The math of gun unsafety

I’ve heard some interesting arguments about how guns keep us safe in the last 24 hours. But there’s one basic prevailing thought: if I have a gun, I am safer.

It’s an understandable logic.

Let’s create a scenario.

There have been a series of break-ins in your neighbourhood.  Basic smash and grabs.  You’re worried about your safety.  That’s understandable.  So you say to your spousal type (or you talk to yourself about it, single people) and you say, ‘I should go buy a gun because then I’ll be safer.’

This jump in safety is, to the individual, logical.  Guns are powerful.  You had 0 power before and now you have 1.  You understandably are very sure you’re much safer now than you were before you owned the gun.  This is a perception of safety.

One night, the burglar finally hits your house.  You confront the burglar in your living room.  You have a power of 1 thanks to your new gun.  The burglar turns to see you.  That’s when you notice the burglar is also in possession of a power of 1.

As it turns out, you’re not actually safer, because in this scenario +1 will always carry with it the purpose of inflicting death.  Had you confronted the burglar with no gun in hand, you’re actually entering the same probable outcome as you are with the gun.  This is binary.  Either he shoots you or he doesn’t.

If the burglar had no gun and you both entered this situation with a power of 0, you have both, in all reasonable likelihood, eliminated the probability of death.  That seems safer to me.  But I like math and logic and that stuff.

The next step is to say, well then I’ll buy 2 guns.  That gives me a power of +2.  But the robber, in his next foray, says ‘I’m bring a friend with me.  I need a boost through the window and that last guy had a gun.’

Again the situation evens out 2=2.  Except you’re only one person.  They’re shooting at one target.  You’re shooting at 2.  You’re actually LESS safe.

The math doesn’t support you actually being safer because of the presence of a gun.  You either have to make a logical mistake like assume you are the only person with a gun.  Or you have to assume that you fire straighter than the burglar.  This is called over confidence.  Read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” to understand why this isn’t a good thing.

There are roughly 350 million guns in circulation in the US.  The actual number of guns is higher than this.  That means more than one gun for every single American.  In this case, everyone is entering every conflict at a state of 0+1.  If everyone is at a state of 0+1, you’re actually no safer than anybody else.

So what makes you safer?

Economists like to work based on systems of incentive and disincentive.  One by itself is insufficient to dissuade or persuade an individual.  You need a combination.  So create it.  The incentive to not conduct a home invasion is freedom.  The disincentive is jail time.  But the disincentive is hard to advertise.  So advertise it.  Get a home alarm.  One that calls the cops and makes a lot of noise.  You’ve just created an active disincentive.

In neighbourhoods with higher crime, create a neighbourhood watch program.  Send out a press release announcing the new group of concerned citizens.  Have your city councillor talk to the media about how he or she is taking crime seriously and the community won’t stand for property crime and violent crime anymore.  You’ve now advertised the disincentive.

There are things you can do to reduce the potential for crime.  So do them.  The gun doesn’t actually make you safer.  If you both shoot, you’re looking at the same odds.

Oh, and end poverty and massive income disparity.  This one’s tougher.  But read the statistics.  You could be saving your own life.