Guns and (Relative) Risk Management – by A.C. Haskins

Although I have not made as much progress on it as some of the other chapters, one of the planned chapters of my Gun Culture 2.0 book will address the issue of risk. Hence, my scattered blog posts about the issue of risk.

These include my thoughts about assessing risk in the decision to carry a gun, notably what I call gun culture’s version of Pascal’s Wager: “It’s better to have a gun and not need it, than to need a gun and not have it.” I also thought about whether I should be afraid to go to work after a UCLA professor was murdered. After the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015, I thought about how safe I would be traveling to Washington, DC for a conference presentation the following week. I thought about my safety after a Wake Forest University student was shot near campus. And so on.

The issue of relative risk and risk management is complex. I was interested to see a Facebook post recently by A.C. Haskins which captures this complexity, and examines where self-defense and gun carrying fits into one’s overall risk profile. I appreciate Haskins giving me the opportunity to post his thoughts here for your consideration.

A.C. Haskins blogs at The Anti-Stupid Project, and describes himself as: “Economist. Writer. Risk management professional. Gun guy. Nerd. Whiskey enthusiast.” So, we have quite a few things in common beyond our approach to relative risks. I first came across his work in this interesting blog post: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: A Methodological Assessment

Please read to the end so you can appreciate what he means by “gun-shaped safety blanket.”

By A.C. Haskins

I am a risk management professional. For real, it’s what I do for a living. So listen up for a second.

According to David Roeik and George Gray of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, in 2001 the average person in America stood approximately the following chances of dying from:

-Homicide: 1 in 240
-Motor vehicle accident: 1 in 88
-Cancer: 1 in 7
-Diabetes: 1 in 53
-Heart Disease: 1 in 4
-Suicide: 1 in 120

Yes, the exact numbers have changed somewhat over the past 16 years, but not by enough to change the relative risks.

So what does that tell me, as someone interested in preserving my own life? Well, all of these are preventable or manageable deaths to some extent (yes, there are completely untreatable cancers, but they’re fairly rare—most are quite treatable if caught early). That tells me that if my goal is to avoid premature death, I should prioritize “carry a gun to avoid getting murdered” well below “get a yearly physical that includes cholesterol screening,” “get screened for any cancer for which I’m at an elevated risk to assist with early detection,” “eat a balanced diet to avoid Type II diabetes,” “get in shape to stave off heart disease,” “get help if any mental health issues arrive,” and “wear a seatbelt.”

But let’s say you DO keep yourself reasonably healthy and fit, you see the doctor once a year, you have a good diet, you’ve got any mental health issues under control if applicable, and you always wear your seatbelt. Does it then make mathematical sense to know how to defend yourself, or is that just Tactical Timmy fantasies about burning down a mugger in an alleyway?

Well, there were an estimated 706,000 robberies and 963,000 aggravated assaults in the United States in 2015, per the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Assuming they were evenly spread across everyone in the country over the age of 12, that would equal odds of approximately 1 in 161 of any given person experiencing an aggravated assault or robbery. Now, we know that number isn’t accurate, because it’s just an average: a teenage boy of a racial minority in a high crime gang-ridden inner city neighborhood has a significantly higher chance of being the victim of violent crime than a suburban white upper class housewife, and neither is anywhere close to the “average.” While robberies and aggravated assaults by definition don’t kill you (then they get reclassified “homicide,”), they can do anything up to that point: attempted murder is aggravated assault where the would-be killer failed for some reason. They can be extremely injurious incidents that we are right to want to avoid for the same reason we want to wear a seat belt: it both keeps us alive AND minimizes the chances of severe injury in the event of a crash. So the average is a useful baseline against which to compare annual risks of other potentially severely injurious incidents.

Per the National Center for Injury Prevention, in 2015 the average American faced the following chances of nonfatal injury from:

-Accidental fall: 1 in 34
-Accidental cut or piercing: 1 in 160
-Motor vehicle accident: 1 in 122
-Unintentional poisoning: 1 in 216

Remember, the odds of being the victim of a potentially injurious robbery or aggravated assault (ignoring simple assaults entirely) were 1 in 161 for the same year. In fact, non-sexual assaults (simple and aggravated) were the eighth leading cause of nonfatal injuries leading to an emergency room visit that year, so a significant number of those encounters WERE injurious: 1.23 million, in fact.

