Guns: the Killer's Cuisinart

March 21, 1994|By DERRICK Z. JACKSON

BOSTON — Boston. -- Under the Theory of Least Technological Resistance you surely will understand why we need to ban handguns. This theory is rather elementary. Whatever technology gives you the quickest result is the one you will use.

Take the touch-tone telephone. Almost no one uses a rotary phone anymore, even though they are still for sale. When your fingers can bip-boop-beep through a telephone number in one second, no one in a world of choice would dare overexert their pinkies in a hypnotic marathon of spinning eights, nines and Operator and waiting until sunset for the dial to return to place for the next number.

Take automatic cameras. Can anybody spell aperture anymore? A light meter? A separate flash attachment? Are you out of your mind? No one has to know, and no one is about to fret about the relationship between shutter speed and lens openings when today's cameras do it all with one touch.

Typewriters. Talk about fossils. It scares me to think about the days journalists wrote 3,000-word features on deadline with no delete/insert or no paragraph-move functions. Some old-fashioned writers say that today's computer keyboards are too fast for our own good. Sorry, even with repetitive-motion illness looming as a possibility, you are not going to get many people to go back to the days of 20 crumpled leads in a waste basket.

Ice cream. The best ice cream was hand-cranked, with lots of ice and bags of rock salt grinding away. But it must not be that critical to my taste buds, as time and family pressures have me settling for the stuff you buy in stores.

Same for reheated foods. The best reheated pizza is in an oven, not a microwave. Microwaves turn bread into rubber. But given a choice between rubber and screaming children, Aquatred with pepper and onions wins all the time.

Before food processors, my guacamole was an aerobic exercise of mashing, chopping, dicing, whipping and crying Olympic medal-stand onion tears. In my guacamole of the near 21st century, knives are an ancient tribal artifact. A few tosses into the processor, a push of the button and you know what? Only my wife has ever said she prefers the green glop with a stick shift over the blend made by automatic transmission. Of course, she would never waste her time in intense optic pain, mauling avocados with a masher.

Since I mentioned knives, this is a good time to return to guns. The Theory of Technological Least Resistance works for killing as it does for cooking. Why dice by hand when you can riddle someone into Swiss cheese at 20 feet?

The theory is the same for guns as it is for TV clickers. Remote clickers allow us a rapid rundown of channel options. Clickers spare us the burden of walking to the TV, remembering which show is on which network and then changing channels. This was so mind-boggling that people often zoned out on the original station rather than get up at all.

Guns likewise spare killers from complex thinking. Guns, particularly automatics and semi-automatics, allow us a rapid rundown of human options. Where once upon a time you could attack only one victim at a time with a knife, guns allow random spraying. Didn't want to watch ''Beverly Hillbillies''? Zap. Wrong victim? Zap. So sorry. How about you?

The Justice Department says that crimes committed with guns are growing 2 1/2 times more than crimes done without guns. Between 1987 and 1992, the number of crimes committed with guns reported to the FBI grew from 365,709 to 565,575.

As motor-vehicle deaths have fallen over the last two decades from 54,633 in 1970 to 47,575 in 1989, partially due to government controls on speed and safety restraints, the annual number of deaths due to guns, which barely have any controls worth talking about, is growing so fast (currently 38,317), it will pass those on the road within 10 years.

There is no reason to think that anything short of a ban on new sales, a massive federal buyback program, and then long sentences for use of a gun in a crime and longer for firing it, will stop the urge to use the killing tool of least resistance. We follow the march of technology in virtually every other walk of life. Guns are the killer's Cuisinart.

Derrick Z. Jackson is a columnist for the Boston Globe.

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