Are Guns Risky?

In response to Bob Costas’ “anti-gun speech” on Sunday Night Football a friend of mine stated that “there is way too much gun violence in this country.” I’m inclined to agree. However, will there ever be a point when we don’t have too much gun violence?

When it comes to public policy, to determining what should be done to address the problem of gun violence,  how do we determine what an acceptable amount is and when public intervention is no longer necessary? Is our goal to reduce the number to 0 which, if even possible, would require invasive national intervention on a massive scale or would we be content with reducing the number of gun deaths from 31,672/yr to 21,672?

What about the fact that 19,392 or 61% of gun deaths are suicides? Would more gun control really stop people intent on killing themselves or will they find another means? Or, are we only interested in reducing the gun-related violence even if it leads to an increase in alternative methods? What about drugs? Both gun-related suicides and homicides are often linked to drugs and economist Milton Friedman argues that ending our war on drugs could eliminate 10,000 homicides a year, to say nothing of what could be done to reduce suicides by drug abuse prevention and treatment.

To put the numbers into perspective, while 31,672 deaths in 2010 in the United States are gun-related, preventable medical errors kill as many as 195,000 people per year in the United States. If our objective is to reduce loss of human life then it seems that our time and resources would be better spent reducing medical errors than controlling guns (or on suicide prevention since suicides are responsible for as many as four times as many deaths as homicides in the US).

I think that bigger issues like medical errors are ignored, however, because guns are dramatic. Its a better news story, it evokes more emotion, guns are noticeable. However, perhaps we should really think about endorsing a public policy driven by evidence rather than emotions.

So, are guns risky? Of course, but then what doesn’t involve some level of risk? Preventable fatalities caused by medical errors, suicides and accidents have all proven to be more dangerous than guns. Looking at the statistics it seems that you’d be better off around a gun than in a hospital.

Do I believe that gun-violence should be ignored? Of course not. However, our attention to gun-violence seems to risk being out of proportion when compared to significantly greater killers like medical errors which receive little public attention.

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