I Have (Next to Nothing) to Fear

HandgunLast fall, I was at a party with friends when the topic of Ferguson came up. The conversation was less about race and more about cops. I made the point that cops should be trained to use their guns to protect themselves and others, yes, but not to riddle people with bullets. Maybe I’m naïve, but I would think that of all the people in the world, policemen, along with soldiers, would be the ones who most effectively know how to use firearms. I said, “If I were a cop and felt threatened, I wouldn’t shoot to kill.” One of my friends said, “And that’s why we don’t want you to be a cop.” He’s right. You don’t want me to be a cop.

I don’t own a gun. So shoot me. As someone who doesn’t own a gun, I’m sure I’m a minority in my neighborhood, which maybe puts me in danger, but I don’t feel like I’m in danger (despite the fact I happen to know perfectly well that there’s a woman who lives about 1/4 mile down the street who sometimes gets high and randomly shoots bullets out her back door). I’ve been all over this country and to many different parts of this world and have never felt the need for a gun. I’ve lived in New York City, a place I know some people are scared to set foot in, and I didn’t feel the need to own a gun there. There are people in this world who need guns: hunters, soldiers, police officers, National Park rangers, those living on wildlife preserves in Africa (like in the book The Elephant Whisperer, which I recently listened to), those who own convenience stores or other places likely to be targets of robberies. I am not one of them.

The main reason I don’t own a gun is that I don’t believe in killing, not even in self defense. I’d rather just let someone kill me than to have to live with the knowledge that I’d killed someone else. Since I don’t believe in killing, it makes no sense for me to own something designed for the sole function of killing or threatening to kill.

I know that the number one reason most people in America own guns is for protection. We’re a fearful nation, and I guess people are convinced that they are highly likely to be attacked and/or shot by someone else and that the only way to prevent this is to own a gun. I choose not to be fearful. Instead, I look at the statistical likelihood of my being a victim; I use my head to keep myself out of harm’s way (you won’t catch me wandering around in secluded areas, drunk, after midnight, or accepting rides from or opening my door to strangers); and I accept the fact that if I’m meant to be some fluke, someone in my demographic who dies from a bullet wound, well, then so be it.

There are other reasons I don’t own a gun:

1. I have a friend who, along with her husband, suffers from severe depression. She once said to me, only half-jokingly, “I doubt either of us would still be alive if we owned guns.” I’m glad they don’t own guns. Anyone who’s studied psychology knows that the most effective way to turn an attempted suicide into a successful suicide is to use a gun. In 2010, according to a Pew Research Center study, 19,392 gun deaths out of a total of 31,672 (that’s 61%, well over half) were suicides. Because depression is unpredictable, and I never know whom I might invite to spend a night in my home who is depressed, I don’t like the notion of keeping an easy means to suicide around the house.

2. I don’t trust myself. I’m accident prone and forgetful. Having a gun in my home would be like having a venomous snake in my home. If someone I love were to get bitten, I’d have only myself to blame for owning a venomous snake. As I’ve said before, if you want to have a venomous snake in your home, fine, but I have enough things to worry about without having to worry about someone dying because a bullet was accidentally shot from a gun I own.

3. Although protecting myself from gun-wielding killers might seem like a good reason to own a gun (if I could wave it at them without actually having to shoot them), I know that I am highly unlikely to be attacked and killed by someone with a gun. There were 11,078 gun homicides in the U.S. in 2010 (Pew study) when the number of deaths that year were 2,465,936 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). That means that less than 1% of the people who died in the U.S. in 2010 died from gunshot wounds. Even if you look at the number of all homicides (gun and non-gun), the number is 14, 748 (FBI), still less than 1%.  If someone told you you had less than a 1% chance of falling down a flight of stairs and dying, would you avoid stairs? I think not, which is why I’m not worried about protecting myself from someone with a gun. There are a few other factors that work in my favor, making me even less likely to die at the hands of some homicidal maniac: my age, my gender, the fact that I’m not the victim of domestic violence, the fact that I’m not a drug addict, not in a gang, and, sad to say, the fact that I’m white.

