Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gun control should be a lower priority; yes, even now.

The horror of an event lasts, but the real and overall numbers belie weightier problems 

This info-graphic has been floating around the internet, as a kind of perspective on the recent tragedy of school shootings.[1] I think there are two suggestive things here. First, that we get upset over something which has comparatively very small impact (in terms of total number of deaths of citizens); and, second, that emotion of recent events easily clouds our judgement on overall factors.

I am presuming that since all deaths happen only once to each citizen, they must be counted as equal. Yet since so many more deaths occur in all these other categories, guns are actually a much smaller problem for the country as a whole than these other issues. However, the emotive baggage toward guns and the highly publicized (albeit terrible) episodes involving them is what biases a response in people.  But that doesn't change what facts there are on the actual numbers of deaths. So, as an overall assessment, I'd say the gun worries are overblown.

One might counter that self inflicted or accidental deaths are not a "problem" that the country needs to deal with, certainly not with legal solutions. In fact, some libertarians would further are that (1) we should be allowed to harm ourselves, and (2) we can't legislate accidents away.[2]

But I think there is a way to approach the matter which moves the issue to the first or initiating causes of citizen deaths. Just as a badly broken mental health system can allow a person to end up using a gun in terrible ways, so can other broken social systems -- such as substandard auto monitoring, allowing under monitored or dangerous practices,  perpetuating addictive cigarettes in society, etc. -- all these allow other consequences where many, many citizens die. Therefore, it's the initiating causes that we should be worrying about, and the initiating causes for gun deaths have far, far less consequences in terms of citizen deaths than the initiating causes behind these other social issues that lead to citizen deaths. So (and again), as an overall assessment, I argue that gun worries are overblown.


[1] One should also note that the claim about FBI and baseball bats is incorrect (source).

[2] Of course, if one can't legislate accidents away, there is this mystery of what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been doing all these years.

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At 12:42 AM, Blogger kyle8425 said...

I think it all turns on what you mean by "worry." Should I, statistically, be more worried about dying in an auto accident than in a mass shooting? Certainly. However, I should be more concerned (and upset) about the death of 20 innocent kids shot in a school, than I should be about the self inflected death of smokers who started smoking knowing the risks--and about the fact that we could have regulated guns long ago to prevent those deaths with simple regulations, and we didn't.

Oh, and the thing about the Baseball bats being used to kill more than guns, is false!

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Brint Montgomery said...

Right, Kyle -- the issue really is some sort of sane regulation that prevents deaths of citizens. Yet smoking is no exception; since it causes so many MORE deaths, I simply say that it's ludicrous to think guns are such a high priority when they fall so far down on the list. The truth seems to be that we don't really care about citizen deaths so much, only deaths that affect us emotionally when we watch the news-tainment. (Yes, I agree, and put the bat disclaimer in a footnote.)


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