Light Over Heat #17: Are Gun Owners Thoughtful Risk Analysts?

The idea that guns are a risk factor – for homicide, suicide, accidental death, and injury – was a central idea at the gun violence prevention writers workshop I attended in Hartford earlier this month (see Light Over Heat #15 and Light Over Heat #16). This week I reflect more broadly on the role of risk in our lives.

I am risk-averse in certain ways, but in other ways, I take risks all the time. Notably, drinking alcohol which has many well-documented short-term and long-term health risks. Rather than always trying to avoid risk, perhaps we should, in gun trainer Will Petty’s terms, think of risk as a currency that we get to choose how to spend?

In spending our risk wisely, we need to be thoughtful risk analysts and wise risk managers. In bringing firearms into their homes and lives, gun owners are assuming a certain amount of risk for themselves and their loved ones.

This raises the question: Are gun owners thoughtful risk analysts for their own lives?

Mentioned in this week’s video are Jonathan Metzl’s book Dying of Whiteness, John Farnam’s “rules of stupid,” the Center for Disease Control’s page on alcohol use and your health, and San Francisco’s last gun store, High Bridge Arms, that was forced to close in 2015.

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One comment

  1. We need to understand the risks and benefits of the choices we make and practice risk management. If something does not have a benefit to you, avoid its risks. I never enjoyed rock climbing, so I don’t worry about the risk of falling off a cliff face since I don’t do it.

    I spent a career working with Plutonium, other actinides, high voltage systems, pressurized systems, concentrated mineral acids including hydrofluoric and perchloric, and Category I chemicals in a university laboratory and then a government nuclear facility. All those things entailed risk but part of the job was risk management and risk minimization. The benefit to me was working in some of the most fascinating laboratory environments I could imagine working in as a Ph.D. scientist. As the lead scientist in those labs, it was also my job to manage the risks for all the folks working with me by mentoring them. That was also a leadership challenge, which I enjoyed.

    I ride motorcycles. My wife thinks they are death machines. I’ve always enjoyed the adrenaline rush of a good motorcycle ride. I don’t do stupid things with my motorcycle such as ride drunk, do “hold my beer” stunts in traffic, or ride at high risk times or in high risk places. I love an all out mountain road descent on a racing bicycle. That’s probably one of the riskiest things I do, as anyone familiar with Fabio Casartelli’s death would know. I long ago learned to keep that adrenaline rush within what I call the 80th percent margin, i.e., don’t push the envelope until it pushes back. In my case, the change the shorts moment was barely avoiding an oncoming pickup truck on a high speed twisty descent at close to 50 mph on a 20 lb bike with a little bit of lycra and styrofoam between me and my maker.

    I don’t even consider my firearms to be up in the higher risk echelons with the other stuff. Guns, like my chop saw and other power tools can be hazardous, but are well understood and depend only on me rather than all the intangibles those other categories involve (other people’s choices, possible failure in laboratory safety systems, legacy accidents waiting to happen, etc.). Maybe familiarity breeds contempt, but familiarity also breeds a knowledge of failure modes (drinking, mind altering drugs, fatigue, anger, etc). My post doc, Floyd, asked my wife if I was going to be on Ambien after a surgery as he was well aware of the accident potential with the guns. He and my wife discussed it with me and rather than remove the firearms from the house, I refused to fill the prescription.

    David, you hit the nail on the head. Risk is a currency and we need to understand how to spend it, not overdraw the account, and be mindful of the balance just as we need to understand balancing the checkbook. Running the checkbook in the red is bad enough. Running the bike, motorcycle, or gun into the…um…red…can be fatal.


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