The New York Times, always keeping a weather eye for new evidence that guns are dangerous, reported this week that men who handle guns get more stirred up than men who handle children's board games.
The study by psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., enrolled 30 men and measured the testosterone levels in their saliva. Then the men were divided and given separate tasks. One group was asked to take apart and reassemble a large handgun and then write down instructions on how to put it together. The other group was asked to do the same with the game Mouse Trap.
Afterward, those who handled the gun showed a jump in testosterone levels. Subjects were then asked to drink a cup of water with hot sauce in it and then prepare a similar drink for someone else. Those who handled the gun were more likely to add more hot sauce than those who didn't. This means, according to the paper, that "handling a gun stirs a hormonal reaction in men that primes them for aggression."
Time magazine's Andrew Sullivan gleaned major news here: "A new front has just opened up in the Second Amendment debate. The usual NRA argument is that guns don't kill people; people kill people. I've always been almost-persuaded by this. The missing link is what actually owning or handling a gun does to male psychology. Does it ramp up testosterone all by itself and thereby make firing a gun more likely?"
One could spend all day raising serious questions about the merits of this study. First of all, have you ever tried to put Mouse Trap together? It's really hard, emasculating even, perhaps to the point of causing testosterone to plummet to tea-party-with-your-toddler levels. And why a game at all? Why not a motor or something equally benign but a bit more, you know, manly? And maybe adding extra hot sauce has less to do with aggression than it does with testosterone's effects on a desire for spicy food? Perhaps testosterone levels tend to rise in men invited to participate in a "taste study," only to be handed a big honkin' gat by a total stranger? And what about the ladies? Shall we venture to guess what hormonal fluctuations await women asked to dismantle guns or absurdly complex toys?