Is Fear of School Shootings Irrational?

Kids are more likely to be killed driving to school than shot while there. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try and prevent them.

David Ropeik,  an instructor at Harvard and author of How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts, takes to the op-ed pages of WaPo to argue, “School shootings are extraordinarily rare. Why is fear of them driving policy?

The Education Department reports that   roughly 50 million children attend public schools for roughly 180 days per year. Since Columbine, approximately 200 public school students have been shot to death while school was in session, including the recent slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (and a shooting in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday that police called accidental that left one student dead). That means the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000. And since the 1990s, shootings at schools have been getting less common.

The chance of a child being shot and killed in a public school is extraordinarily low. Not zero — no risk is. But it’s far lower than many people assume, especially in the glare of heart-wrenching news coverage after an event like Parkland. And it’s far lower than almost any other mortality risk a kid faces, including traveling to and from school, catching a potentially deadly disease while in school or suffering a life-threatening injury playing interscholastic sports.

We’ve had much the same argument over roughly the same period after the 9/11 attacks. From an actuarial standpoint, we’ve way over-invested in countering terrorism compared to the actual risk Americans face from that phenomenon. But, as Ropeik acknowledges, there’s a good reason for that:

Statistics seem cold and irrelevant compared with how the evil of a school shooting makes us feel. The victims are children, and research on the psychology of risk has found that few risks worry us more than threats to kids. Parents who send their precious children to school each morning are relinquishing control over their safety; that same research has found that lack of control makes any risk feel more threatening. The parents at Columbine and Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas placed their faith in the school systems, trust that was cruelly violated — and mistrust fuels fear, too, for the parents and all of us.

We don’t really think about risk in terms of 1 in 10, or 1 in 100, or 1 in 1 million in the first place. And when we do see such numbers, the only thing we think is, “My kid could be the one,” so even the tiniest risk appears unacceptably high. That powerful combination of psychological characteristics moots any suggestion that fear of a certain risk is irrationally excessive. Numerically, maybe. Emotionally, not at all.

That’s the thing about risk. We assess it less on the likelihood of the outcome and more on the emotional nature of the experience involved in getting to that outcome. The probability of dying doesn’t matter as much as the way you die. That’s why the infinitesimally low risk of being eaten by a shark scares millions of people out of the ocean, and why vanishingly rare plane crashes scare travelers into their cars and trucks (a statistically riskier way to get around). School shootings also trigger powerful emotions that swamp the odds.

These are not apples-to-apples comparisons. It is indeed foolish to avoid going swimming over the risk of sharks or to drive rather than fly if you’re doing it out of fear. Commercial airline crashes and shark attacks are not only exceedingly rare but, from the perspective of travelers and swimmers, completely random. School shootings and terrorist attacks, while also quite uncommon, are actions of human agency.

Traffic fatalities are a leading cause of death. Quite reasonably, then, we do quite a bit to minimize them. We enact safety regulations on manufacturers, limit the speed at which people can drive, require licensing, prohibit driving while intoxicated, and try to engineer roads to make crashes less likely. Whether we should do even more from a cost-benefit standpoint is both beyond my expertise and outside the scope of this essay. But, from the standpoint of a parent seeking to get their kid to school, buckling them into the seats of a vehicle equipped with modern safety equipment and being reasonable careful while driving is about all one can reasonably do to mitigate a relatively small risk.

The prospect that some lunatic will come into their school and shoot them is a completely different sort of risk. Do I spend a lot of time fearing that unlikely event? No. Do I want to turn my girls’ school into a prison, or even an airport? No. But I’m in favor of the schools taking prudent security measures to keep people who aren’t supposed to be there out.

Ropeik is probably right here:

[T]he more frightening a risk feels to you and me, the more coverage it usually gets in the news media, which focuses on things most likely to get our attention. Rare events with high emotional valence often get coverage disproportionate to their likelihood, further magnifying our fears. As a result of what the cognitive sciences call ”the awareness heuristic” — a mental shortcut we use to quickly assess the likely frequency of things we don’t know much about — the more readily an event leaps to mind from our memory, or the more persistently it’s in the news, the more emotionally powerful and probable it feels. School shootings and the debate about gun control are prime examples. A threat feels more threatening if it’s getting a lot of attention.  

