Long Gun Registry Redux – Lead Is The Answer

As a politically aware Canadian, who is the son of two politically aware Canadians, the husband of a politically aware Canadian, and the father of three politically aware Canadians, well, I read a lot of political news. And a lot of the current news is about the Long Gun Registry.

As I mentioned in this article on September 2/2010, the long gun registry is part of our rural/urban divide. Urban Canadians love it. Rural Canadians hate it.

Most Urban Canadians are terrified of guns. They have no experience with them. Except for when they watch the ever more violent American crime dramas on TV.

Today Rosie Dimanno published an article in the Toronto Star titled Long-gun registry won’t save the lives of spouses. I don’t normally read the Star, a newspaper so left wing that it makes Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party, look like a Conservative. But I found the article on National News Watch, and thought I should check it out.

Rosie starts talking about Domestic Violence, and then points out that the murder rate in Canada has been dropping for thirty years. According to her numbers, knives are more commonly used then guns. Her numbers were:

1995

16 were knifed to death

12 by a rifle or shotgun

12 strangled

6 clubbed by a blunt instrument

6 shot with handgun

19 by other means

2008

15 stabbed

9 women were killed by a long gun

8 strangled

1 women killed by a handgun

If you include all homicides in Canada, in 1995 there were 93 murders. In 2008 there were 62 murders, 31 less than in 1995, even though the total population had grown by about two million people during that time.

So what did Rosie miss? Easy. She missed that old wonder material, tetraethyl lead. Tetraethyl lead was a fuel additive first introduced in the Roaring Twenties, which functioned as an anti-knock agent in Gasoline fueled internal combustion engines. The lead part of a Tetraethyl lead molecule separates from the rest of the atoms during the combustion phase of the engine, and is exhausted out the tailpipe of the car.

There is a big problem with that. Lead was building up in the environment, an effect that had not been fully foreseen when leaded gasoline was first introduced.

Starting in 1974 unleaded gasoline was offered beside leaded gasoline in fuel pumps across Canada. In 1993 the use of leaded gasoline was banned across Canada, and in 1996 the United States finished it’s phase out of lead fuel additives (except for aviation and racing fuels).

About five years after unleaded gasoline started to be sold, the murder rate in Canada started to decline. Thirty years later, the murder rate has dropped even futher.

Lead is a Neurotoxin. During the seventy years leaded gasoline was sold in Canada, tailpipe lead emissions were damaging public health. High levels of lead can cause serious damage to the brain, impairing function. Lower levels cause cognitive dysfunctions which lead to impaired decision making. Those suffering from impaired decision making are not aware that their decisions are impaired.

As the use of lead in gasoline products was reduced in both Canada and the United States, there was a documented drop in crime rates for most crimes (the exceptions being crimes which were historically under reported like sexual abuse). As noted in studies, the reduction of environmental exposure levels reduces the level of cognitive impairment, even though long term damage remains. Reduce the level of cognitive impairment, and you reduce the crime rate.

In simple terms, the reduction of environmental lead exposure is responsible for the drop in the murder rate by about a third.

But don’t take my word for it. Google for articles on lead poisoning at other sites. Google for reductions in the violent crime rates in various jurisdictions, and compare when the reductions started with the date of removal of lead from gasoline. There is a strong correlation. And remember that one of the issues with lead, is that it does not appear to have a ‘safe exposure limit’ unlike most other substances.

I know. This sounds totally weird. But lead really is that poisonous. There are currently attempts being made to ban lead fishing weights, and the lead wheel weights used on automobile tires, to further reduce environmental lead. There has also been an attempt to block the sale of lead based ammunition.

But we have all that lead, already in the environment. Lead doesn’t go away quickly once it is in the ecosystem. Unlike iron it doesn’t rust, and there’s not a lot we can do to get rid of it.

The original reason for the Long Gun Registry was to cut firearm deaths. At the time the bill was written, the scientific understanding of how lead poisoning caused cognitive impairment wasn’t as well researched as it is now. In other words, the drop in the number of murders per year is more likely to have been because of the ban on lead based fuel additives.

Regards

Wayne Borean

Saturday September 11, 2010

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