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.
There is a lot of anecdata floating around about how anti-Asian discrimination increased during the pandemic (think of people taking the “China virus” and “kung flu” language to the next outgroup level), and that this led to unprecedented gun buying among Asian Americans.
Of course, without historical data, we can’t really speak to “precedent,” but these scholars find that 6.0% of respondents said they purchased a gun during COVID and another 11.2% said they intended to purchase a gun. Of the 6% of COVID gun buyers, 54.6% were first-time gun buyers.
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 mid-November, I am presenting at a workshop about firearms and self-defense at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. I am using the occasion to write out something that has been in my mind for some time: Systematizing the dominant academic approach to understanding defensive gun ownership (Gun Culture 2.0).
In this and the next five Light Over Heat videos leading up to the Saint Anselm workshop, I will be sharing what I am calling “The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership.”
This week’s video summarizes the entire 6-point model.
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?
Now that I have been wandering around American gun culture for over a decade, I consume fewer gun-related podcasts than I used to. Time is my scarcest resource and as podcasts have proliferated, the signal-to-noise ratio is often too low to merit the investment.
As noted earlier, the final assignment of the semester in my Sociology of Guns seminar is for the students to write an essay reflecting on their personal experience with and understanding of guns in light of what they learned in the course.