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Editorial: Armed to kill

Here’s a question for psychologists: Why do millions of Americans want to be armed to kill? The latest federal report estimates that 8 million U.S. adults hold permits for concealed pistols. In West Virginia, permits have quadrupled since 2009.

Another question for psychologists: Why do vastly more Americans not feel such a need? The Census Bureau says the nation has 240 million adults — so the 8 million legal pistol-packers are about 3 percent. In other words, nearly 97 percent of Americans don’t become licensed to hide deadly weapons in their pockets.

Nonetheless, the 3 percent wield enormous political power. Politicians stampede to pass whatever the gun lobby wants. The 3 percent seem to outnumber the 97 percent.

To foreigners, America looks like a freakshow of irrational gun-lovers. Canada’s National Post recently published a long report titled “America’s firearms culture forged by paranoia, racism and civil rights unrest.” It scoffed at “America’s GOP-enabled Yosemite Sam gun-cult carnival.” It said U.S. guns have become “objects of psycho-sexual religious veneration.”

It noted that Florida forbids doctors to ask parents if they keep guns in their homes — even though research indicates that such weapons are “43 times more likely to be involved in the death of a member of the household than to be used in self-defense.”

The Canadian report said America’s Second Amendment right to bear arms surged in importance after the Civil War when “white American men in the south ... held onto their guns dearly as a means to protect them from the emancipated black hordes” — and blacks likewise “availed themselves of their newfound gun-ownership rights to defend themselves from white mobs.”

The National Rifle Association formerly opposed mass gun-carrying, the National Post said — but the NRA “morphed from a sportsmen’s club into a political organization that warned its members of U.N. black helicopters and ‘jack-booted government thugs.’ ... By the Reagan era, these paranoid notions became part of the American conservative mainstream.”

The article ended by praising Canada’s strong restrictions on pistol-carrying, which keep the Canadian murder rate low.

In America’s never-ending gun debate, nobody objects to shotguns and rifles used by hunters. The quarrel focuses almost entirely on deadly pistols hidden in pockets and cars — and partly on military assault mass-killing weapons.

Why does a fringe of Americans crave those guns so fervently? We wish psychologists would provide an answer.

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