Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | December 18, 2012

The Illusion of Safety

There is nothing worse than feeling helpless.


Humans are hard-wired to hate the feeling of not being able to affect or control their environment. They hate it so much, they will do anything — and I mean anything — to not feel like that. Despite he vociferous protestations from owners and users of firearms, guns do not make you safer; they only make you feel safer.

How do I know this? Several ways. On the one hand, there is actual evidence showing that more guns produce more gun violence. Japan, Australia, UK: practically no guns, practically no shooting deaths. Ah, but this is Amurica, the land of the free and the home of the heavily armed, not to mention the venue for increasingly frequent massacres of innocents.

More telling, though, is the lengths to which gun proponents go to disavow these facts. When asked point blank, the vast majority of them deny that they want to use their guns to hurt or kill people. They just want to be able to “if they need to.” Listening to them contort themselves around the circumstances that would qualify as “needing to” would be amusing if it weren’t so chilling. IF they were attacked by a crazed assailant, and IF there were no way to summon appropriate aid in an expeditious fashion, and IF they were unable to resolve the situation any other way (retreating, talking the guy down, etc.) then and only then would they use their weapon (equipped with the most lethal ammunition possible, because it MAY not  be possible to stop the guy without killing him).

I’ve heard responsible gun owners opine that they are ever so much more patient and careful in potentially hazardous situations just because they know they have a weapon, and are so very cognizant of the responsibility required not to loose its awesome power.  So just knowing that you COULD blow someone away if you “had” to somehow gives you greater skill at dealing with the situation?

Here’s another take on this, from Canadian journalist Neil MacDonald:

Jason Chaffetz, a Republican congressman from Utah, proclaimed on Sunday that the real problem underlying these kinds of incidents is the mental health issue: “I am a concealed carry permit holder. I own a Glock 23, I’ve got a shotgun, I’m not the person you need to worry about.”

Well, sorry, congressman, but you are certainly one of them, at least in my (admittedly Canadian) book.

If I understand properly, you live in an urban area, and carry around a .40-calibre pistol with up to 17 bullets in the magazine, capable of firing up to five a second, just like one of the pistols the Connecticut shooter toted.

In other words, you pack the means to kill more than a dozen people in moments if you choose, and we just have to trust you to be sensible and hold your temper. [emphasis mine]

Time after time, shooting after shooting, guns have never been the solution. I’ve heard more than one gun advocate boast about how if only he’d been at that theater in Aurora/Virginia Tech/Columbine High School, by God the outcome would have been different.

Although by definition no one can know for sure, the chances are pretty overwhelming that no, the outcome would not have been so much different; it almost certainly would have been worse. Yet because the vast majority of those gun owners will never be in that precise situation — right time, right place, right lighting, right angles (well, correct angles), right equipment, etc. etc. etc. — they will never have the chilling opportunity to realize that no, their guns cannot protect them. Hence, they will always continue to believe that their guns make them safer, which makes them feel less helpless.

We all feel terrible in the wake of the Connecticut shooting. Our pain is composed not just of shock, grief, and anger, but of a helplessness so profound we hardly know what to make of it.

Rational adults recognize that there are certain situations we can never control. There will always be tragedies of one kind or another. The trick is recognizing which courses of action will rationally lessen our helplessness, and which provide nothing more than the illusion of control.


By the way: in response to some of the comments to my two previous posts (and presumably this one), know this: I may deplore your politics to the very core of my being, but I can still respect you as a professional and cherish you as a person. It’s entirely up to you to decide whether or not you can reciprocate. 


  1. I appreciate your argument much more when you start it from a place that acknowledges the good faith, or at least possible rationality, of your opponent. That was my whole point. Thank you. I’ll drop it now.

  2. I disagreed with some (but no means all) of your politics, and I respected you as a professional, cherished you as a person, and valued you as a friend… right up to the day you called me a terrorist, said that an assault weapon was more precious to me than a child’s life, and said that any grief I felt for those slain children was “crocodile tears.”

    I understand you felt despair, and you posted in anger. I felt the same emotions.

    Yet I held my tongue in respect, and said my prayers for the families of the slain, and yes, even for the soul of the tortured young man who committed the atrocity. I prayed for understanding. I spent fifteen minutes on the side of the road yesterday, weeping because I could not hold it together after watching my daughter’s schoolmates holding a prayer vigil around the flagpole when I dropped her off at school that morning.

    But I did not lash out and say vile things in anger. The gun-fearing person did. No wonder you fear gun owners. You project your inability to master your emotions on everyone else.

