When «risk reduction» kills

School shootings are not all that uncommon. In America, that is. At the same time, lots of Americans believe owning a gun can improve their safety – they buy guns to shoot at bad guys. In fact, the likelihood that your weapon is going to kill you is larger than the probability that your gun is going to kill a terrorist, bank robber or rapist. By orders of magnitude. So…. How many Americans have been killed by terrorists the last 10 years? Almost none. How many have been killed in various shootings? A lot. There is some serious disconnect going on here. In fact, vox.com has created a nice graphic to illustrate this (original here: http://www.vox.com/2015/10/1/9437187/obama-guns-terrorism-deaths).

What went wrong here? People are trying to protect themselves against a very low-frequency event by using a very dangerous tool. Human error is a dominant error cause in operation of any technology, guns included. Combined with lack of risk understanding and emergency response training, putting a gun in every paranoid ghost’s hand, is recipe for disaster. Using drastic means to curb risks can be necessary, but then the risk should warrant it. If we look at a risk matrix for any individual, and comparing a couple of situations here, we see that some risk controlling measures are best left unused.

Case 1: getting killed by terrorist. Probability: extremely small. Countermeasure: own gun and shoot terrorist. Likelihood of success of this mitigation attempt: extremely small.

Case 2: getting killed by gunman. Probabilty: relatively small. Countermeasure: reduce number of guns in society. Likelihood of success of this mitigation attempt: almost certain.

Then a single question remains: how is it possible that people do not make this connection and therefore block legislation that would reduce the number of guns around? People are prioritizing a very inefficient measure against an extremely unlikely event, instead of a very efficient measure against a likely event.

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