Half a century ago, the activist Ralph Nader spotlighted the lack of attention to safety in the automobile industry. That sparked a conversation that led to a variety of reforms. When I was in high school, a group of mothers whose kids had been killed by drunk drivers sparked a conversation that changed the way we think about that phenomenon. Were there over-reactions? Sure. But also a lot of progress.

Similarly, because they’re such shocking events, school shootings spark national conversations. Sadly, because they have become so common, it’s been an ongoing conversation. And, certainly, one that has centered on the common denominator of guns. But they’ve also spotlighted bullying, depression, and other issues highlighted by the investigations.

It may well be that all of these reactions have been irrational. Maybe there were other issues where a comparable investment of resources could have saved even more lives. But that’s not how society works.

Yes, there are downsides to this. As Ropeik rightly notes:

The constant drumbeat of negative news in general — the possibility of nuclear war, terrorism, a bad flu season, hate crimes, climate change — makes the world feel like a darker, more threatening place than it actually is, which makes us more fearful overall. (Media analyst George Gerbner called this ”mean world syndrome.”) School shootings don’t happen in isolation but in the context of worrying news about all sorts of things.

The problem with all of this is what our excessive fears could lead to. Having more guns in schools, as President Trump advocates — or more guns anywhere —  increases the likelihood of gun violence. At a  Georgia high school this month, social studies teacher Randal Davidson locked himself in a classroom and fired his handgun through a window when authorities tried to open the door. In 2014, a Utah teacher carrying a concealed handgun  shot herself in the leg in a school restroom. There are many other similar examples. The Parkland tragedy itself teaches that more guns don’t automatically mean more safety: The school was patrolled by an armed guard.

[…]

Fear also leads us to do things in pursuit of safety that may do more harm than what we’re afraid of in the first place. Think about the psychological effects on kids from all those lessons about when to run, how to hide, directions from their parents to call home if a shooting occurs. A few children have even brought guns to school, saying they wanted to protect their classmates . What happens to children’s ability to learn if they spend their time in the classroom wondering, even if only occasionally, who’s going to burst in and open fire? What does the chronic stress of such worry do to their health? What do constant messages of potential danger in a place that’s supposed to be safe do to their sense of security in the world? Across the population of public school children in the United States, fear of this extraordinarily rare risk is almost certainly doing far more overall harm than have the shootings themselves, horrendous as they are.

But, frankly, I don’t know what to do with that. Should news outlets be less sensationalistic in their reporting? Sure. But the axiom, “If it bleeds, it leads” is hardly a new one. Indeed, Ropeik more-or-less acknowledges the futility of his concern:

The psychology researchers who study this — Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, Baruch Fischhoff, Melissa Finucane and many others — are cautious about just how well we can use reason to overcome our instincts and emotions, especially the instincts that evolved to help us survive. Just as surely as there will be another school shooting, it will prompt another flood of outrage and fear. That fear, while understandable, will distract us from greater threats and lead to behaviors that do greater harm. The real lesson we need to learn is this: We need not just reasonable gun control, but also a bit more self-control over our emotions and instincts if we want to keep ourselves and our kids safer.

Good luck with that.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Education, Guns and Gun Control, Health
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JohnMcC says:

    I have said for some years now that part of the growing-up experience that very few adults understand is the school lockdown drill and now the active-shooter drill. Millions of kids. Whole generation. Gotta have an effect.




    6



    0
  2. CSK says:

    @JohnMcC:

    I recall having to crawl under a desk a few times each year to practice hiding in case the Russians dropped an a-bomb on my school. I also recall wondering what good the desk would do to protect me, and why the Russians would waste a bomb on my little school.




