Comedian Ron White tells a story about his vocabulary difficulties as a child, and says if he’d known the difference between “antidote” and “anecdote,” his friend Timmy would still be alive.
“He’d been bitten by a snake, and I tried to cure him by reading jokes from Readers Digest,” White quips.
Unfortunately, much of the governance of this country is a joke – with snake-oil cures for our problems as politicians let emotions drive legislation.
Everyone but the heartless among us was horrified by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The near-universal grief, however, quickly began to devolve, as it always does, into warring camps of people trotting out anecdotes as the antidote to whatever they perceive to be the cause of the murders.
Front and center has been, as always, gun rights. Two competing themes are getting the most attention.
As the debate moves forward, both sides will promote their views based almost entirely on emotional tales rather than hard evidence – because hard evidence suggests their preferred solutions won’t work.
For the gun-banners, a pro-gun control writer last week shredded the notion that any legislation would prevent mass shootings like Columbine or Sandy Hook.
Megan McCardle, writing in The Daily Beast, sums up the knee-jerk push for more gun laws this way:
“The things that would work are impractical and unconstitutional. The things we can do won’t work.”
McCardle provides weighty statistical evidence to demonstrate that not only are there no laws on the books that could have prevented any of those shootings, but that there are no laws we could or would pass that would prevent them in the future.
“It would certainly be more comfortable for me to endorse doing something symbolic – bring back the ‘assault weapons ban’ – in order to signal that I care,” McCardle writes.
“A law would make us feel better, because it would make us feel as if we’d ‘done something,’ as if we’d made it less likely that more children would die,” she adds. “But I think that would be false security. And false security is more dangerous than none.”
Exactly. Despite the evidence-based conclusions such as those compiled by McCardle, lawmakers are apt to plow ahead with emotionally charged legislation. Their intention isn’t so much to actually do something effective, but to allow politicians to portray themselves as “doing something.”
But how about the other side of the equation – those who believe more guns, rather than more gun restrictions, would be the solution? That’s being called for around the country, including in this community, with the assertion that putting armed guards in schools would prevent another massacre, or at least limit the number of victims.
Set aside your anecdotes: Has the concept of guns as a deterrent to gun violence been studied to see if it is effective? Actually, yes – and it undermines the notion that more guns would solve the problem.
In 2009, the University of Pennsylvania and the National Institutes of Health studied the probability of an armed person being shot versus the likelihood of an unarmed person being shot – in other words, testing the hypothesis, advanced by the more-guns side, that armed citizens deter shootings.
Using the same kind of well-accepted measures that demonstrate, for example, the link between drunken driving and car crashes, the study concluded that armed people are more likely to be shot.
Writing in PopSci, the online version of Popular Science magazine, Colin Lecher notes: “In the study, someone in possession of a gun was about 4.5 times more likely to be shot. If the victim had a chance to resist, he or she was 5.5 times more likely to be shot.” (Yes, the study excluded suicides.)
What’s more interesting, Lecher writes, is what the research didn’t find.
Lead researcher Charles Branas of the University of Pennsylvania told Lecher: “There was an expectation that we should surely find a protective value” in having a gun – but that turned out not to be the case. As the study concludes: “Although successful defensive gun uses can and do occur, the findings of this study do not support the perception that such successes are likely.”
So: Want more gun restrictions? Provide evidence that it will have any effect on stopping or curbing mass shootings. Want more guns in more places? Don’t just flash your Glock and puff out your chest: Show the proof that it actually will help.
Until then? Knock off with the anecdotes. What we need are antidotes.