Light Over Heat #17: Are Gun Owners Thoughtful Risk Analysts?

The idea that guns are a risk factor – for homicide, suicide, accidental death, and injury – was a central idea at the gun violence prevention writers workshop I attended in Hartford earlier this month (see Light Over Heat #15 and Light Over Heat #16). This week I reflect more broadly on the role of risk in our lives.

I am risk-averse in certain ways, but in other ways, I take risks all the time. Notably, drinking alcohol which has many well-documented short-term and long-term health risks. Rather than always trying to avoid risk, perhaps we should, in gun trainer Will Petty’s terms, think of risk as a currency that we get to choose how to spend?

In spending our risk wisely, we need to be thoughtful risk analysts and wise risk managers. In bringing firearms into their homes and lives, gun owners are assuming a certain amount of risk for themselves and their loved ones.

This raises the question: Are gun owners thoughtful risk analysts for their own lives?

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Is a Life with Less Risk Better?

I am a risk-averse person. When a friend from high school told me he was thinking of leaving his secure job with an established software company to join a startup, I thought it was too risky. He had a young family to worry about and the startup’s business model was terrible. Why would anyone wait to receive DVD movie rentals in the mail when they could get them right away at the many Blockbuster Video stores on their way to or from work? Cryptocurrency? No, thank you. Apple stock? Overpriced. I don’t drive fast, don’t ride my bike without a helmet, don’t jump out of planes or off cliffs, don’t like boats or ATVs, don’t drink to excess, don’t pick fights. Whenever possible, I try to limit my exposure to unnecessary risk.

At first glance, the following quote from sociologist and gun critic Jonathan Metzl would seem right up my alley:

Risk helps people identify the possibility of peril in their loved ones and is something that we all want to avoid in our own lives. Risk implies peril, hazard, and the possibility of loss. Risk, as anthropologist Lochlann Jain puts it, is a form of American autobiography—inasmuch as it reveals a great deal about our relationships with cars, machines, and other objects and technologies. As a doctor or as a researcher, I believe that a life with less risk is a life that is often longer, happier, and more secure. Risk is something that we should want to study, identify, and, ultimately, prevent.

Jonathan Metzl, Dying of Whiteness, p. 50
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