Matthew Larosiere is the Director of Legal Policy at Firearms Policy Coalition. You can connect with him on Twitter @MattLaAtLaw.
Fear is one of the strongest motivators for selling massive social and legislative change. Fear has been used, time and time again, to instill a sense of obedience in the American psyche, impacting our ability to rationally assess both the value and impact of serious changes in law. Fear led to the passage of the Patriot Act and mass surveillance, just as fear is what is being used to convince Americans to surrender the ability to protect ourselves, if not for our own sake, then for the sake of our children.
Mass shootings are terrible tragedies. They impose tremendous costs on their victims, and the communities in which they occur. We hear everywhere, from the water cooler to the newsroom, concern for these events. But we seldom discuss risk. Just how common are they? Because we believe that sound public policy requires a sober analysis of all the facts, Firearms Policy Coalition decided to investigate. We did a deep dive into the most authoritative data on mass shootings, and are now bringing our findings to the public.
Mercifully, mass shootings are black swan events. The odds of being involved in such an incident are exceedingly rare, but between nonstop media coverage and the ghoulish exploitation of victims, politicians and lobbyists have been able to convince a substantial number of people that forfeiting the right to keep and bear arms—the right to secure ones bodily autonomy against unlawful force—is a cost we all must pay.
We believe that it is critical to examine the underlying facts and history which drive policy and lawmaking. Because partisan radicals spend so much time and energy obfuscating the data and statistics, we wrote this paper to provide clarity. We clarify what actually constitutes a mass shooting, how often they happen, and what the actual probability is of you being involved in such a crime as an individual.
We examined decades of data, and compared the probability of being killed in a mass shooting to other, similarly rare causes of death. By no means are we saying that mass shootings are not a horrible, mostly preventable tragedy; to the contrary, we would love to see communities make efforts to address the underlying causes. But that does not mean that governments should engage in reckless policymaking for the sake of “doing something.”
Everything comes with a cost, especially in public policy. Where there is no or little evidence that a “solution” can prevent or even reduce harm, it is not a useful solution. Where the “solution” is not only inutile, but we know it imposes huge costs on people, both in enactment and through violent enforcement of the law, it makes even less sense. In the context of mass shootings, gun control is a treatment not worth the cost or bitter taste of the medicine.
It’s perfectly rational to be afraid of mass shootings. It’s not rational, however, to write policy based on fear alone. We believe the evidence shows not only that gun control is not a solution, but also that the world is not as scary as some people want us to believe. To learn more, check out our research paper, where we break down our findings and analysis step-by-step. We hope this can help bring some needed clarity to the debate.