4. Another tempting reason to have a gun is to protect myself from a psycho serial killer, one who is intent on raping and torturing me before killing me. Tempting, that is, until I consider the likelihood of that happening. I know if you watch any TV or read any popular books, magazines, and websites, it seems like the U.S. is just teeming with psychopathic serial killers waiting to break into your home to torture and kill you (who, incidentally, seem to choose to do so when you’re asleep in bed, pouncing on you before you have time to grab a gun, so what good is that gun gonna do?), but according to the Radford University Serial Killer Information Center (yes, there is such a place), the average number of serial killer victims per year in the U.S. is less than 130. And I thought the chances of my being shot and killed were low! Since I’m not a drug addict or a prostitute, who are more likely to be serial killer victims, my chances of being such a victim are minuscule. I am far, far more likely to get hit by lightning (1000 deaths per year according to the National Lightning Safety Institute). I’d be better off carrying around a lightning rod than a gun, if I’m going to worry about protecting myself from highly unlikely events.

5. As a woman, according to data from the 2000 FBI Supplementary Homicide report, I am five times more likely to be killed by an intimate acquaintance than I am by a stranger. I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to go around trying to protect myself from my intimate acquaintances. Were I to own a gun, I doubt I’d bother to get it out if someone I know and love were to come knocking at my door. Therefore, it would only be good for protecting me if some complete stranger, with the intent to kill me, were to come knocking at my door, and we all know how likely (see point #3) that is to happen.

6. Handguns are expensive. Wow! They seem to start at $125 and go up from there. I never buy the  cheapest model of anything, so if I were to buy one, I’d probably spend what seems to be an average price, around $350. Do you know how many books I could get for that? (And I bet with a little target practice, I could use a book as a weapon. Hit someone in the jugular with War and Peace and he’s going down.) Better yet, think how many hungry children I could feed with that money, or how many women living in shelters to escape domestic violence I could help feed and clothe.

7. I am not afraid of government raids. Being afraid of a government raid in America is like being afraid of being hit by a meteor. Could it happen? Well, in the sense that anything could happen, sure, but to allow myself to be afraid of something so unlikely? Didn’t we use to institutionalize people for being that kind of paranoid? Besides, even if I were, what good is my gun (or let’s be optimistic and say guns, one for each hand. Maybe even one for each hand and foot if I’ve managed to learn to sit on my butt and shoot with my toes) going to do against the U.S. Marine Corps?

8. To my knowledge, I don’t know a soul who has ever managed to avoid being a victim by using a gun (if you are reading this and are such a person, please let me know). I do know one person who happened to be home when someone broke into her apartment, who reacted angrily and wasn’t hurt. She didn’t have a gun. That’s anecdotal evidence, I know, but compare it to the number of people I’ve known, during my lifetime, who’ve died of cancer or heart failure or who’ve been seriously injured or killed in car accidents, and you can see why I might be more concerned about those things than about protecting myself with a gun.

And there we have it. Do I worry about protecting myself from danger and disease? Yes. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. I wear my seatbelt. I exercise for strength and balance. I try to eat a healthy diet. I get yearly physicals. Do I want to waste my time, energy, and money protecting myself from things that are highly unlikely to happen to me? No, life is too short for that.

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14 thoughts on “I Have (Next to Nothing) to Fear

  1. Oh my, the gun question, that’s a topic where the gap between US and Europe is deep. Only a few people have rifles over here, in the countryside, to go hunting. As for terrorists, I understand they got guns illegally, but I didn’t hear anyone, even in the wake of the recent events, suggesting ordinary people should get guns in self-defense.

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    • I know. The thing about terrorists, which people don’t seem to understand, is that they are super smart and super organized. They are not going to go somewhere where people are likely to be armed. It’s why airplanes are good targets and doing things like using airplanes used as weapons or bombs (what good is a gun against a bomb?) are the sorts of tactics they use. Doesn’t mean they don’t, of course, use guns, like they did in the recent attacks, but they use them in places where no one is likely to be prepared for them.

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  2. True, you’re very unlikely to have your gun at hand when the improbable serial killer menaces you. You’re only slightly less likely to have it handy when any attacker threatens you.
    I don’t even carry pepper spray. I’m sure it would slip to the bottom of my purse next to my cell phone. Can you picture me saying “Hold on, Mr. Thug, while I root around in my handbag for my convenient defensive weapon”?
    Actually, you probably can…

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    • LOL. Pepper spray would no only slip to the bottom of my bag, but would also probably leak all over it, because anything that can possibly find a way to leak in any bag I own will. I’d probably do more damage to myself than any thug I might encounter.

