This week I am working on Chapter 7 of my book on American gun culture. The chapter is called “Pascal’s Wager and Guns.” The core idea is one I wrote about six years ago, so I am re-posting my original thoughts on Pascal’s Wager today.
I have heard a lot of sayings about guns and self-defense in the last couple of years. The most popular are surely “Better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6” and “When seconds count, police are just minutes away.”
I recently heard a new one, though. I liked it because it was reminiscent of Pascal’s Wager.
As Wikipedia explains it, Pascal’s Wager “posits that humans all bet with their lives either that God exists or not. Given the possibility that God actually does exist and assuming an infinite gain or loss associated with belief or unbelief in said God (as represented by an eternity in heaven or hell), a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.).”
The self-defense and gun ownership version: It’s better to own a gun and not need it, than to need a gun and not own it.
This highlights the risk assessment that often goes into self-defense gun ownership. It is not the probability of needing a gun that matters; it is the possibility. The cost of having a gun and not needing it is much less than needing a gun and not having it. So, even if the odds of needing a gun are very low, it is a wise to place your bet on ownership.