    4



    0
  3. DrDaveT says:

    Commercial airline crashes and shark attacks are not only exceedingly rare but, from the perspective of travelers and swimmers, completely random. School shootings and terrorist attacks, while also quite uncommon, are actions of human agency.

    …and are also, from the point of view of the victims, in every way that matters for policy, completely random.

    It may well be that all of these reactions have been irrational.

    Yes. They have.

    Ceding policy decisions to the ignorant and irrational fear of the masses makes no more sense when you’re talking about school shootings or terrorism than it would if you were talking about North Korea policy, vaccinations, or immigration. The real question is not why people fear school shooters irrationally, but rather why otherwise sensible policy analysts think that this particular irrational fear should be allowed to drive policy, when analogous irrational fears (e.g. about vaccinations) are (mostly) ignored when making policy.




    2



    3
  4. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Ceding policy decisions to the ignorant and irrational fear of the masses makes no more sense when you’re talking about school shootings or terrorism than it would if you were talking about North Korea policy, vaccinations, or immigration.

    I think we should make rational decisions in all those cases. But, just like it probably makes sense to require the installation of air bags and the wear of seat belts, it’s probably worth taking modest measures to keep outside shooters from coming into schools. I’m not even for metal detectors and such. But locking the door and checking ID makes sense.

    School shootings, as noted in the OP, are conversation starters. Those conversations have helped crack down on bullying at school. Caused school officials to pay more attention to warning signs such as violent threats on social media. And it’s slowly changing how we think of gun ownership.

    Do I think we’ve vastly over-reacted to 9/11 in terms of airport security? Sure. I’ve been saying that since, oh, 9/12. And wrote about that a lot here in the early years of the site. But I do understand why we react differently to people trying to kill us than we do to random events like lightning strikes.




    5



    0
  5. Kit says:

    Sure, fear plays a role, but then so does outrage at these atrocities, and the intransigence and callousness with which they are greeted by a significant portion of our society.




    3



    0
  6. Modulo Myself says:

    Guns are the irrational factor here, not the shootings. Traffic accidents are considered part of a larger good. But even within that good, people understand what’s rational or irrational regarding driving. A doctor buys a Porsche not for the utility, but because it’s a Porsche. No one is like this doctor must really need to get someplace fast. No–they’re like this rich guy likes his toys.

    But with guns there’s none of that. And when a school shooting occurs, there’s no larger picture that’s good. It’s just an arsenal of stupid toys for dumb people.




    7



    2
  7. gVOR08 says:

    Hopefully this will work like wildlife conservation. You create a wildlife preserve to preserve the whole ecosystem, but you talk about saving the tigers to raise money. It’s easier to get people to identify with the top predator, especially if it’s a kitty, than with the shrubbery. School shootings may prove the key to reducing gun violence generally.

    @CSK: I did duck and cover too, but we were 50 miles from a big SAC base and with ’50s technology it was entirely possible the Russians might miss.




    2



    0
  8. Dave Schuler says:

    @gVOR08:

    School shootings may prove the key to reducing gun violence generally.

    Frankly, I doubt it. Gun homicides fall into multiple classifications including suicides, gang shootings, and mass shootings. Tighter gun control is only likely to curtail one of those: suicides. Gang shootings account for an enormous proportion of total gun homicides and are already carried out primarily with weapons that are possessed illegally so it’s hard to see how tighter gun control will do much about them.

    Mass shootings are still rare and tend to be planned. The studies I’ve read have generally found that even the most extensive gun controls presently proposed will reduce mass shootings only fractionally. That might still be worth pursuing but IMO we should maintain realistic expectations of what may be accomplished.




    2



    0
  9. Dave Schuler says:

    In response to the question that James asks in the post, the answer is obviously “Yes”. But so are fears of terrorist attack and we’ve spent trillions over the last 17 years to fend those off.




    1



    0
  10. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    Sure, but did you think a plywood desk would save you?




    1



    0
  11. MBunge says:

    @Modulo Myself: Guns are the irrational factor here, not the shootings.

