Ergonomics and Biomechanics: The Surprisingly Simple Science of Using Your Body

  • John N. A. Brown
Part of the Human–Computer Interaction Series book series (HCIS)


“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

You may have heard this argument before. Even though you may have a strong emotional reaction to this phrase, associating it with Michael Moore’s excellent film “Bowling for Columbine”, or with strongly-held beliefs of one sort or the other, I am going to discuss it here. In fact, it is because of the strong emotional reactions that it inspires that this phrase is an illustration of how our brains often react when we believe they are thinking.

It is especially likely that you’ve heard this phrase if you’re from any of the areas where the National Rifle Association tries to wrangle public opinion and control the laws that might hurt the short-term profitability of the US Firearms industry. Long before the NRA came to Canada officially; their propaganda was washing over the Southern border and soaking into some Canadian minds. Consider the following more stereotypically Canadian example:

“Axes don’t cut trees; people cut trees.”

No one actually believes that the tool goes out on its own to do the job without any human present. That’s an absurd idea and, when you are arguing against someone who is right, it helps if you can make it seem that their idea is absurd. This is why the argument for gun control is always turned into either an argument against human rights, or an argument that guns kill all on their own. I hope the example of the axe can help you to see that this is deliberate manipulation of your opinion.

Axes or guns, in both cases it is really a question of the responsibility that underlies ownership of the tool. That boils down to a decision on whether the tool is useful and safe, and a separate decision on whether or not it is suitable for the job. Let’s continue with the example of the axe.

It is true that people cut trees. It is also true that they use axes to cut trees, because axes are more efficient for that job than hammers, teaspoons, tampons, and swimming fins. Unlike those other tools, the axe in our example was invented, marketed, sold, and bought for the purpose of converting a living tree into a pile of wood. It will be replaced in that purpose when a more efficient tool becomes culturally acceptable. An amorphous public understanding of relative safety keeps us from using lasers to cut down trees, but has allowed us to replace axes with chainsaws.

Chainsaws are quite useful, even though they are much more narrowly-focussed than the once-ubiquitous axe. They are not really safe at all, except in comparison to how dangerous they used to be… …but they are very well-marketed.

The same is true for guns. They are marketed as tools that increase personal and domestic safety. The truth is that there is very little evidence linking guns to increased safety, and a lot of evidence that they are directly related to an increase in risk-taking, injury, and death.

But, boy, are they marketed well!


Computer Mouse Repetitive Strain Injury Strong Emotional Reaction National Rifle Association Human Shoulder 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • John N. A. Brown
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Informatics SystemsAlpen-Adria Universität KlagenfurtKlagenfurtAustria

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