Magical Thinking and Newtown

It’s hard for me to believe it’s been less than a year since the terrible, tragic actions of a disturbed young man took 27 lives in the State of Connecticut. I believe in armed self-defense precisely because I value the lives of myself, my loved ones, and the innocents of our society, and precisely because when the predators and the madmen come for me and mine, I’m prepared to stand between them and their prey.

Yesterday, the Connecticut State Attorney’s office released their preliminary report on the Sandy Hook massacre, and it’s interesting, if unsurprising, reading. It contains more detail about what happened, but not even speculation about why it happened. But it did include a couple of interesting facts which make what I think is an important point that people often overlook: “Crazy” is about motive, not method. And this is why Gun Free Zones and other gun control laws that only control the law-abiding are doomed to fail to prevent future tragedies.

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Availability Bias and the “Right to Safety”

Robert Farago at The Truth About Guns had a post the other day titled “Note to Gun Control Advocates: Safety is Not a Right” In it, he responds to a northjersey.com editorial which preaches that:

Holding up the shield of the Second Amendment does not cut it. Yes, Americans have the right to keep and bear arms. And children have the right to attend school without worrying they’ll get killed. Pedestrians have the right to walk down a street without fearing for their lives. Moviegoers have the right to sit with strangers for two hours without thinking they’ll be mowed down.

Robert responds to this post and makes an impassioned argument that “safety” isn’t a right, and that it isn’t a right the government could guarantee even if it was. (I think he’s correct in both of these assertions, by the way).

He writes:

In fact, gun control advocates’ attempts to make safety a “right” reduces public safety rather than increases it. You only have to look at every country that’s instituted gun control—especially as a preamble to mass murder—to see the truth of that statement.

Bottom line: gun control advocates can argue for the need to “balance” the right to keep and bear arms against an individual’s desire not to get shot. But unless gun control folks amend the U.S. Constitution they’re claiming ground which does not belong to them. And never will.

Although I think Robert’s analysis is correct, I think this argument is likely to be dismissed by the anti-gun folks as legalistic hair-splitting. More to the point, though, I think Robert’s focus in his response mentions, but fails to delve into, a far more rational reason why the anti-gun argument to which he was responding is wrong. The basic problem is that the anti-gun crowd is falling victim to a common cognitive bias and not realizing it. As a direct result of thousands of years of evolution, their minds are leading them astray.

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Safety on Bikes, and the Choice of Denial

Photo Credit: Capgros / stock.xchg

Over at A Girl and Her Gun, there’s an interesting post today about bike riding and safety. AGirl links to this discussion on a woman’s bicycling forum about safety when riding alone. Many of the women who posted there expressed the view that carrying guns is an overreaction, dangerous, even paranoid, and certainly not a viable thing to do when one is biking. The few who posted in support of being armed while riding were pretty much jumped all over by the others.

AGirl correctly points out that:

The tendency for some will be to read the comments left by these women and then say they are stupid or they deserve to get mugged, raped, killed because they are sheep. I don’t think anyone, no matter how clueless, naive, or thickheaded deserves any of those things. My main goal, now, in writing this blog is to find ways to relate to those people and help them understand the flaws in their thinking.

I totally agree with her, insofar as the truth is that connecting with anti-gun folks, really understanding their viewpoint, and encouraging them to do some “reality testing” of that viewpoint is the only way to make any inroads of understanding. The truth is, most anti-gun folks hold their views just as sincerely as we hold pro-gun ones, and the only way those views will evolve is when those people themselves realize the flaws in their thinking. Sometimes we can help them do it, but too often it takes a life-changing tragedy to cause people to re-examine deeply held beliefs.

What I wanted to talk about, though, is an attitude I saw in that discussion. It’s sort of saying, “facing the reality that bad things could happen to me and I’m unprepared is too scary, so I’ll just pretend they can’t happen.” And this is an attitude that a lot of those who are opposed to guns and self-defense seem to have. I wonder, sometimes, if the reason they’re opposed to us arming ourselves is that if we can do things to make ourselves safe, then they can’t cling to that “bad stuff happens and I can’t change it so I might as well bury my head in the sand” idea. After all, if we can keep ourselves safe from bad things, so could they. But if there’s nothing anyone can do (so they think), then one could be forgiven for doing nothing. Right?

I think this is where a lot of the “blame the victim” thinking comes from. People don’t like to admit that trouble can find anyone – including them – and so they look for something, anything the victim “did wrong”. Because then they can tell themselves, “oh, I’d never do <whatever it is they decided the victim ‘did wrong’>, so I’ll be safe.” Which works just fine, right up until the moment that it doesn’t. Denial is powerful and seductive because denial lets us pretend the world is all unicorns and puppy dogs. Denial lets us pretend that the hunters aren’t out there. Denial lets us delude ourselves into thinking it couldn’t happen to us.

Sobering statistic of the day: According to the last time I looked at the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, the annual per capita risk of being a violent crime victim (that is, the risk that any given person will be a victim in any given year) is only slightly smaller than the annual per capita risk of suffering a house fire. So, why don’t we tell people that having smoke alarms and homeowner’s insurance is paranoid and reactionary? Why don’t we tell schools not to bother with fire drills. After all, “it’s so unlikely to happen.” Except that the fact the risk is small doesn’t mean it’s zero. And we humans are, cognitively, not the best at evaluating relative risks anyway.

So I totally agree with AGirl about  the importance of reaching out to inform and educate and build bridges of understanding with people. But I also recognize that moving people from denial to action and from passivity to self-reliance can be a challenge. We can try, but in the end all we can ultimately control is our own preparation and our own self-reliance.