Sex and Guns: Safer not Safe

I just finished a draft of my book chapter on “Pascal’s Wager and Firearms.” It’s all about risk, risk assessment, and risk management in relation to firearms. From there I am rolling into a chapter on negative outcomes, which will of course highlight the work of the Professor of Negative Outcomes, Claude Werner.

A Tweet I saw yesterday directed my attention to an op-ed written by a leading suicide researcher created a nice bridge between these two chapters. It had to do with preventing gun “violence” (to include suicide and accidents) via safe storage. For me the most interesting part was the last paragraph, so either read or skip to the end and find the following:

Firearms are here to stay. Just as we encourage safe sex rather than abstinence to reduce the burden of teenage pregnancy, we can encourage safe firearm storage rather than simply discouraging firearm ownership altogether in our efforts to reduce gun violence.

Michael Anestis

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To be sure, gun violence prevention advocates like Anestis and gun organizations that promote safety like the NSSF (Project Childsafe) define safe storage differently. But my interest in this passage is the broader analogy proposed between guns and sex.

Like Anestis, in my Sociology of Guns seminar last fall, one of my students drew on her experience promoting sexual health and education on college campuses to highlight the negative consequences of adopting an abstinence-based approach to gun safety education. We can no more get people to “just say no” to guns than we can to sex.

Too often the #gunsafety (rebranded gun control) movement has adopted a safety FROM guns rather than a safety WITH guns approach. But Anestis’ analogy to sex is right on with one significant caveat:

There is no SAFE sex, only safeR sex.

The caveat is important in understanding guns and gun owners also.

Risk can never be completely eliminated from sex, but we are willing to spend some risk in order to reap the rewards. The same is true with guns. Although there is safer gun handling, risk can never be eliminated entirely. Many gun owners recognize this but are willing to spend some risk for the various rewards that come with ownership and use.

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