By Kitty Testa
Just a little over a year ago, in the heat of the 2016 election, which focused heavily on immigration, Donald Trump Junior used a strange analogy to hype the danger Syrian immigrants might pose to the US population. In a tweet he shared a meme which was later removed for copyright violation. The meme compared the refugees with a bowl of Skittles.
“If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you three would kill you would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”
As it turns out, that bowl of Skittles would have to weigh 7200 pounds to statistically mirror the threat that immigrants pose to the United States.
But this Skittles logic is on full display among gun control advocates in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting Sunday night. Unlike other forms of violence, when guns are involved, the gun is decried as the agent of violence, as opposed to the people who commit the violence or any ideologies they might embrace or any lack of a moral compass. For these gun opponents, many of them famous celebrities armed with few facts and misleading memes, the problem is that there are just too many guns around. And you never know when they might just go off, so the fewer guns we have, the safer we will be. They say it’s common sense.
It’s impossible to know precisely how many guns are in the United States. According to the Congressional Research Service, there are over 350 million guns in the United States. So how many of us are actually killed by people using guns?
In 2014, per the FBI, total gun homicides were 8,124. The US population was 318.6 million in 2014, meaning that 0.003% of the population was killed by someone using a gun. Another 3,837 people were killed with other types of weapons or actions. In total, 0.004% of the population were victims of homicides in 2014.
If a particular concentration of guns resulted in more murders, gun control advocates might have a point. The Mises Institute looked at this problem and determined that there is no correlation between gun ownership and mass shootings or murder rates. The presence of more guns does not lead to more gun violence.
Still, gun control advocates are spreading Skittles logic, as if one private firearm is one too many. Well, If I had a bowl of 43,000 Skittles and one of them would be used to kill you, would you eat from that bowl?
Maybe not if you don’t like Skittles, but you take greater risks every single day.
One of this week’s themes is whether the horrific Las Vegas shooting is the price we pay for the Second Amendment, which protects the right to own firearms to defend ourselves, and whether that price is too high. I saw a meme that divided the dollar amount of NRA political contributions to particular congressmen by the Las Vegas death toll, purportedly showing the price tag that the evil congressmen put upon the individuals who died. Yet people die from a lot of things which improve or enhance our lives, and we have apparently decided that it’s simply the price we pay.
In 2014, nearly 33,000 people died in car accidents—almost four times as many as were killed with guns. Is this the price we pay to get to the mall, or to work, or to a family party without having to rely on mass transit schedules? Yes, it is.
According to the NIH, a third of those car accident fatalities involved alcohol, but a total of 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes. Is this the price we pay for the privilege of enjoying a craft beer on Friday night, an aged scotch on Saturday, or a fine pinot noir on Sunday afternoon? Collectively we have decided that yes, it is.
What is the price we pay for using chemicals to clean our homes and produce the items we use every day? 42,000 accidental poisoning deaths per year is the price we pay, per the CDC.
The Skittles logic is quickly abandoned when we get into the car and drive to the store and pick up a six-pack and realize we’re running low on toilet bowl cleaner so we might as well get that too. We’ve accepted those risks. We understand that nearly everything we do has an associated risk. We understand that risk can’t be eliminated entirely, and we don’t want to merely survive, bubble wrapped for safe keeping. We want to have full, varied and meaningful lives, and thus we expose ourselves to risk because we see the benefits outweighing those risks.
Even if you choose not to own firearms yourself, you benefit from private gun ownership. You benefit from a herd deterrence that discourages those with bad intentions from harming you simply because they’re not sure whether you have a gun or not, or whether your neighbor has a gun or not. The criminal can’t very well assess his risk unless he assumes that everyone has a gun. You also benefit from the implicit check against tyranny that wide-scale private gun ownership provides. You may think that risk is very low, even as our local police departments become more militarized every year, but if you were in Catalonia or Venezuela right now, you might think differently.
If you really want to ban guns altogether, I want you to think about how many guns you’re going to need to confiscate 350 million guns. Surely thousands and thousands of Americans would be killed in the process. And then you will have a country in which only the police and the government have guns, and therefore be able to abuse the citizenry at will.
The reality is that we’re surrounded by guns. The reality is also that the vast, vast majority of us are not in danger of being harmed with them. The existence of more privately owned guns does not increase the gun murder rate. On the contrary, while the number of privately owned firearms has risen 56% since 1994, the gun homicide rate has fallen 49% in the same period. It may be a non-causal correlation, but it certainly rules out a correlation between increased gun ownership and increased gun crime. Calling for more gun control is an exercise in security theater. Stop being so afraid of guns.
So should you eat from that bowl of Skittles? 69,000 people die from diabetes each year. So maybe not.