Discussing acceptable risk and gun deaths

One of the larger issues brought to light by the Arizona shootings is whether Americans want to risk the possibility of such an event occurring in the future. One commentator considers the trade-offs that might exist in limiting the risk of gun violence:

RealClearPolitics analyzed the most recent United Nation’s data to better understand American violence. The assault rate in Scotland, England, Australia and Germany is more than twice the US-assault rate, at times far more. Yet the US-murder rate is at least four times the rate of these developed nations. America’s murder rate ranks 53 among 153 nations. No other developed nation ranks within the top half. The comparison between assault and murder rates is rough; an assault is not always reported or discovered. Both rates are, however, based on criminal justice sources from 2003 to 2008. And the comparison, for all its imperfections, captures an important fact: Americans are not exceptional for their violence but exceptional for their extreme violence–murder.

American violence has known far worse days. In 2008, the national homicide rate reached its lowest level since 1965. But there are still about 12,000 gun related murders annually. Guns are involved in two-thirds of American homicides. The US firearm-murder rate ranks among third-world countries. It’s about ten times the rate of Western European nations like Germany…

There is an unspoken willingness to tolerate our share of murders. American hyper-capitalism makes a similar tradeoff. We subscribe to social Darwinism to a degree unseen in Western Europe. It’s one reason our economy is the fittest. But it also explains why the wealthiest nation in the world has a weaker social safety net than other developed countries. The conservative equation of freedom: lower taxes and fewer regulations on guns, equals more freedom. Liberals adhere to their own zealous formulation of American freedom. The left has won more civil rights for the mentally ill, but those rights will sometimes risk the public’s welfare.

This is an interesting take on the situation. Whose rights should be protected? Are we willing to risk similar events occurring?

Considering the relative risks might also be helpful. Gun deaths, particularly like those lives taken in Arizona, seem particularly tragic and sudden. In comparison, over 33,000 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents in 2009. Which is the bigger priority: limiting gun deaths or motor vehicle accidents. These sorts of questions are quite difficult to answer and often don’t seem to be part of national conversations.

[Another note: can we really say that “our economy is the fittest”? One index recently named Hong Kong the world’s “freest economy.”]

[A final question: is it strange that this particular violence occurrence is getting so much attention when there are 12,000 gun deaths a year in the United States? I’m reminded of the talk in Chicago in recent years about whether the deaths in poorer neighborhoods were receiving the attention they should from police and politicians.]

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