This is not “Translational Ecology,” as much as something I needed to say. Back to translating science next week.
There has always been a little bit of mercury, chromium and vanadium circulating in the environment. Some of these elements are useful to industrial processes, so human emissions of them have increased since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. When emissions of mercury got so high that its toxic effects were manifest, we regulated the release of many toxic substances through the Clean Water Act. Many conservative politicians now hope to roll back the provisions of the Clean Water Act, but hunters and anglers realize its value in protecting fish and game from the effects of exotic chemicals in the environment. Even if you can’t taste the mercury, no one wants the bounty of a good day’s fishing to poison their family.
When the United States was founded in 1786, there were only about 2.5 million inhabitants. Many people had fought in the Revolutionary War and appreciated the Right to Bear Arms, which became encoded in The Second Amendment. Others depended on game for dietary protein. As times have changed, most hunting is now a recreational activity, and sportsmen appreciate the value of hunting seasons and firearm regulations, such as magazine plugs and lead-free shot, that are good for wildlife. In most areas the ranks of hunters have declined in recent years, and in an era of cruise missiles, the need for a well-armed militia to forestall an attack on American soil seems rather remote.
I grew up doing a modest amount of hunting, which caused me to sharpen my observational skills in nature and to understand the value of wildlife conservation. Even today, I possess some firearms, though my urge to shoot things has waned over the years. There ought to be a close alliance between sportsmen and conservationists in today’s electorate, but this coalition is weak at best.
What worries me is the current proliferation of firearms that is unrelated to recreational hunting, in a country whose population has grown from 2.5 million to more than 300 million people. Seemingly, the use of firearms has now moved from the local woodlot or marshland to schools, houses of worship, and casino parking lots. The design, manufacture and sales of automatic weapons, large magazines, and high caliber handguns are not destined to enhance the sportsman’s arsenal. Like emissions of mercury, the proliferation of firearms in the environment seems destined to kill people, not protect us. And, like the Clean Water Act, modifications of the Second Amendment are now needed to bring some common sense into the ownership of firearms in a fully occupied country.
What worked when there were 2.5 million folks in the United States can’t be expected to work now that there are more than 100 times that many of us. Just as the Clean Water Act was designed to keep dangerous things out of our environment, a little bit of rational firearms regulation would do likewise. Our elected government should foster both.