MikeB wonders why people who carry guns don’t also take protective measures against being killed by falling meteors. An interesting question, but probably the wrong analogy. The odds of a person being killed by a falling meteorite are astronomically small. Best estimates of lifetime risk of being killed by meteorite impact is 1 in 700,000.
By contrast the violent crime rate in the us is currently 450 per 100,000 per year. Presuming that’s entirely random (it isn’t, far from it, actually, but let’s just assume it is for now) that’s a total lifetime probability of nearly 40% of being the victim of a violent crime. I don’t have UCR statistics for how much violent crime is stranger on stranger crime, but I do have that for murder, and about 15% of murder is stranger on stranger. Extrapolating the data for violent crime, we have a total lifetime probability of 5.3%. Now, if you adjust for other things, you can probably get that down to under 1% for people who live in very safe areas. But keep in mind, in society we also protect against other very low probability events.
For instance, your odds of being killed by a terrorists are actually lower than being killed by a meteor, yet we take great measures to prevent terrorism. Odds of dying in an automobile accident are only about 1.4% over a lifetime, yet it’s mandatory in all but a few states to wear one’s seatbelt, and we spend billions each year on making cars safer. The total lifetime odds of dying in a fire are only about 0.09%, yet we say it’s irresponsible not to have smoke detectors in the home, and most people agree it’s sensible to keep one in your automobile. The odds of being killed by amusement rides is about the same as a meteor, statistically, yet amusement rides are typically subject to fairly rigorous inspection requirements for safety.
What MikeB fails to understand is that these aren’t really games of just odds. We believe in spending a lot on automobile safety, amusement safety, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, fences around pools, and the like, because the safety we enjoy is almost entirely the creation of many of these things our society has put into place to create that environment. Remove those things, and the relative danger goes back up.
In the context of guns, this brings us back around to the heart of the debate: does the presence of firearms in society make that society safer, or more dangerous? Those of us who believe in relatively liberal gun laws believe their presence makes society safer, on the whole. Those who believe it makes society more dangerous, naturally they want to take guns out of the society. So we’re back to where we started. And odds argument isn’t going to carry any weight, because on these things, we don’t play odds.
23 Responses to “Playing the Odds”
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