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In the hope of contributing something constructive to the argument about the benefits of having armed civilians in the public square and schools, I would like to try a sort of risk-benefit analysis.
To measure “benefit” we need to determine the likelihood that you can successfully intervene, using a gun, if you or someone near you becomes a victim of a violent crime in a situation that would validate the defense of justifiable homicide under New Mexico law.
The FBI reports that the rate of violent crime in New Mexico in 2010 was 589 crimes per 100,000 population; the national rate was 404.
The 2008 National Crime Victimization Survey (latest available) says that there were 4,856,510 victims of violent crimes that year, a rate of 1,595 per 100,000 population.
A valid rough guess might be that the probability of becoming a victim is around 1,000 per 100,000 per year.
Because you may defend another as well as yourself, you have to add in the probability of being near another victim.
To try to account for that let’s just add another 1,000. So the probability of an opportunity to realize a benefit of carrying a gun is about 2,000 per 100,000 per year, or 2 percent per year.
At that rate most of the people who carry firearms can expect to have one benefit occur in their lifetime.
The probability of improving the outcome of a violent crime by resisting (with or without a weapon) runs around 66 percent when the resistance is by the victim, but only 27 percent when it comes from another person.
So the probability that you can improve the outcome of one of these encounters is about 660 plus 270, or 930 per 100,000, or a little less than 1percent per year.
Like the probability of dying (794 per 100,000 per year, for Americans), over a lifetime it adds up to around one.
The risks are considerable. The inconvenience of “carrying” is seldom appreciated.
Even with a concealed carry permit (highly recommended), there are lots of places you can’t carry, so you have to leave it at home or lock it in your car or hotel room with the attendant risk of theft.
If you drink alcohol away from home you would be wise not have a gun in your possession or control because that’s almost prima facie negligent use of a firearm. In many quarters there’s a social stigma to carrying that many may prefer to avoid.
If you shoot somebody, you have entered a legal morass. Think along the lines of a second mortgage to pay your lawyers. You might get off in the end, but you may also experience a couple of years of pain and trauma.
You also risk collateral damage (e.g., hitting innocent bystanders — think civil suit and induced poverty).
Imagine yourself and a couple of other members of the citizen militia in that dark, noisy theater in Aurora trading fire with that nut — and possibly each other — with screaming kids all around you, and then having the cavalry come to the rescue — and the cavalry not knowing which gunman is which.
One of the problems with carrying is that it tends to foreclose alternatives that might have much less risk for the crime victim, such as running away, hiding, making noise, fighting back — martial arts — or even negotiating.
There are certainly situations where nothing but a gun will serve, but in my view it’s a choice far too easily rationalized when a gun is at hand, that is not justified in many situations.
I believe there’s still significant benefit to having qualified civilians carrying guns, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
I think we should discount the NRA leadership’s Pollyanna view of the virtues of an army of citizen gunbearers on the streets and in the schools.
They’re not acknowledging the downside and frankly, the NRA leadership is mostly about selling guns and ammo.
We can have a rational discussion that protects second amendment rights and allows a reasonably armed citizenry to strengthen our society without Wayne LaPierre’s histrionics.
There’s more to this than slick guns and macho slogans.