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Posted: August 29, 2013 6:31 p.m.

Morgan: Are gun 'facts' off target?

Much of what passes for ancient and infallible wisdom comes from oral history traditions, some credited to "old wives."

"They" insisted that eating within an hour before swimming increases the risk of muscle cramps or drowning, That theory has been disproved.

Eating crusts would curl your hair. Not. Throwing salt over your left shoulder would banish the devil that sits on it. Oh, I wish. Hair and nails grow after death; no, they don’t. Sleepwalkers can be harmed if awakened. Not so.

History is rife with misrepresentations and misconceptions that facts belie, but it’s so easy to just keep the tales going because the truth takes a little work and the fables are more fun. I checked Wikipedia and found a well-documented wealth of myths widely held to be truthful but now known to be false.

For instance, what caused the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? I know the answer: Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern. No, that was just some newspaperman trying to enhance his copy without a speck of truth. George Washington had wooden teeth, didn’t he? Nope. His teeth were made of gold, lead, hippopotamus ivory, and human, horse and donkey teeth.

Public schools still teach, I think, that the first thanksgiving in North America was in Plymouth Colony, but it was the Spaniards who marked the first thanksgiving in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1565. A 19th century writer, who long championed a national thanksgiving holiday, created the story of the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony.

We all know — with certainty — the Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776, but only the final language of the document was approved that day; it was printed and distributed on the Fourth and Fifth, and signed on Aug. 2, 1776.

Had that date been promulgated, it would make the story of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams dying simultaneously on July 4, 1826, a bit less interesting.

The Great Wall of China cannot be seen from outer space, contrary to what we think, and the Vikings did not wear horns on their helmets. Houseflies live 20-30 days, not just 24 hours. Sushi doesn’t mean raw fish, but rather soured or vinegar rice. Sunflowers don’t track the path of the sun across the sky. The sweat glands of dogs aren’t in their tongues but in the pads of their feet. Ostriches don’t hide their heads in the sand. Bulls are not enraged by the color red, only by the matador’s menacing moves.

Frankenstein isn’t the name of the monster in the novel or the films, but the last name of its fictional creator, Victor Frankenstein.

Columbus didn’t discover America, only some Caribbean islands, but a fellow named Leif Ericson found North America when he discovered Newfoundland. Marco Polo is said to have imported pasta to Italy from China, but centuries before his travels, Arabs brought it into Italy when they attacked Sicily in the 7th Century.

Marie Antoinette never said of the starving peasants: "Let them eat cake." There is no scientific evidence of a photographic memory. Sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity in children, even those with AD/HD, studies show.

We live our lives finely balanced between truth and fiction, fact and fantasy.

Some studies in recent years have found many — too many — of us believe the proven fallacies when they support our own opinions, even when those fallacious beliefs don’t serve our most pressing needs and welfare.

For some very strange reason, fiction is more palatable than fact.

I’m one of those when it comes to gun crimes. The facts say violent crime and gun-related crimes have declined since their mid-1990s peak, but 50 percent of Americans believe they’re up.

Gun sales are dizzying in many places, even after we saw the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, the Colorado theater shooting and the Sandy Hook elementary school carnage.

We hear daily of outrageous crimes involving guns: the teen who shot a baby in his face; bored teens who shot an Australian baseball player in the back; an intended killer armed with 500 rounds of ammo who entered an elementary school in Decatur last week.

Wednesday, a preschooler with a loaded gun in his backpack showed up at his Spalding County school. The school "called the parents" and "the student was disciplined."

Far better that the parents were disciplined. The child didn’t pack his own backpack.

I don’t and won’t believe that widespread gun ownership is any deterrent to the potential for disastrous outcomes every day when so many guns are floating around in the wrong hands.

I feel no safer just because someone down the street has an arsenal in his home.

 

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at barbm2158@gmail.com.

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