Lesson from Newtown: Maybe guns not so cool

For medical examiners, “human stupidity equals job security.”

I’ve made a good living from human stupidity, including from gun violence. Digging bullets out of bodies doesn’t bother me. But those shootings in Newtown, Conn., bother me.

In the aftermath, a lot of people have said a lot of things that are true:

“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” That’s true. Knives, cars and ball bats don’t kill people, either.

“The American people have a constitutional right to own guns.” That’s true. The Supreme Court said so.

“The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” There’s a lot of truth to that, too. It’s a romantic notion. I fantasize about being the good guy. I’ve said that if anybody breaks into my house and threatens me, I’ll do my level best to send him out in a bag.

“None of the proposed regulatory changes – including assault-weapons bans, limitations on clip size, more background checks and improved mental-health screening – would have prevented the killings in Newtown.” Sadly, that’s also pretty much true.

Lots of people are crazy. There’s no way to predict who will become violent. In retrospect, most serial and spree killers are described as “Nice guy; real quiet; kept to himself.” That’s nothing a background check would identify.

Maybe with a less lethal weapon or smaller clip, the Newtown outcome would have been less terrible in the sense that six dead kids would be marginally less terrible than 20.

Individually or collectively, proposed regulatory changes won’t stop gun violence. The only thing they might do is signal the beginnings of a change in public opinion.

When I was a kid, smoking was cool. Hollywood stars, my favorite teacher and my adored great-uncle smoked.

During my lifetime, and more quickly than I would have thought possible, views changed. Smoking wasn’t cool. Smoking killed people – both smokers and bystanders exposed to the smoke.

Smokers fought proposed bans that violated their rights. When Mayo Clinic banned smoking anywhere on clinic property, smokers said it was terrible to further burden sick, stressed and grieving people.

Too bad. The rights of people to be free from the dangers of secondhand smoke trumped the rights of smokers – who are no longer cool. They’re addicts.

During my lifetime, guns have always been cool. People got shot willy-nilly in TV Westerns and gangster shows. Popular movies romanticized the gun battle at the OK Corral and the in-a-hail-of-bullets deaths of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Bonnie and Clyde.

I own and shoot guns. I once had an AR-15 assault rifle. It was of no real use, but it was cool.

I think the only way to put a dent in gun violence is to somehow initiate another cultural shift. Somehow, people like me will have to stop thinking guns are cool.

I don’t know if the shootings at Newtown will be enough to nudge American society in that direction or not, but they should be.

chuser@durangoherald.com Dr. Carol J. Huser, a forensic pathologist, served as La Plata County coroner from 2003-12. She now lives in Florida and Maryland.

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