Monday, July 27, 2015

A Western Liberal's Views on Guns

It kind of blows my mind that the second amendment to our Constitution is (now, explicitly) about an individual right to bear arms.  It just doesn't seem like that big of a deal to me.  Freedom from search and seizure (e.g.) seems like it would come before that.  

But I grew up in country where people care.  

My spouse once idly mentioned that in Idaho, prosecutors can be issued firearms as part of their office.  I said that he would not be reviving that quaint tradition, because I want to keep the risk of in-home gun injury as close to zero as possible.  I do admit to having a little bit of residual culture-war distaste for guns, since I associate them with Republicans and toxic masculinity.  Frankly, they seem sort of tacky.  

Then again, that is a sort of appeal. A Republican's concealed-carry license is a hipster's ironic moustache that raises your risk of suicide by at least three times.  So if you want to push the standards of cultural signifiers and taste, a firearm is not a prudent way to do it.     

I'd think this might increase your suicide risk by a lot more.
CC Timo Luege from Flickr.
But prudence is not everyone's watchword.  A lot of people have dangerous hobbies, but we try and keep them dangerous only to the participants.    I am not about to go out hunting, but I respect a person's desire to be that intimately involved with feeding her or himself*.   

Accidents happen to everyone, including the responsible and well-trained.  It's folly to rely on them not happening.  (The only person I can think of that I've known to die by a gun did so by accident.)  I'm really really risk-averse, so I tend to try and keep myself away from situations where the stakes of accidents are as high as they are with weapons.   

But the really sticky part when it comes to firearms for personal use is self-defense.  It's only sticky because of how hard it is to assess the risk of really scary stuff.  My experience with people who really push this is that they're willing to tolerate or ignore the risks that come with firearm ownership for the extremely small likelihood that they will truly need a gun to defend themself.  I have some pop-psychological theories as to why this is, but they're so uninformed that I will just skip those in favor of simply saying that it does not add up for a person like me, or indeed most people.  There are almost certainly circumstances in which having a gun around for self-defense is going to help you a lot more than the risk of suicide or accident is going to hurt you.  



These numbers are kind of hard to untangle, since there are a lot of things that make you "the kind of person who would keep a gun in their house" that are also things that make you likelier to be in a violent conflict.  So, I'll leave sorting this out to the professionals.  A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology says 
 
Those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 1.9, 95% confidence interval: 1.1, 3.4). They were also at greater risk of dying from a firearm homicide, but risk varied by age and whether the person was living with others at the time of death.,
I like this bit because it acknowledges the way that the risk factors affect each other.  Young people die due to injuries (violent, interpersonal, or not) a lot more than people who live long enough to acquire diseases.  In fact, young people die almost exclusively due to injuries.  


I am talking about "kinds of people" as in statistically-important populations.  I am "the kind of person" whose marriage doesn't last, since I got married pretty young (among other things).  I hope I'm an exception (It was just my 11th anniversary this weekend), but what happens is what happens.  So don't feel like I'm painting a picture of who you are with this stuff.  

As it happens, I am not the kind of person to keep a gun in her home, and I am not the kind of person likely to die by shooting.  Anyone could have told you that, but when you put together my demographic profile, common sense is born out.    Neither were Mayci Breaux or Jillian Johnson.  

TL;DR Guns are dangerous and I don't really want one around me when I can help it.  People assess risk in wildly different ways, and that's natural.   I'm willing to live and let live, but it's irresponsible to mince words about the risks that guns present.  Again from that paper: 
Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home.



*This is about as far as I respect hunting.  If you feel like testing your coordination, play ping pong or Nintendo.  If you want some fun explosions, find a place where you can enjoy them in safety.  
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