The most recent tragic shooting is all over the media. The air is full of accusations, excuses, protests and counter defensive responses. And none of it may be very effective in changing this seemingly unending cycle of violence. Although racism, nationalism, racial profiling, and religious extremism are real problems, they may not be the root of the problem. The cause of gun violence may be neither ideology nor guns but the mental incapacitation caused by poisoning from lead bullets.
Could lead poisoning from handling, firing, and secondhand exposure to lead ammunition be the hidden cause of continuing violence in the world? From Ferguson to the Middle East and Africa, and civilian shootings in the US, violence is blamed on many forces: racism, drugs, terrorism, religion. What if they all stem from something more central; changes in the brains and bodies of the perpetrators that have simplified their thinking and led them toward violence and gun use in a self-reinforcing cycle? What if neither guns nor people kill people, but lead kills people?
Although many politicians and law enforcement officials have claimed responsibility for the drop in violent crime over the last thirty years it has been closely tied to the phasing out of leaded gasoline. Crime rates rose and fell in the precise pattern of use of leaded gasoline in cities around the country.
Lead poisoning hinders brain development and encourages those affected to see in terms of simple black and white answers that miss subtler clues and opportunities for other solutions to conflict.
“Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person’s ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility.”
“Even moderately low levels of lead exposure are associated with aggressivity, impulsivity, ADHD, and lower IQ. And right there, you’ve practically defined the profile of a violent young offender.” or, I thought, a violent actors of any color or political bent or ideology.
This causal connection between violence and lead poisoning in mind put a whole new spin on the police brutality question when I heard a recent Reveal radio program entitled Law and Disorder. Based on reporting from the Seattle Times it told the stories of police officers being poisoned by lead from required gun trainings and practice in unclean shooting ranges What if the firearms use associated with their job is not only poisoning law enforcement but leading them to be more violent? Certainly there are problems with racial profiling and abuse of power, but what if that is amplified, accepted, or unexamined because of lead exposure affecting mental functioning? In a larger sphere, what if gun use is a self-reinforcing cycle and leads to greater acceptance and use of guns? Could this be the source of the irrationality of the whole gun rights/guns control debate and the extreme paranoia associated with it? Maybe we’re missing the point and guns are not the problem. The lead ammunition is the problem.
Lead is used for bullets for the same reason it was added to gasoline. The soft metal conforms well to the steel cylinder of the barrel just as it lubricated the pistons moving in engines’ cylinders. The statistics of poorly ventilated and cleaned gun ranges are staggering. And the resulting poisoning affects not only officers. All shooters as well as their family member are impacted by the lead they bring home on their clothing and hair. It made me wonder if the effects of lead poisoning from shooting guns and handling ammunition or living and growing up in a war zone makes people more likely to be violent and to use guns. I do not know but it seems well worth exploring. Maybe all of the efforts and funds we are pouring into training and anti-terrorism/violence/crime efforts are barking up the wrong tree. What if lead exposure makes us more willing to spew hot lead? It is as if the metal has taken over our minds to insure its own importance and use.
I propose testing the blood of all violent offenders, police, and veterans and addressing their poisoning as well as working to eliminate lead ammunition. Copper bullets and copper or nylon coated bullets have been developed and proposed to replace lead bullets in many states. This may provide an end-run around the gun control/rights debate and a solution to gun violence world-wide by addressing it at its source – lead in our heads.
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