Again, the odds of a given individual experiencing a robbery or aggravated assault may differ wildly from the average, but the same can be said about the odds of being injured in a motor vehicle accident, or of falling, or of getting badly cut, or of being poisoned.

The fact of the matter is that mathematically, the chances of “average” people in the United States needing to defend themselves from a robber or other violent attacker in any given year is in the same order of magnitude as the chances they’ll go to the emergency room from a motor vehicle accident, and is almost identical to the chances they’ll suffer a severe accidental cut or piercing. Yes, prioritize wearing a seatbelt, but that doesn’t mean “be able to defend yourself” is unimportant.

(Though I’ll point out that if you’re carrying a gun to protect yourself against the 1 in 161 chances of a robbery or aggravated assault, but don’t carry bleeding control equipment—i.e., tourniquet, compression bandage, gauze, etc—to protect yourself against the 1 in 160 chances of severe bleeding injuries, you’re probably an idiot.)

If you genuinely want to manage risk in your personal life, my advice to you would be the following, in order of priority:

1. Get in shape.

2. Don’t eat like an asshole all the time. Have some veggies and lean meats.

3. See a doctor once a year.

4. Wear your seatbelt every time you’re in a moving vehicle.

5. Take care of your mental health.

6. If you ride a motorcycle or operate other risky equipment that might leave you bleeding, wear all appropriate protective equipment every time.

7. Carry medical equipment for emergencies (bleeding control + anything related to your own medical conditions like a EpiPen or glucose, etc) and know how to use it.

8. Learn how to defend yourself.

I’ve lost count of the number of patently unhealthy men and women I’ve met who don’t wear seatbelts and don’t carry medical equipment, but insist carrying a gun is what they need to do to protect themselves. Okay. You do you. There’s an argument to be made that you don’t want anyone else to kill you before you finish the job yourself, and that’s fine. Your life, your decisions. But I suspect that gun will be small comfort when you’re lying on the sidewalk dying from a heart attack or an arterial bleed that you could have prevented by focusing on actual risks versus carrying a gun-shaped safety blanket.


  1. That’s great. Thanks, David.

    Its exactly what I would say if I were as smart as A.C.Haskins. Carrying in defense needs to be done in terms of an overall hazard analysis plan. For example, are you more likely to shoot yourself in a fit of despondency rather than shoot an attacker? It depends. Would that six hundred buck bill for a Glock be better spent on a gym membership or a bicycle to keep you from keeling over of a stroke or heart attack? Etc.

    To add a bit, learning self defense is a mental drill as well as a physical one. Carrying a gun for self defense without taking regular self defense and situational awareness training is like putting on a cycle helmet but never taking a Motorcycle Safety Foundation or League of American Bicyclists training class, or packing a first aid kit but never taking first aid. Its surely a talisman more than a meaningful measure.

    Liked by 1 person

      • The thing I like about GunCite is that they link to critiques and responses to the research they present. Also, of course, they actually include the research by subject matter experts from decades ago, not just the current stuff from the same old group of public health researchers who uniformly ignore (deliberately, or out of ignorance) said research, which covers every aspect of the issue. There is no “new ground” to be broken (vis expanding on the data and findings already extant) when it comes to criminology and violence studies. Any research which pretends there is should be immediately suspect.


      • Matthew
        Is GunCite a resource you use to develop your own arguments, or are there others that you use more(like DRGO)? On an unrelated note, do I have to have a blog to be able to like comments and posts?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Not sure about the commenting Remmi, Can’t recall if you need more than just the WordPress account?

        I mostly use things like GunCite for quick reminders of facts and figures, or what study contained what. I was a “bad student” in terms of actually doing my work (vice knowing the material) so I spent 20 years getting my degree. Anyway, I have spent a lot of time in the library reading the journal articles and critiques of research (often instead of the assigned work) about crime and firearms going back to some of the earliest work from the 1970s. My technical stats knowledge is not as good as it should be, but I am pretty sound (I think) on methodology and research structure due to my (again, hopefully) broad understanding of the topic(s). I might not make a ‘good researcher’, but I’m a pretty solid critiquer of the hard work of others. Like Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man is the Arena” level. 😉


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