Guns, Crime and Doctors

It's safer to travel by airplane than by car, but people feel more secure on the road. The likely reason is that we feel less threatened when we have some control: Unlike passive passengers in jets, drivers can enjoy the illusion that their risk depends completely on their own actions.

Some people have similar feelings about crime: They think if they are armed, they can protect themselves and come out better than us milquetoasts who count on the police to keep us safe.

Those feelings fuel a lot of Hollywood fantasies, but they also spur serious debates. For instance, John Lott of the University of Maryland claims arming the general public reduces crime. Other scholars say that's hooey (this pdf is a good summary of their reasons).

But the pro-gun arguments seem to be working, because American states over the past 20 years have been relaxing their gun laws to permit ordinary people to carry concealed weapons.

This week, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School weighed in. Examining 677 Philadelphia shooting victims between 2003 and 2006, the epidemiologists concluded that your risk of getting shot is 4.5 times higher if you're carrying a gun than if you aren't.

However, the study didn't compare armed assault victims to unarmed victims. Instead, it compared shooting victims to the general population, in the same way that earlier epidemiological studies compared smokers with non-smokers to assess tobacco risks.

The trouble there is that a link between gun possession and bullet wounds doesn't prove causality. Perhaps going out and buying a pistol instantly puts the average Philadelphian at a higher risk of getting shot. But isn't it more likely that this effect is due to people who carry guns living differently from people who stay home at night to knit?

This is not an argument in favor of handguns for all. It's just a question: Are the methods developed to find the health risks of cigarettes and salt really appropriate for a cultural-political issue like gun-possession?

Perhaps it's not just the Charles Bronson wannabees who have fantasies of control. Perhaps those in public health who want to medicalize the issue of firearms are indulging in a pipe dream of their own, a dream that the right kind of regulations can make people live better lives.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
Strange Maps
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
Keep reading Show less

New alternative to Trump's wall would create jobs, renewable energy, and increase border security

A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that the U.S. and Mexico build a series of guarded solar, wind, natural gas and desalination facilities along the entirety of the border.

Credit: Purdue University photo/Jorge Castillo Quiñones
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The proposal was recently presented to several U.S. members of Congress.
  • The plan still calls for border security, considering all of the facilities along the border would be guarded and connected by physical barriers.
  • It's undoubtedly an expensive and complicated proposal, but the team argues that border regions are ideal spots for wind and solar energy, and that they could use the jobs and fresh water the energy park would create.
Keep reading Show less
Image source: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Though we know today that his policies eventually ended the Great Depression, FDR's election was seen as disastrous by some.
  • A group of wealthy bankers decided to take things into their own hands; they plotted a coup against FDR, hoping to install a fascist dictator in its stead.
  • Ultimately, the coup was brought to light by General Smedley Butler and squashed before it could get off the ground.
Keep reading Show less