Is it worth it to try to reduce gun violence?

It was a disquieting experience to listen to these two podcasts in quick succession:

Freakonomics Radio: How to Think about Guns

This American Life: Harper High School, Part One.

The conclusion of the first podcast is that, in absolute terms, widespread availability of guns doesn’t really cause that many problems in society. Mass shootings are shocking and disturbing, but they are also very rare. Many more people are injured and die in car crashes. By and large, the people who are hurt and killed by guns are mostly the people who spend a lot of time around guns, and those of us who go through our lives without interacting much with guns have little to fear.

They discuss the difficulty of removing guns from circulation, and quote the impressive-seeming statistic that any given gun only has a 1:10,000 likelihood of being involved in a shooting each year, so removing any given gun is unlikely to affect the overall problem.  (It seems to me that this astonishing figure has more to do with the ridiculous saturation of guns in America than how dangerous guns are inherently.)  The basic conclusion is: getting rid of guns would be hard, so we should put society’s resources into other means of preventing injury and death.

The This American Life episode brings into sharp relief the fact that the dangers of guns are not shared evenly across society. The burden falls disproportionately on the urban poor. TAL paints a stark picture of a what it might be like to live your life, day in, day out, in a state of constant fear of gun violence.

I was thinking of making this post before today’s events in Beloit, but it seems especially relevant now.  I was struck as events unfolded that if this event had happened in a different part of town, I probably wouldn’t have heard about it—and if I’d heard, I wouldn’t probably have cared very much. Because this kind of thing happens—though not usually to people like me.


1 Comment

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One response to “Is it worth it to try to reduce gun violence?

  1. Ellen Joyce

    Very well said.

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