    Guns are inanimate objects. They can neither be rational nor irrational. And this isn’t just me being a semantic jerk. The fetishization of guns as something more than what they are, very dangerous tools, is not exclusive to right wing gun nuts.

    Or as someone else pointed out, why wasn’t this “national conversation on guns” sparked when a left wing nut tried to assassinate a bunch of GOP Congressman?

    Mike




    2



    7
  12. michael reynolds says:

    My positions since forever has been that guns are not a problem best addressed with laws, but with societal pressure. We didn’t cut littering because of laws, we cut littering because it came to be seen as obnoxious. We didn’t stop smoking in restaurants because of laws (although they acted as accelerants) we stopped because society changed its mind about smoking indoors. I’ve noticed a lot less talking in movie theaters, why? Because society at large disapproved vocally, through ads and through comedy, and the other means of applying soft power in a free society.

    This is a hearts and minds campaign. The Parkland kids managed to force a small change in the law, but more important than the law itself is the fact that they got Floridian pols to buck the NRA. They changed hearts and minds, and that then translates into law. But law will not solve the problem. What will solve the problem is stigmatizing guns.

    As a first step I want school districts to accumulate and then disseminate information on which homes have guns. As a parent I should know if my kid is at a house where guns are present. Start there.




    6



    1
  13. JohnMcC says:

    @gVOR08: @CSK:

    I crouched under my desk, too, and crawled out into the hall to sit with back against the wall. Didn’t we all make the connection with the movie footage of the effects of blast? Sure we did. And the free accumulation of nuclear weapons didn’t survive our generation.

    I guess my point is that the Parkland FL students are a beginning of the effect of a childhood spent thinking a school shooting is as ‘real’ as we believed those atom bombs were. They were ‘real’ to me.




    2



    0
  14. michael reynolds says:

    @MBunge:
    A daisy-cutter bomb in my back yard is an inanimate object. Want to come live next door?

    Idiot.




    5



    2
  15. de stijl says:

    How we evaluate risk is not just about probability, but also about the severity of the impact.

    If the probability of rain is high, but the consequences are that I might get a little wet as I scurry from my car to a building and I will feel slightly damp for the next 20 minutes…

    If the probability of a mass school shooting is low, but the consequences are that my child could be injured or killed…

    Those two circumstances are two different categories of risk and we evaluate them very differently.




    8



    0
  16. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    But, just like it probably makes sense to require the installation of air bags and the wear of seat belts, it’s probably worth taking modest measures to keep outside shooters from coming into schools.

    “Just like”!? Automobile crashes kill tens of thousands of people EVERY YEAR, even after the safety measures we’ve put into place. Without them, it would be well over 50,000 deaths every year. How can you possibly compare that with 1/1000 that many, as either a priority or a place where we need to cede personal freedoms?

    Do I think we’ve vastly over-reacted to 9/11 in terms of airport security? Sure. I’ve been saying that since, oh, 9/12. And wrote about that a lot here in the early years of the site. But

    Why does there have to be a “But…”?

    I do understand why we react differently to people trying to kill us than we do to random events like lightning strikes.

    I wish you would explain it to me*, then, because I honestly don’t.

    I lived through the “Aspen Hill Sniper” episode here in the DC area in 2002, and I was genuinely baffled by the behavior of the people around me. Each and every one of them (and their kids) were at more risk of dying by slipping in the shower, or being bitten by a rabid raccoon, or any of a dozen other everyday risks, than they were from the snipers. And yet many of them contorted their lives into knots, trying to minimize their exposure. If that’s ‘understandable’, it’s only in the sense that the behavior of the severely paranoid schizophrenic is ‘understandable’ to mental health professionals.

    *Genuine non-rhetorical request.




    1



    4
  17. gVOR08 says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I do understand why we react differently to people trying to kill us than we do to random events like lightning strikes.

    I wish you would explain it to me*, then, because I honestly don’t.

    I’m with you, lightning or terrorist, dead is dead. I commented in another thread a day or two ago that George Lakoff talks about conservatives being well able to look at complex causation, but their default mode is to look at everything through a lens of simple morality. Deontology v consequentialism. Terrorism has a moral dimension that makes it worse than lightning for most people. It’s why we make a much bigger deal of drunk driving accidents than falling asleep accidents. Drinking is a vice, but not falling asleep.




    1



    0
  18. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT: We try to minimize our exposure to lightning strikes, too, as any kid who’s been told “don’t stand next to the tall tree during the thunderstorm” understands. We put adhesive ducks in the bathtub and move the other way in a hurry when a sketchy-looking raccoon shows up.

    But even then, lightning isn’t purposefully and maliciously seeking to kill people as John Muhammad and Lee Malvo did. And even the randomness and low probability of being a victim of terrorism or a mass shooting isn’t enough to get past that, any more than the randomness and low probability of any given antelope being consumed by lions means the antelope don’t all run for their lives when the pride shows up.

    Maybe we’re not very good at risk analysis and tend toward recency bias, but those may well be artifacts of behaviors evolved long ago that helped ensure our existence as a species.




    5



    0
  19. drj says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I wish you would explain it to me*

    Your question has already been answered by Modulo Myself.

    We tolerate cars and showers and “a dozen other everyday risks,” because most reasonable people can agree it would suck to not be able to drive, or to wash, or to never leave your bed. In other words, the risks of driving, showering, and getting out of bed are offset by tangible benefits.

    However, for the vast majority of people there are no benefits to be had if just about anyone can own high-powered, semi-auto rifles.

    Generally speaking, we expect governments to regulate situations with few to no upsides and a whole lot of downsides. As governments are supposed to guard our collective as well as individual interests, it’s exactly what they are supposed to do.

    How can you possibly compare that with 1/1000 that many, as either a priority or a place where we need to cede personal freedoms?

    Personal freedoms are always limited. You are not free to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, because the balance between harm and benefit of that freedom is totally out of wack.

    Similarly, the harm of allowing almost anyone to own a military grade rifle outweighs its possible benefits.

    Your AR-15 derivative is never, ever going to stop a tyrannical government; if you want to hunt, there are plenty of alternatives: from bolt-action rifles to shotguns.

    So, of course, the government should address this issue.




    11



    1
  20. Gustopher says:

    Traffic fatalities are a leading cause of death. Quite reasonably, then, we do quite a bit to minimize them.

    Fun fact: Guns and cars kill roughly the same number of people each year. 30,000 – 35,000 if memory serves.

    We can make guns mildly safer, by banning weapons that can do massive amounts of damage in a short time, but the vast majority of gun deaths would be unaffected.

    Trigger locks, gun safes and the like can help keep guns out of the hands of non-owners. Another big win. Holding owners responsible when they lose control of their weapon would be nice.

    It’s going to require laws and societal change to reduce gun deaths. The gun aficionados know this, and are pushing for guns everywhere to force the change to go the wrong way.

    School shootings? We need guns in schools. Suicides? You need two guns so you can shoot that person trying to shoot you…




    5



    0
  21. de stijl says:

    @DrDaveT: @gVOR08:

    I hate to break this to you so bluntly, but you too have “irrational” fears. In your defense, we all do. Unless their amygdala have been removed, every human has irrational fears.

    In your case, you’re baffled that others appear to you to have an irrational fear of situation x that you do not.

    There is also the cases of “irrational” lack of fear that we also all have. Example: residents of coastal California are guaranteed to face a catastrophic earthquake in the near future and a Richter scale 9 earthquake does not care about our puny building codes and other mitigation efforts. There will be massive casualties and an enormous economic disaster. The rational move is to skedaddle.

    But people have become psychologically attenuated and habituated to this guaranteed risk because there is a small probability of it happening today or in the next week, and there hasn’t been a “Big One” recently, and is life-disrupting to pull up stakes and move, and I have friends and family here, and I’ll get a better price for my house next year, or it’ll probably hit San Francisco because they are more “due”, etc.

    There are a whole bucketful of components into how we individually and as a group evaluate risk, and rationality is just one of the widgets we use.




    3



    1
  22. grumpy realist says:

    @Gustopher: Guns perhaps make sense in a location with a) large distances before police can get to you, or b) other non-human things you need to defend yourself against (rabid raccoons, etc.) Why they need to be carried around in densely populated urban areas is beyond me. Especially if we don’t insist that people who carry guns know how to use them and are trained so they don’t do stupid or malicious things with them. That includes: pulling out a gun and shooting other people around you just because you’re scared. If I am at more of a risk from your shooting me by accident/stupidity than I am of whatever you think you’re defending yourself against, then no, you don’t shouldn’t get a gun.

    (And would you want to live in a densely populated urban area where a gun is an absolute necessity?)

    Remember–the Second Amendment was written during a time when the population of America was ONE PERCENT of what it is now. Almost everything used to be rural. Now–more people live in cities than out in the country. The risks you have to depend yourself against are now totally different . Which is why we need to reinterpret/rewrite the Second Amendment.




    2



    0
  23. teve tory says:

    Fun fact: Guns and cars kill roughly the same number of people each year. 30,000 – 35,000 if memory serves.

    true, but it is worth keeping in mind that most of those are suicides. Actual gun homicides in the US is running about ~11,000/year at the moment, down 30-40% from the peak around ~1993.

    Frankly the biggest thing the US ever did to reduce gun violence was banning tetraethyl lead in the 1970’s.




    8



    1
  24. teve tory says:

    Remember–the Second Amendment was written during a time when the population of America was ONE PERCENT of what it is now. Almost everything used to be rural. Now–more people live in cities than out in the country. The risks you have to depend yourself against are now totally different . Which is why we need to reinterpret/rewrite the Second Amendment.

    I have many relatives with the deadly combination of low-IQ and virtually no education. They have lots of guns, carry concealed to the grocery store, and imagine their pea shooter is the only thing stopping the Evil Kenyan Muslim (and before that, the Evil Satanic Beel Cleenton) from running them down with UN tanks and pitching their bibles on the bonfire.

    There’s no reasoning with them. I stopped trying 20 years ago. Me, I sit around and busy myself with other things and wait for demography to change the scenario, because it’s the only thing which can.




    4



    1
  25. CSK says:

    @teve tory:

    The people you speak of have no power: no brain power, no creative power, no financial power, no cultural power, no political power, no educational power.

    Thy have their guns. And they are, by God, going to cling to them because those guns represent the only power they’ll ever have.




    3



    0
  26. teve tory says:

    They have enough political power to elect Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and, when the stars align and the Electoral College bank-shot works, a dipshit president. Hence our current status: “Boned”.

    But, Smug Liberal™ that I am, I can read demographics tables, and I know it’s just a matter of time.




    3



    0
  27. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I wish you would explain it to me*, then, because I honestly don’t.

    I lived through the “Aspen Hill Sniper” episode here in the DC area in 2002, and I was genuinely baffled by the behavior of the people around me. Each and every one of them (and their kids) were at more risk of dying by slipping in the shower, or being bitten by a rabid raccoon, or any of a dozen other everyday risks, than they were from the snipers.

    I think I explain that in the OP: we treat human agency than we do random chance.

    @de stijl makes the point:

    Example: residents of coastal California are guaranteed to face a catastrophic earthquake in the near future and a Richter scale 9 earthquake does not care about our puny building codes and other mitigation efforts. There will be massive casualties and an enormous economic disaster. The rational move is to skedaddle.

    We’d react differently, I suppose, if ISIS had an earthquake machine. We can’t do anything about fault lines; we can do something about “evildoers.” And we therefore demand politicians in fact do something.

    @drj notes above, :

    Generally speaking, we expect governments to regulate situations with few to no upsides and a whole lot of downsides. As governments are supposed to guard our collective as well as individual interests, it’s exactly what they are supposed to do.

    As @Mikey puts it,

    [E]ven the randomness and low probability of being a victim of terrorism or a mass shooting isn’t enough to get past that, any more than the randomness and low probability of any given antelope being consumed by lions means the antelope don’t all run for their lives when the pride shows up.

    That strikes me as perfectly reasonable.




    3



    1
  28. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Guns perhaps make sense in a location with a) large distances before police can get to you, or b) other non-human things you need to defend yourself against (rabid raccoons, etc.) Why they need to be carried around in densely populated urban areas is beyond me.

    Because “an armed society is a polite society.” (attributed to Doc Holliday)

    I don’t agree with his assertion, understand, but I have heard either this quote or words to this effect in many conversations where I asked your question. And I will go on to note that allowing ME to carry a weapon of any sort will not make the society any more courteous, only smaller.




    0



    0
  29. grumpy realist says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: Except that all the cases where the multitude of individuals walk around armed have definitely not ended up being “polite.” (Somalia, anyone?)

    “An armed society is a polite society” was one of the stupider idioms Robert Heinlein came up with. Nice motto for a fictional world; doesn’t work out in reality.




    2



    0
  30. James Pearce says:

    @teve tory:

    Me, I sit around and busy myself with other things and wait for demography to change the scenario

    <—

    Please tell me you're joking.

    @James Joyner:

    As @Mikey puts it,

    That Mikey’s a pretty sharp dude, isn’t he? The antelope/lion metaphor is perfect.

    I was thinking about something Stephen Fry, recently diagnosed with prostrate cancer, said: “You never think it could happen to you.” And that’s true. No antelope thinks they’ll be lion food.

    Until the lion shows up and they go, “Oh, spit, it definitely could happen to me.”




    0



    0
  31. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think I explain that in the OP: we treat human agency than we do random chance.

    I don’t think Dr. Dave questioned that people fear a threat with human agency more than a natural or accidental threat. I took his question to be why they react that way. (Dr. Dave? Don’t want to put words in your mouth.) While this is the way most people react, some people don’t nearly so much. So why some people do is a legitimate question. I took a shot at answering it above @gVOR08: Happy to see anyone else’s theory.




    1



    0
  32. teve tory says:

    “An armed society is a polite society” was one of the stupider idioms Robert Heinlein came up with. Nice motto for a fictional world; doesn’t work out in reality.

    Yep, when i was a 17 yro heinlein-reading libertarian, it certainly made sense to me! Then I learned history, and economics, and just generally grew up.

    When I meet young Libertarians now, I don’t even think about arguing with them. I just think, well, you’re smart, you’ll probably grow out of it too.




    4



    0
  33. Tyrell says:

    Refitting and upgrading school buildings would be costly and school budgets are thin.
    Many school buildings are separated. And there are the inevitable mobile classrooms on many school properties.
    Metal detectors and remote controlled doors could help.
    Cameras also, but who is going to monitor them?




    0



    0
  34. teve tory says:

    We tend to overreact to threats that are caused with intent. And under react to things that seem to be acts of God, so to speak. There’s even a specific name for that bias, but I don’t remember which exact one it is.

    This is a pretty good article by Bruce schneier on terrorism, fear, and reaction.

    https://www.cnn.com/2012/07/31/opinion/schneier-aurora-aftermath/index.html




    0



    0
  35. If by “irrational” we mean unwarranted fear from a probabilistic point of view, then sure.

    However, from a broad comparative public policy perspective seeking changes are not irrational, because the US is a clear outlier in this arena.




    7



    0
  36. One thing is for certain, there is not going to be the policy overreactions to school shootings like those that we saw over 9/11.




    8



    0
  37. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    I took his question to be why they react that way

    Exactly. Thank you.




    1



    0
  38. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    The antelope/lion metaphor is perfect.

    Well, except for the fact that the antelope don’t change their behavior until the lion shows up. They don’t refuse to go to the water hole, or to graze, or otherwise fail to live their lives, because of the possibility that a lion might show up, or because a lion was spotted 100 miles away.

