Wayne’s World: Fear and Loathing in the NRA

NRA President Wayne LaPierre gave his stem-winder to the assembled gun enthusiasts at their convention, including the following lament about the state of our safety in the good old U.S.A.

“We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and car-jackers and knock-out gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all,” he said.” [TPM]

Merciful Heavens, excuse me while I head for the safe room! Oh, that’s right, I don’t have a safe room.  Well, at least I should load up my AR-15 — uh oh, I don’t have an AR-15.  I’m fresh out of hand grenades, possible because I’ve never had a hand grenade and would probably do more damage to myself with one of those gadgets.  Perhaps it would just be better if I took a deep breath and looked at some statistics from the real world.

About those terrorists.  I have a 1 in 467 chance of succumbing to heart disease.  I have a 1 in 1,656 chance of being involved in a fatal accident.  I have a 1 in 104,542 chance of dying in a fire. And, then I have a 1 in 20,000,000 chance of being a fatal casualty in a terrorist attack — both here and abroad. [WaPo] [Reason]   Better still the trend in terrorist attacks is headed downward.

Terrorism fatalitiesTo these numbers we’d have to add that 2008 rightwing extremist who attacked the Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN, which killed 2 and injured 7. The shooting at Fort Hood, TX, 13 killed and 30 injured, and the Boston Marathon bombing which killed 3 people and injured 264 others.

But all the new numbers considered, there’s still only about a 1 in 20 Million chance I’m going to be one of the statistics.

What about Home Invaders?  I’m not very likely to get much excitement inserted in my life from this activity either. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports about 3.7 million burglaries, but in only 28% of those was anyone home — that’s probably why they call it a burglary — and only 7% of those involved any “violent victimization.” [BJS]

Drug Cartels?  Yes, drug cartels exist. I know that there’s a narrative circulating in the conservative press that Mexican drug cartels are extending their activities into the U.S. However, the statistics are really fuzzy in this department.  [WashT] One sheriff reports his department arrested 194 immigrants, but there’s no indication of the charges. Another county reports 9% of its arrests are of undocumented persons, but again the charges aren’t specified so it’s hard to tell what “drug cartel” activities are involved, if any.  I can in all likelihood dismiss this factor as a reason to start digging my safe room shelter.

Carjackers?  Now that sounds scary.  However, again the most recent BJS report informs me that this is a crime with the numbers 1.3 to 10,000 rate, and occurs most often in urban neighborhoods, and most often to African Americans.  So, I’m not urban and I’m not African American — and even if I were carjacking wouldn’t be the first thing I’d think about in the morning.

Knock Out Gamers? Debunkity, Bunkity Bunk.  This faux media trend has been pretty thoroughly debunked, and if I get a blow to the chin it’ll probably be because I said something really offensive?  [LATimes]

Rapers?  Maybe that should have been “rapists?” I hope this isn’t going to be a question of protecting my virginity… enough about that.  Again the statistics are relatively comforting — the national rate is 1:26.1 in 2012.  There were 346,830 rapes reported in 2012.  Okay, there were about 316,000,000 people in the US as of 2013, if 51% are women that’s in the 161,160,000 range.  If all those rapes were to women (and that’s debatable) that would be too small an annual percentage to make me reinforce the linen closet.

Haters?  There’s a bit of a problem here separating the terrorists and the hate crime contingent, or the generic haters, or whatever.  The numbers of hate crimes is still, happily, not very large with 1,730 law enforcement agencies reporting 5,796 hate crimes involving 6,718 offenses.  48.3% were racially motivated, 19.6% were gender based, 19% were based on religion, 11.5% resulted from nationality bias, and a sad 1.6% were related to a disability. [FBI]  If I sat around waiting to be the victim of a hate crime I’d be bored to death.  Minority group members may easily be victims of discrimination, or harassment, or good old fashioned regular crime, but it’s still news when a person is a victim of a hate crime.  And that’s the good news. Maybe life in this good country isn’t as scary as LaPierre imagines?

Campus Killers?  Yes, those incidents are terrifying, but again Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown are news because they are so rare.  The U.S. Department of Education (pdf) did a study reported in 2002 which noted 80% of schools reported no serious violence, 10% reported one crime, 2.4% reported two crimes, 2.0 reported three serious crimes, 1.3% reported four serious violent crimes, and 4.3% reported five or more serious violent crimes.  The FBI has some slightly more recent figures on both high school and college campus crime. Their five year study reported a total of 98,394 serious personal crimes of which 98,394 were conducted with what were characterized as “personal weapons.” In 16,260 there was no weapon involved. Firearms were used in only 2,617 of the 98,394 crimes over a five year period. That’s about 2.66%.

This is hardly enough to make me feel any necessity to “pack heat” to the next high school basketball game.

Airport Killers?  LaPierre is stretching things here.  The Department of Transportation’s report (2011) shows an infinitesimally small number of air carrier deaths.  There was the incident in Los Angeles, which involved one death and seven non-fatal injuries.

Shopping Mall Killers?  Nothing is going to get between me and my retail therapy sessions.   Especially not a statistic from the National Safety Council indicating that the likelihood of this being a fatal activity is 1 in 6,509 for any firearm fatality, and the odds of this happening in a shopping mall are even smaller.  Workplace violence is a more likely cause of demise — another lovely excuse to avoid work? [MJ]

Road rage killers?  This is another sticky statistical issue because the numbers don’t categorize those involving firearms and those fatalities caused by aggressive driving.   [NHTSA] If the high number is the ‘winner’ then aggressive, and/or distracted, driving wins hands down.

There’s nothing in any of these categories which rationally argues that I should run down to my local hardware store and arm myself to the rafters with sufficient munitions to secure my safety or protect my person.

In the real world, which I do hope I inhabit, there are simply an insufficient number of terrorist incidents in the U.S. to justify any fear on my part in any of the public spaces in which I am likely to find myself. The incidence of home invasions isn’t enough either.  Drug cartels and carjacking — nope — not enough rationale there as well. Knock Out game — that was a hoax, move along nothing to see there.  I’m not convinced I need to fear schools, shopping malls, or airports.  I remain assured that the greatest threat to my personal safety on the road comes from drunk, distract, idiots (all of the above) operating motor vehicles weighing between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds.

So, if I don’t really need firearms to assure myself of my survival — and the statistics inform that assurance — what I am left with is little more than the fantasizing of paranoid people.  What if I’m alone at night in the car….. what if I’m in my house during a dark night….what if … what if… I can possibly dream up a myriad of miserable scenes, enough to create some really bad B movies, but none of these is informed by the reality of my situation.

Thus my conclusion: I don’t need a safe room. I don’t need “munitions,” and I certainly don’t need a bevy of fearful, frightened, panicky, distressed and agitated people armed to the gills wandering around in my life.

 

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