It seems that some things never change, no matter how desperately they should. Consider the following from the July 2009 issue and see if it rings any bells.
Bouts of hysteria are endemic to the human condition. The recent outbreak of "swine flu" sparked everything from school and business closures to people walking around in surgical masks; local emergency medicine protocols mandated the masks for first responders. Ostensibly enacted as prophylactic measures against the disease, the true reasons amounted to nothing more than media-hype-induced hysteria.
The number of deaths worldwide stood at 108 at the end of May--108 deaths among a world population of 6 billion. Do the math.
"Closing schools is not effective" in stemming spread of the virus, said Dr. Richard E. Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "So far, the severity of illness were seeing in this country is similar to what were seeing with seasonal flu."
In other words, swine flu is no bigger deal than any other flu strain; the tiny number of deaths attributable to individuals weakened by pre-existing health conditions.
Media-induced hysteria is not new. Orson Wells 1938 radio broadcast of an adapted version of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds prompted credulous listeners to panicked actions that included shooting an innocent water tower mistaken for an invading alien spacecraft.
The most pervasive and sustained modern hysteria involves firearms and appurtenances thereto. Media hype, misinformation, and outright lies has convinced many that guns are not only evil incarnate, but capable of autonomous mayhem.
Ammunition is the newest object of gun-phobic hysteria and related propaganda, inciting panic over everything from lead poisoning to possible injury from exposure to loose ammunition.
The case of one George Fath of Steuben County, Indiana, well illustrates the extremes of ammo hysteria. While cleaning his yard, Fath found a .22 rimfire cartridge, the detritus of a previous tenant. Fearing for the safety of his children, Fath decided to destroy the evil object--by smashing it with a hammer.
Now, the ignorance factor alone is sufficient to make the event remarkable, but Faths recollection of events juxtaposed with the facts pushes this into Twilight Zone territory.
Predictably, the tiny cartridge exploded when Fath struck it with his mighty hammer. According to news reports, Fath stated: "It went off and went into my belly and knocked me on my butt." His wife called 911 and the police came, but responding officers reported that the "bullet" didnt actually hit Fath.
"Fath was not bleeding, and it did not appear that Fath was struck with the bullet. Fath suffered a minor abrasion to the area of his stomach," according to the official police report. Nonetheless, Fath told a local TV news crew the bullet did go in his stomach, and doctors removed it at the hospital: "I smacked by the bullet and fell down and blood came pouring out. I was hitting it to smash it. I didnt expect it to go bang."
Fath vowed to never again hit a bullet with a hammer; Steuben County Sheriff Rick Lewis said no one should ever hit a bullet with anything.
Okay, sound advice, perhaps, but then Lewis pulled a real boner. After first demonstrating a severe lack of understanding of simple physics (more on that shortly) by stating, "The round can go anywhere. It could hit the person striking it with a hammer, a neighbor, a child in the yard. Theres just no controlling where the bullet will go," Lewis compounded the absurdity of the situation and struck a blow in the name of hype and hysteria by stating that, if someone finds a "bullet," dont throw it in the trash but, "Call local law enforcement and we can take care of it."
Lets think about that last statement. As most Texas Fish & Game readers know, finding a "bullet" is equivalent to finding a stone. A bullet is just a chunk of cuprous lead, harmless unless thrown forcefully at someone. I suspect the sheriff meant "cartridge," the complete system of case, primer, powder, and bullet that comprises bona fide ammunition. Ammo ignorance notwithstanding, of all of the insipid hysteria attached to this incident, one aspect eclipses all others from a law enforcement standpoint--the sheriffs suggestion to "Call local law enforcement [if you find a cartridge] and we can take car of it."
Imagine if you will the potential mayhem unleashed by a single individual with a mischievous streak and armed with a single 500-round "brick" of .22 rimfire ammo, seeding streets and neighborhood lawns with "bullets" for the citizenry to find: ensuing panic, 911 system jammed with calls, and the entire police force tied up with "ammo recovery duty."
Absurdity is hysterias stepchild, evidenced by incidents like the preceding and nonsensical governmental actions such as Californias lead bullet ban; attempts to mandate serial numbers on individual bullets; suspending students on "weapons charges" for making gun-finger gestures; et cetera ad nauseam.
Pertaining to the danger of loose ammunition: When an unconfined cartridge explodes, the bullet might move a few inches at most. The much lighter case can travel a few tens of feet at a far from lethal velocity. An unconfined cartridge explodes with a tiny fraction of the power released when confined in a firearm chamber. But, it is a component of a gun, for Gods sake! Wont someone please think of the children!