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King: Root of gun violence can be found in human brain
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Last week, NPR announced that a bullet had been successfully fired from a plastic gun. The big news is this: The gun came from a 3-D printer. So much for gun control, for background checks and any other measure to reduce the number of easily available handguns in the nation.

Today a 3-D printer can be bought for less than 1,000 dollars. I’m not sure that just any model 3-D printer can produce a working hand gun, but that day isn’t far off. So if we are really concerned about gun violence, we’d better forget about trying to restrict an individual’s right to all the guns he or she wants. We’ll have to find another way to keep people from killing one another.

I sure do hate to admit defeat on this issue. No matter what the NRA says, guns kill people, and that guy down the street with a handgun under his pillow may be a law-abiding citizen today, but he is a good guy only until the day he isn’t — the day something happens and he kills someone.
Every time there is a mass shooting, the call for gun control intensifies. At the same time, the sale of handguns and other firearms goes up. Gun control goes nowhere, but the guns stay around. We have to get smarter than this.

Americans feel more secure if they have a gun in the house. Statistics prove otherwise (the American Journal of Epidemiology, for example). However, the average individual doesn’t feel statistics apply to him or her. They read about mass killings, gang rape and other acts of violence, and identify with the victim.

The response on an individual level  and I do it, too  is "how could anyone do this?" What is the matter with them? Why the hate, why the anger and, above all, why did they act out in such a horrible way? Herein lies the problem. We don’t really know.

When I was a student at Georgia State Collage, I was friends with a young couple in my department. Both were working hard to graduate and get into an advanced degree program. They were under a great deal of stress, emotionally, academically and financially. In a moment of near despair, the young woman confided in me there were times she felt so frustrated and angry she wanted to get on the school rooftop and just begin shooting people.

There was no question in my mind that she would ever do such a thing, and of course, she didn’t. She and her husband got their degrees and went on to become valuable additions to society. It never occurred to me that it would be otherwise, but why did I make that assumption?

Remember, I’m talking about how someone feels, not how they think. No matter what poets say about the heart, our feelings come from our brain. If we want to reduce national violence, we might better turn to neurology than the law.

Today, we can look into the brain and see it at work, but we can’t map every neuron and synapse and predict what will happen in the future. Nevertheless, neurologists are learning some interesting things about the human animal. First: We are an animal, and share many similarities with the rest of the animal kingdom.

Let me recommend a book: “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind” by Dr. Robert Burton. In chapter 7, Burton writes about animals that change dramatically when exposed to certain stimuli. When a certain species of locust are crowded together, they change from solitary plant eaters into marauding cannibals that consume everything in sight, including each other.

Same insect, same brain, very different behavior. Dr. Burton describes a similar group-mind behavior in other animals and suggests that humans may not be exempt.

If we really want to stop gun violence, perhaps we should look at the emotional conditions that trigger it.

Joan King is a Sautee resident whose column appears biweekly and at

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