    You posted statistics from countries where gun control has purportedly worked. I can post statistics of my own, equally valid, that contradict yours, or at the very least, provide a broader perspective for what those statistics actually mean. I could provide you with reams of evidence, facts, figures, and historical precedent that demonstrate that what you wish to happen will not work. I have offered in the past to educate you on firearms, so that at the very least, you won’t spew blatant falsehoods and ignorance of current laws like you have in your last two posts.

    But I won’t waste either of our time. You’re not interested in rational debate, and you refuse to accept evidence contrary to your own beliefs. In the choice between knowledge and fear, apparently fear is the easier path for you.

    And I’m sorry, but I find it impossible to reciprocate respect and friendship when one of the parties believes the other to be a sociopathic terrorist who values a tool above a human life.

    Those are your words. Own them.

  3. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, as I hope we all have, and I have come to the conclusion that guns represent power for the owner and thus, a sense of control.

  4. You’re not interested in rational debate, and you refuse to accept evidence contrary to your own beliefs. In the choice between knowledge and fear, apparently fear is the easier path for you.

    That’s called projection.

    I own all my words, even the ones you willfully misinterpret.

  5. In other words, you pack the means to kill more than a dozen people in moments if you choose, and we just have to trust you to be sensible and hold your temper.

    I have to trust that the vaccines you want to give my children aren’t tainted with autism-causing chemicals.

    …and I do trust you that far. Not because I know you, but because the evidence says that vaccines are safe.

    There are around 6 million carry license holders in the US with less than 1/6 the average rate of violent crime. Evidence that you should use to weigh the chance that I am more likely to be violent than the next guy.

    Which is more important to making a decision–feelings or evidence? Do you have ANY evidence that concealed carry license holders make things worse? Or is it just ‘common sense’?

  6. No, Dr. Dino, you’re right. Living as I do in Israel, where we often see the real results of violence, we not only have firm gun control, we have a very low incidence of crime-connected gun violence. I often think that one of the problems in the US is that very few people actually witness carnage caused by guns — it’s all “fake violence” in movies or TV with lots of ketchup thrown about and the “corpses” are decorously draped here and there [always with their eyes closed, ever notice?] Very few Americans, relatively, even see carnage of other types, such as the results of car accidents, up close, unless they are accompanying someone to an Emergency Room. News programs do not usually show the really gory pictures. It therefore seems that owning a gun, and shooting it, is really a rather sterile exercise [marksmanship targets don’t bleed or scream], dehumanized in fact. In reality, I would expect most of these “if we only had more guns someone would have taken that shooter out” sorts would panic in the heat of the moment, and probably have made the situation a great deal worse.

  7. Brava!

  8. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (Northwestern)

    David Hemenway, Ph.D., is Director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

    He is also the author of “Private Guns Public Health”.
    ISBN: 0472114050
    Synopsis (Barnes and Noble)

    On an average day in the U.S., guns are used to kill almost ninety people, and to wound nearly three hundred more. If any other consumer product had this sort of disastrous effect, the public outcry would be deafening; yet when it comes to guns such facts are accepted as a natural consequence of supposedly high American rates of violence.

    Private Guns, Public Health explodes that myth and many more, revealing the advantages of treating gun violence as a consumer safety and public health problem. Author David Hemenway fair-mindedly and authoritatively demonstrates how a public-health approach-which emphasizes prevention over punishment, and which has been so successful in reducing rates of injury and death from infectious disease, car accidents, and tobacco consumption-can be applied to gun violence.

    Hemenway uncovers the complex connections between guns and self-defense, gun violence and schools, gun prevalence and homicide, and more. Finally, he outlines a course of regulation and policy that would significantly reduce gun-related injury and death.

    With its bold new public-health approach to guns, Private Guns, Public Health marks a shift in our understanding of guns that will finally point us toward a solution.

  9. As a writer, it’s your duty to ensure we cannot reasonably misinterpret your words. I read them. I have to agree with AD…your words were wrong and hateful. If it’s a matter of misinterpretation; then perhaps you need to write more clearly.

    One problem I keep seeing is this whole comparing America with other nations. That seems neat on its face, but you do realize that firearms ownership and various criminal laws and social policies vary greatly from state to state. While any state will have more firearms-related murders than nations with few or no firearms…overall murder rates are probably the more important factor. Hmmm…Minnesota has a fairly large number of firearm owners…and a murder rate that is close to the UK, and less than Canada.

    There are a number of other states with similar numbers. Meanwhile, there are states and locales where firearms are heavily regulated (Chicago, Washington DC and New York) where the murder rates rival that of many 3rd world nations.

    On its face, it would appear that guns=murder rates is not a good argument. We need to look deeper. We need to exercise reason in a time when everyone wants that quick fix…that will fix nothing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: