The National Rifle Association is holding its annual meeting in Houston this weekend. It’s about twenty minutes from where I sit. I won’t be going. That’s not a political statement. To the contrary, I am an NRA member. I just hate fighting crowds and they are expecting 70,000 people to turn out for the convention. And of course, there are the protesters outside the convention hall.
Protesting the NRA these days has become very fashionable. This past week in Houston, a school district canceled a gun safety program on its campus when it found out that the curriculum was provided by the NRA. It was a knee-jerk reaction to be sure, but indicative of a larger problem in the gun control debate. The problem is that many people have a negative response to guns, and it’s an emotional response fueled by ignorance, lack of exposure, and fear. I understand that. Lack of familiarity always makes people uncomfortable. Snakes are scary. Dark places are scary. Meeting new people can be scary. Lack of familiarity with guns can make them scary too.
Ironically, there are many things around us that are more dangerous than guns, but they are more familiar and hence less scary. The Centers for Disease Control statistics from 2010 (the most recent on the website) lists about 30,000 firearm deaths. This is what scares most of us – fear of being shot by an assailant. However, the data indicate that only about a third of firearm deaths are homicides. Sadly, most gun fatalities are suicides. The second and third most common method of suicide is poisoning and hanging. Rope and pills aren’t as scary as guns even though they are used to end the life of 19,000 people, about the same amount who used a gun to commit suicide. We’d be better off focusing on suicide prevention and mental health issues, less on guns, if we really want to save lives.
If you are afraid of being accidentally shot, the data indicate that about 600 deaths were from accidental discharges. In comparison, there were 3700 accidental drowning deaths. Pools are not scary, though I would wager they are much more attractive to children than handguns. Automobile accidents were the leading cause of accidental death, killing about 35,000 people while another 26,000 were killed by injuries sustained from falls. Our familiarity with cars, stairs, and the roof over our head doesn’t make them seem scary though the risk of being killed in a car crash or by a fall off your roof is much greater than the risk of death by gun.
Ignorance and prejudice lead to fear. Education, familiarity, and training are key steps towards understanding guns and preventing both accidental discharge and abuse of firearms. Maybe those protesters could do more good on the inside of the convention hall by screaming less, listening more, and learning a little something.