My brother-in-law has never flown in an airplane. He’s terrified of the idea. But he’s a big fan of driving. It’s basically useless to tell him the statistical reality that flying is probably safer than driving:
In absolute numbers, driving is more dangerous, with more than 5 million accidents compared to 20 accidents in flying. A more direct comparison per 100 million miles pits driving’s 1.27 fatalities and 80 injuries against flying’s lack of deaths and almost no injuries, which again shows air travel to be safer. . . .
Statistically speaking, flying is far safer than driving. However, it may feel more dangerous because risk perception is based on more than facts, according to David Ropeik, risk communication instructor at Harvard School of Public Health. Driving affords more personal control, making it feel safer. In addition, plane crashes are catastrophic, killing more people at once, which grabs more attention and makes people more sensitive to them. Car crashes happen every day and spread the loss over time, making their combined effects less noticeable.
It’s all about risk perception and perceived safety. Those concepts affect far more than just cars and planes, however. The Supreme Court just refused to hear a case challenging a ban on “assault weapons” in Highland Park, Illinois because of risk perception. The ban may not be constitutional, but the Supreme Court doesn’t care. It makes people feel safer:
“If a ban on semi‐automatic guns and large‐capacity magazines reduces the perceived risk from a mass shooting and makes the public feel safer as a result, that’s a substantial benefit,” Judge Frank Easterbrook, who was appointed to the appeals court by President Ronald Reagan, wrote.
You’ve got to be kidding me. So now we’re making and upholding legislation entirely on the basis of how those laws make people feel? Wow. Perhaps we should make travelling in planes illegal too. It doesn’t feel as safe as driving after all.
This fear of so-called assault weapons is an irrational fear. The flat fact is that high capacity magazines are not necessary when your victims are unarmed. And so-called “assault weapons” are no less potentially dangerous than other readily available semi-automatic hunting rifles. Also, the terrorist’s gun of choice, the fully automatic AK-47, is not legal anywhere in the States, as all fully automatic weapons are banned.
Furthermore, it’s pretty clear gun control restrictions and bans don’t guarantee national safety. France has some of the strictest gun control on earth, and it has had a number of terrorist attacks just this year, pretty much all of them with illegal AK-47s. The total death count in France from terror attacks (not counting the lives of terrorists) comes to 146 this year. There have also been numerous gang-related shootings in France. That’s in spite of the fact that owning a gun in France is nigh near impossible. So strict gun control might make you feel safer. But it doesn’t make you any safer necessarily.
Further, gun control logic falls prey to the same kind of irrational fears that make people afraid to fly on planes. According to the numbers, you are more likely to die from suicide than die in a “mass shooting”:
Using any definition, the likelihood of being caught in a mass shooting remains exceedingly rare, even compared with other kinds of shootings. More than 32,000 people have been killed and more than 67,000 injured by firearms each recent year in America.
But the public reaction does not follow the logic of the numbers, said Dr. Garen Wintemute, a longtime researcher into the effects of gun violence and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis.
“Public mass shootings don’t allow us to distance ourselves, so they have a hugely disproportionate effect on the public’s attitude,” he said.
Wintemute uses figures from a Congressional Research Service report to illustrate how unlikely it was to become the victim of a mass shooting in 2014: 1 in 10 million, compared with at least 335 in 10 million for homicides and 670 in 10 million for suicides.
Will the facts make any difference to the politicians or the media? No. Fear, especially irrational fear, is the most powerful tool politicians and newsmakers have at their disposal. So, as long as it is expedient, get ready to hear about the gun epidemic, catastrophic numbers of mass shootings, the extraordinary level of gun violence in America, the evil of the gun industry, etc.
Yes, it’s irrational. But taking drastic measures to limit gun rights will make Americans feel a little safer perhaps. At least they’ll be able to grip the steering wheel of public policy firmly with their own hands comforted by the snug resistance of their socialist safety belts while the car of domestic security goes careening off a cliff.