observed absolutely nothing in our discussions or behaviors that would dissuade me from that view.

    Do we need to create that feeling for ourselves so badly that we are willing to see more than 25,000 people die each year in the US as a result?

    Some years ago we hosted a group of ten visitors from England for a long weekend. At one point one asked me about “this gun issue” in the US. Rather than trying to explain it I loaded them all into the van and took them to a local sporting goods chain store. When they saw the racks of long guns and cases of pistols their jaws literally dropped. After about 30 seconds of total, shocked silence one of them, I think it was the London policeman said, almost under his breath, “Are you all absolutely mad?”

    If “mad” means being unable to view a problem rationally and with a firm grip on reality then I would have to say “Yes, as a culture, a nation, and as a people we are”.

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  61. 61. tedre123 3:45 pm 12/19/2012

    The best article I’ve read in a long time. Good for you John. Free access to guns of any kind is absolutely insane.

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  62. 62. MultiWoman 4:52 pm 12/19/2012

    It goes to show how little Science there is in Scientific American these days, when an article devoid of science such as this emotion-sodden piece, appears on a blog titled “Critical views of science in the news”.

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  63. 63. ssm1959 6:57 pm 12/19/2012

    Hyperbole is not a way to get to good solutions. Some of those commenting believe the US firearms industry has some special hold over the political system. Please explain how an industry that as best represents $31 billion of a $16 trillion economy, not more than an accounting error, could possibly do this. What you are unwilling to admit is what you label as the gun industry is in fact your fellow citizens exercising their rights to protect their interests, nothing more.

    The political consequences of this are quite simple. In an political reality where elections are won based on only a few states or districts, segregating “winner” issues from “loser” issues is essential. During the 1990′s, the left came to the understanding that gun control was a loser and consequently they have muzzled their candidates to deny the issue to the political right. If the gun issue has a hold over politics, it is because those in our political system have made it so for completely selfish reasons.

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  64. 64. PunPui 7:04 pm 12/19/2012

    MultiWoman – It is worse than that. This was a emotion-sodden POLITICAL piece. SciAm is now a mouthpiece of the anti-gun movement. Some science eh?

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  65. 65. rshoff 7:50 pm 12/19/2012

    This is science. Human behavior is very germane to science. And worth scientific study when destructive behavior is unmanageable. Of what value is science to us if it cannot be applied? Just a clever game of observation and analysis with insider players competing to be the first to reach the next quiz level and create a name for themselves at the cost to the rest of us of billions of dollars a year? It’s time to apply the scientific approach to many of our seemingly ‘political’ problems which are really problems related to who we are inherently as animals, as a species. The world is not flat, but that argument was considered political at one time.

    Bucketsofsquid and cccampble38 are pretty much right on target (forgive the pun)…. But then, they are light years ahead of me so they don’t really need my support on that.

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  66. 66. dubina 9:21 pm 12/19/2012

    Bucketsofsquid, cccampbell38, rshoff and John Horgan

    All well said.

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  67. 67. dmoffittsmith 9:25 pm 12/19/2012

    I think the price of freedom is that accidents will happen. It’s an accident that this young man became unstable or sick and that normal every-day vigilance didn’t prevent the tragedy. The tragedy in 9/11 resulted in the creation of the DHS and TSA. In my opinion this was a complete mistake. And so would the addition of security to schools to scan or poke and probe at children because one of them might be carrying a weapon. I’m not politically correct, and I’ll be chastised for this post, but our government keeps getting bigger and bigger in it’s response to incidents like this. The horrible loss to the parents and community in this event may be the price that we must continue to pay for our freedom.

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  68. 68. Jean-Victor Côté 9:56 pm 12/19/2012

    “I’m even more worried about the potential link between our country’s hawkish actions overseas and mass shootings here in the homeland.” If we only hear about a foreign country when it is about to be the target of military action by the United States, then violence seems to be the only way to settle disputes. Not only this, it looks as if there is no dialogue in order to preempt military action and therefore no possibility for public opinion at home to weigh in on the issue before all die are cast. More recourse to diplomacy and concurrent engagement of public opinion leaders would not only help resolve conflicts with foreign countries, but also serve as examples of conflict resolution strategies for the general public. Instead of glorifying generals, one could glorify diplomats. The latter also put their life on the line, sometimes, such as in Libya…

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  69. 69. melindauer 10:11 pm 12/19/2012

    I often disagree with John Horgan, but this time he is right. Scientists feel emotions too, and as he notes, logic and reason aren’t working too well right now, so maybe we need some emotion to light fires under our politician’s butts!
    It is obvious that if military-style rifles with large magazines had been banned, this shooter could not have done as much harm. Every kid in the 1950′s knew that when the Lone Ranger had fired six bullets, he was dead meat unless he had another gun or time to reload. Six sounds like a reasonable limit to me.
    Most Americans have been unhappy with our culture of guns and the terrible power of the NRA, which is why they lost the last election.
    I have recurring nightmares about being in a public place where a shooter is picking people off, and it’s certain that I’m not the only one. If it takes emotion to end this carnage, then let’s all vent! Including scientists.

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  70. 70. Laird Wilcox 11:26 pm 12/19/2012

    This is an irresponsible article. It assumes that people who support Second Amendment rights are “fanatics” when they have values, opinions and beliefs that are simply in line with recent Supreme Court decisions.