    Because, y’know, evolution has taken care of the antelope that did behave that way.




    1



    1
  39. JohnMcC says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Has anyone ever mentioned that you have a wonderful gift for understatement?




    0



    0
  40. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT: Well, yeah, we humans can plan ahead. We can create scenarios, but we treat big and easily-recalled threats as more significant than they are (availability heuristic). That modern media make these events even more “available” doesn’t help. I read of a study that was done following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, that showed the constant exposure to that event through mass media caused more significant emotional upset than actually having been in Boston that day.




    0



    0
  41. @JohnMcC:

    Has anyone ever mentioned that you have a wonderful gift for understatement?

    On many occasions.




    1



    0
  42. grumpy realist says:

    @teve tory: One of my friends pointed out that libertarianism was a relatively sensible belief system for a young man in good health in his 20s who could go off into the woods with a gun and an axe and carve out his own homestead and who didn’t have to worry about getting sick that much. It’s a lousy system for anyone else.

    And it’s also pretty hilarious that the bulk of the libertarian-cliche-spouting population ends up working in technical fields at large corporations (who provide them few rights and tell them incessantly what to do.) Not surprising that most of said libertarians end up trying to escape into the internet-verse and adore silly ideas like bitcoin. They never DO have to deal with reality and the messiness of How Societies Actually Work.




    3



    0
  43. Tyrell says:

    @Mikey: Exactly. Maybe if the news would report more positive, cheerful stories things might change. Since I switched to alternative news sites I actually feel better.




    0



    0
  44. teve tory says:

    @teve tory: One of my friends pointed out that libertarianism was a relatively sensible belief system for a young man in good health in his 20s who could go off into the woods with a gun and an axe and carve out his own homestead and who didn’t have to worry about getting sick that much. It’s a lousy system for anyone else.

    Yeah exactly. That’s why 90% of the libertarians you’ll meet are young, healthy, well-cared-for, well-educated white males.

    Of course, even they can’t take care of themselves for the most part, but those features of life are still kinda invisible and off the radar.




    0



    0
  45. teve tory says:

    And it’s also pretty hilarious that the bulk of the libertarian-cliche-spouting population ends up working in technical fields at large corporations (who provide them few rights and tell them incessantly what to do.)

    You won’t be surprised when I tell you the last such libertarian I ran into in this backwoods shithole works IT for the county, and when I asked him what he was doing sucking on the government teat, he said, “Well, there just aren’t any other IT jobs around here.”




    1



    0
  46. DrDaveT says:

    @Mikey:

    We can create scenarios, but we treat big and easily-recalled threats as more significant than they are (availability heuristic). That modern media make these events even more “available” doesn’t help.

    This would be a more convincing argument if my local TV news didn’t show (literally) coverage of every single significant car accident in the DC metro area. If availability bias were the sole explanation, people would be clamoring endlessly for a solution to the automobile accident problem.




    0



    0
  47. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT:

    If availability bias were the sole explanation, people would be clamoring endlessly for a solution to the automobile accident problem.

    We’ve been addressing the automobile accident problem since the invention of the automobile. In 1950, about seven people died for every 100 million vehicle miles driven. Now it’s slightly more than one. If only we applied that level of dedication to reducing gun deaths, we might get somewhere.

    What exactly are you trying to get to with this discussion? People aren’t rational, we are shit at risk assessment, we think some things are more common than they are and other things are rarer than they are, we have imperfect access to information and a lot of the information we do get is garbage, we let emotion get ahead of reason, and probably a hundred other things cause us to get into a panic about stuff that probably won’t ever happen to us.

    And as to why all those things are…I really don’t know. No doubt if you got into evo-psych you could probably draw some correlations between these seemingly unproductive behaviors and some adaptation from our distant past that was helpful at the time, but even that’s a lot of conjecture and some people think evo-psych is bunk anyway.




    1



    0