In the last couple of days, I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing — from politicians and almost everyone else — concerning what to do about the crisis of gun-related violence in schools. I’m frustrated by the arguments, because they’re arguing the wrong points.
The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has renewed calls from some people to ban guns or at least control them more tightly in undefined ways. Those on the other side of the debate have said the way to stop such shootings is to arm teachers and let potential intruders know they’ll be shot. Many reasonable and intelligent people are taking sides along these battle lines, but I think they’re making a very basic error in their thinking.
Both sides assume we have a crisis related to school safety or mass shootings, so each side is trying to solve that predefined “problem.” But what if schools are already safe enough? And what if “mass shootings” aren’t the problem that both sides seem to assume they are?
How safe does the world have to be before you consider it “safe enough”?
For the families and friends of those who died in the shootings Friday, the shootings were definitely a crisis. The lives of survivors will never be the same. They’ve been scarred and changed.
But can’t the same be said of people who go through any traumatic incident? If 26 people (including 20 children) had died in an airplane crash, we wouldn’t hear cries to ban airplanes. Even though we would look at the crash and see whether there were lessons to learn from the specific incident, we would simply mourn the dead and acknowledge that the world can’t be made completely safe.
The odds of a child dying in a school shooting are roughly one in 2 million. The odds of drowning in your own bathtub are about one in 10,000. The odds of being killed by a lightning strike are one in 71,600. In other words, your child is 190 times more likely to die while taking a bath in your own home than he is to be shot and killed at school. He’s 28 times more likely to be killed by lightning than being shot and killed at school.
By comparison to school shootings, we have a national crisis in bathtub and lightning deaths. Maybe we should consider banning bathtubs. Maybe we shouldn’t allow people to go outside when it might be raining. And swimming pools and cars obviously should be banned. Right?
Nobody sane would argue that it’s not a tragedy when innocent people die. But rational people understand that all of life is full of risks and that we have to balance risks, rewards and freedom. If guns had no redeeming features — if they were only used to murder people — maybe you could make an argument to try to stamp them out. But guns have plenty of other legitimate uses, including defending our homes and families from people who attack us.
For me, an even bigger reason to encourage an armed population is simply to prevent government from having an absolute monopoly on force. Our ability to own guns is our last line of defense against intrusive government. The purpose of the Second Amendment wasn’t to make sure Americans had the right to hunt. It was to make it explicit that they had the right to own weapons in case they needed to fight their own government. After all, they had just gotten through overthrowing a government — in large part because men were armed and willing to use their weapons.
We have very safe schools in this country when it comes to the danger of outsiders coming in and killing anyone. Some of them aren’t so safe from much more mundane bullying, mugging and fights. But the idea that we need to throw out the right of hundreds of millions of individuals to defend themselves — on the premise that it might make a very few people a slight bit more safe — is irrational at best.
It doesn’t take guns to kill a bunch of children at a school. In 1927, a Michigan man who opposed a new school tax — and who blamed the tax for the coming foreclosure of his farm — blew up a school and killed 45 people, including 38 children. He planted explosives in the school for a year in preparation for the attack. Then one morning, he beat his wife to death, drove over to the school and blew it up — taking himself with it. Somehow, Americans of 1927 didn’t try to ban dynamite because an evil man used it in a very evil way. (By the way, the bomber was a member of the local school board and also served as its treasurer.) Here’s more about the Bath School bombing, and there’s plenty more about it online.
It’s a tragedy that 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. But it’s no less a tragedy that about 90 people (some of them children) lost their lives in car accidents Friday — and on every day since then. A rational person isn’t going to argue that cars should be banned. And a rational person looking at the statistics isn’t going to argue that guns should be banned, either
The argument in favor of banning or further restricting guns is emotional, not rational. We need to be smart and rational in addressing emotional and misleading arguments.
And one more thing. Turn your television off. Quit watching TV news. If you want to immediately improve your quality of life, quit paying attention to about 99.9 percent of so-called news. What is showing on your TV screen is just other people’s tragedy as entertainment and drama for you.
Quit watching it. When you fill your head and heart with the details of other people’s tragedies, you’re not helping yourself or them. Turn your television off.