I have been writing quite a bit lately about negative outcomes with firearms for my book on American gun culture. As I’ve stated repeatedly state on this blog and in various publications over the years, unlike most scholars studying guns, my starting point is not the deviance of guns but their normality.
But people care about negative outcomes with firearms such as homicide and suicide, including myself and other gun owners, so here we are.
I recently posted about the importance of considering absolute risk compared to relative risk when looking at negative outcomes with firearms. I mentioned, for example, that the relative risk of dying from an unintentional firearms injury in the U.S. is TWICE that of Italy. But the absolute risk of dying from an unintentional firearms injury in Italy is 1 in a million and in the U.S. it is 2 in a million, so some perspective is in order not to spark irrational fear.
In retrospect, the title “absolute vs. relative risk” was not the best, especially for someone who is constantly preaching the importance of both/and in understanding guns and gun culture rather than either/or. We need to understand BOTH relative risk AND absolute risk.
One of my top former students at Wake Forest read the absolute/relative risk post on my Facebook page and commented:
I think these numbers would be more meaningful too compared to some baseline that people can relate to more easily – say, the risk of being injured in a car accident.
I don’t disagree, though this does take us back to the question of relative risk.
Here I engage the third of the model’s 6 points, offering my own take on guns as a risk factor that tries to navigate between the “YES THEY ARE” and “NO THEY’RE NOT” that too often characterizes discussion of the issue.
Links to videos 1 (Light Over Heat #41) and 2 (Light Over Heat #42) and 3 (Light Over Heat #43) are below.
The model has 6 points, and in this 3rd video, I discuss point 3: how guns are seen to add risk of negative outcomes.
Links to videos 1 (Light Over Heat #41) and 2 (Light Over Heat #42) are below.
ACADEMIC TRIGGER WARNING: I got carried away discussing the methods employed in public health research on guns as a risk factor (I am a professor, after all), so this video is longer and more tedious than average. AND I also took the last third of the video in which I critique the public health research and put it in a separate video that will run next week.
In a recent post, I was critical of a publication in the New England Journal of Medicine called “Crossing Lines–A Change in the Leading Cause of Death among U.S. Children.” Despite the title focusing attention on “children,” the data cited in the article included deaths for individuals 1 to ***24*** years of age, which even in this coddled age stretches the definition of children too far.
I noted in that post, “it may be the case that the leading cause of death among U.S. children has changed. The data provided in this article don’t allow us to answer that question.”
In my just-released “Light Over Heat” YouTube video, I talk about how I am always looking for common ground in the great gun debates that are stalemated in America, including on gun violence prevention. This, of course, does not mean I simply accept research on gun violence at face value.
Raising questions about that research, however, often gives me a bit of an unsettled feeling because I don’t want to be seen as saying homicide, suicide, accidental death, or injury are no big deal.
These things ARE a big deal. They are negative outcomes in society that frequently involve guns that merit our attention and efforts at prevention or mitigation.
In my view, exaggeration so as to create a moral panic around these negative outcomes is a problem. Gun advocates are often criticized for creating a “culture of fear” to motivate gun ownership, but Barry Glassner’s classic analysis of the culture of fear can equally be applied to some gun violence prevention advocates in their efforts to motivate gun de-ownership and regulation.
Ever since I was little, my dad always taught me about gun safety and how to act around guns. Starting with nerf guns, all the way up to his prized Remington 870s, I was taught about the great pleasure that shooting guns can be if I follow all the rules to make sure myself and everyone around me were safe.
When it came to the field trip, however, I felt like half of the knowledge I had saved up over the years about gun safety had dwindled. As someone who handles guns relatively frequently, I was surprised to find out that I barely knew how to operate a simple .22 pistol that was so similar to the one I own at home. From this, I felt that no matter how acclimated you are (or think you are) to guns, there is still a rather startling feeling about picking up a new gun for the first time.