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  3. What a great post, Emily! There really must be a lobby out there who needs this as a matter of some urgency! Like Smithereens, I live in a non-gun-owning country and I can’t imagine what it would be like to have people owning guns, or thinking they need them, on a day-to-day basis. Beyond guns, your post raises another excellent point about risk, which we are notoriously bad at calculating with common sense. I blame a great deal at the door of the media (certainly in the UK) for encouraging every single person to respond with hysteria to the slightest threat. I remember when swine flu was doing the rounds, I’d rung my mother who said ‘Phooey, when I was growing up we knew any one of us could catch polio and either die or be crippled for life. I don’t know what the fuss is all about.’ And I once asked my PhD supervisor how she could bear to watch the scary horror films she did and she replied ‘I’m much more frightened of doing something stupid in front of the students. I’ll take my chances with the bogeyman.’ Well, quite.

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    • Litlove, I, too, blame our inability to calculate risk on the media, which not only blows impossibilities all out of proportion (“We’re all going to die from the Ebola virus!”), but also virtually ignores the things that are truly dangerous, like the true leading causes of death in our culture. We’re not bombarded every day by the media about what we should be doing to protect ourselves from heart disease, or how to get help if we’re depressed, which can lead to suicide. (Both of these are leading causes of death in America.) Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some handy one-stop spot to find out the statistical likelihood of things happening, so we could all focus on what’s important, and ignore all the scary noise out there created solely to sell news to people? It might bring us back to the news focusing on real news. I mean, if the public could fight back with comments on news sites like, “Do you know there is less than a zero percent chance of that happening to me? Why are you wasting my time getting me all scared and telling me how to protect myself? I’m taking my time elsewhere.”, think how the media would have to change its tactics. It might also help if statistics and probability were taught more thoroughly — and with a goal of real understanding — in school.

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  4. I don’t own a gun either and I have no intention of ever owning one. I grew up in a gun owning household. My dad has a couple of hunting rifles and a few handguns. I’ve shot a small caliber handgun before when I was a kid with my dad out in the dessert aiming at empty pop cans. But I don’t need a gun. The way I see it, it’s more likely to be used against me than I am to be able to use it. I actually feel safer not having one.

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  5. I too live in a non-gun owning country, although I used to work as a nurse in a city that one year was top of the country for gun crime. In a few short weeks I saw a 12 year old girl shot from a car as she opened her front door, a woman shot by her father with utterly no warning, and a neighbour shot in his house by his other neighbour, also no warning. I also saw a young man shot by a rival gang, and he did have a gun on him. None of those victims would have been saved, or in the case of the last one, were saved by also being armed. The most successful burglar-foiling I saw was by a lady who went at her intruder with a foam fire extinguisher. She sprayed him then hit him with it. He wasn’t expecting that!

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    • Wow! That sounds like a very scary place to live, but my guess is that many nurses in big cities in America see those kinds of things in their hospitals a lot. The foam fire extinguisher sounds like a great defensive technique.

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  6. What are you doing, trying to bring common sense and statistics into the gun debate? It’ll never catch on.
    I have absolutely zero comprehension of why the average person would think they needed a gun, because they don’t. And I think the first sign that they shouldn’t be given one is that they’re asking for it in the first place. I’m not convinced that the police in the US need guns either. Gun + gun = escalation and more deaths as far as I can see, which then perpetuates the fear that drives the perceived need for guns.

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    • I know, how silly of me, right? Common sense and statistics over emotions and hearsay? What was I thinking? I agree with your formula of gun + gun. Just don’t know how to go about fixing it in this vast country where so many already own so many guns.

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  7. Emily, That was an excellent piece of reasoning and well researched! I’ve been railing against America’s NRA’s gun-toting mania for some time. Here’s the last entry from my blog on the topic: http://lacunaemusing.blogspot.com/2014/04/weekend-thoughts.html. I think I’ll have to update my views as everyone in Florida seems to have a gun. Soon they’ll be wearing them out in the open like the wild west. (Truth be told, I have my old slide action 22 rifle from my teenage years, which I keep in working order, but as a classic piece of gun-craft, not for use in self defense. If I was going to get a gun for that, it would be double barrel shotgun, terrific for self defense – you don’t even have to aim it!). I’m not against killing someone who breaks into my house, but the best defense is a good perimeter alarm system and impact windows which we installed. No shotguns for us, for many of the reasons you cited.

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    • Why, thank you! I read your most recent rant when you wrote it (I lurk at old Lacunae Musing a lot), but it’s worth a reread, like most of your posts. I like it when you rant. Yes, an alarm system and impact windows are the way to go, along with trying to live life a little less fearfully, which is exactly what all the advertisers want us to do, so we’ll keep buying more stuff to keep our fears at bay.

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