    Groups like the NRA are heavily populated with police officers and military personnel who are screened and trained in firearms use. They would be virtually devoid of people with criminal convictions because of the BATF requirements to purchase firearms and they have a growing number of women members. Any demographic study of them would reveal a population of responsible and productive citizens far less likely to have the issues that are commonly insinuated by people like yourself.

    What you are essentially doing is making a moralizing statement that is self-referential and absolutely nothing that represents a serious evaluation of the gun-owning population. If you want to chirp about your superior morality and altruistic sentiments find another group to victimize.

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  71. 71. SugarTax 6:09 am 12/20/2012

    @64 rshoff “This is science”

    Don’t be absurd. There was no science in this emotion laden, whiny political polemic. The fact that Mr. Hogan has a soap box from which to propagandize, and acolytes to sing praises about him does not mask the fact that the science content of this piece was zilch.

    Tell you what, Mr Science, identify the science in the article above.

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  72. 72. FalseStart 9:51 am 12/20/2012


    “I’m even more worried about the potential link between our country’s hawkish actions overseas and mass shootings here in the homeland. President Barack Obama has signed off on drone attacks that often result in the killing of civilians, including children. There is a cognitive dissonance between our leaders’ condemnation of school shootings here and their violent actions beyond our borders.”

    Do you have a schedule when you actually publish “Critical views of science in the news”? If so, would you publish it so I can read your SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN stuff when there is SCIENCE in it?

    Thanks in advance.

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  73. 73. FalseStart 11:44 am 12/20/2012

    rshoff – What science are you talking about? Have you read the opening sentence? “I’m still brooding over the Connecticut massacre.”

    Do you equate “brooding” with science, or Gothic novels?

    “Science”? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight!

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  74. 74. SoftLanding 12:03 pm 12/20/2012

    Mr. Horgan

    Question for Sciam Blogists: Have You No Sense of Science?

    Or is that no longer important at Scintific American?

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  75. 75. SilverTusk 1:12 pm 12/20/2012

    6. yamanoor

    “Why can’t a scientific publication talk about gun control?”

    It can, if it does so within the domain of a science. Mr Hogan’s political outrage is not a science.

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  76. 76. arynix 2:15 pm 12/20/2012

    People much wiser than me knew, by sheer logic and by historical precedent, that bad guys and the government (sometimes one in the same) will always have access to arms; the question is, will the good guys have the ability to defend themselves and stand up for victims. Their answer to this question is the second amendment to the constitution.

    Since we’re posting this on SciAm, let’s be scientific. Bad guys are bad because they don’t follow the law. Do we really think that MORE laws restricting gun ownership is going to stem the tide? Some logic would be welcome here.

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  77. 77. marlando7 6:30 pm 12/20/2012

    Hello–I am NOT a gun fanatic–I do NOT own a gun. I had enough guns in the service but…I disagree with the idea that places more government controls in America lives, places more guns in the criminal’s hands and takes one more giant step toward limiting the rights of citizens through the tyranical title of “consensual crimes.”
    I hold the opinion that ALL psychopath behaviors at least with few exceptions can be traced back to parenting where brain dyfunction is not an issue. And this includes permitting kids to play killing games and view ultra violent movies wherein antiheroism is applauded. Oner statistic tells us that by the end of elementary school a child has watched 8000 murders on TV and by age 18, 18,000 TV murders. It’s not that the cause kids to go out and kill but it serves to desensitize them to death and violence. If you want to reduce serious crime start with rekindling family values, get rid of themyths that poverty is the individual’s “fault” and stir the government to walk as it talks.

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  78. 78. Joseph C Moore, Cpo USN Ret 9:35 pm 12/21/2012

    Horgan, you are a functional twit spouting your socialistic lies. You would only be too happy to see the Constitution of our Republic demolished so we could become subsevient subjects of a dictatorship. Have you learned NOTHING from the examples of Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, and other fomenters of enslavement and genocide? You have a very EVIL soul if you take the examples of Communism and Dictatorship as model to change to from the most successful government the world has known. Scientific American has become a tool of the Liberal,Communist,Marxist New World Order people who want an elite totalitarian rule over a subservient people of the world. Autonomy/self-reliance is not to be tolerated in your utopian world. There are no means to prevent evil persons from committing mayhem so you prescribe meekly submitting to the atrocities by disarming a legal and law abiding public so the atrocities not only continue but escalate. Self protection is a G-d given responsibility not to be ignored or demeaned and when you cite your false “facts” please, do a little in depth research into them to get a realistic view instead of swallowing and expounding the liberal/socialistic/Marxist kool-ade talking points of these globalists.

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  79. 79. Glendon Mellow 10:59 pm 12/21/2012

    #73 – SoftLanding:
    If you’re going to complain, at least get the name of the magazine right.

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  80. 80. Ian JT 1:33 pm 12/22/2012

    People here in England, where we have very strict gun laws, are amazed by what seems to be a common US belief that more guns = more safety. In the UK about 50 people per year are killed by guns, compared to about 10,000 in the USA.
    Re your constitutional right to bear arms, I think this originally referred to muskets. Perhaps if you all had muskets, but banned everything else, you’d collectively be a lot safer ;o)

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  81. 81. striped_burrito 2:58 pm 01/2/2013

    46: “Without guns there would be NO America.”

    Technically there would be NO American without the French; 95% of gunpowder during the Revolutionary War came from France.

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