I’ve been spending more time than I would like to recently addressing gun owners shooting people for (seemingly) no good reason. After the recent “hide-and-seek” shooting in Louisiana, I thought about an opinion essay I wrote last summer on why I dislike the “good guy with a gun” slogan.
Today I want to see what these data tell us about the problem of suicide in the United States relative to our peer nations. Are we exceptional here, too?
As with my examination of homicide, this is admittedly a very simplistic analysis. But for my work, it is important to be able to say something about the big picture of negative outcomes with firearms in the United States as a starting point for more sophisticated analyses.
America is exceptional in the world for the number of firearms legally owned by its citizens, as well as the laws and culture that support widespread civilian gun ownership. Understanding this has been central to my work over the years.
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?
In this first “Light Over Heat with Professor David Yamane” video I take up the question, “Just how normal are guns and gun owners, anyway?”
Drawing on data on negative outcomes with guns as a proportion of the total number of guns owned in the US (400 million), the total number of gun owners (76.56 million), and the total number of gun owning households (51.44 million), I conclude that guns and gun owners are VERY NORMAL.
99.85% of guns, 99.21% of gun owners, and 99.82% of gun owning households will not be involved in any fatalities, non-fatal injuries, or violent victimizations involving guns on any given day. The vast majority of American gun owners do perfectly normal things with their guns.
In my Sociology of Guns seminar, I typically allocate 2 or 3 of the modules to gun injury, suicide, and homicide. Teaching on-line this semester, I provided the students with an overview of negative outcomes with guns asynchronously (via a narrated PowerPoint turned into a YouTube video) so we would have more time in our on-line (Zoom) synchronous class session to delve into the issues more deeply.