Bombs, Bullets, and the Misperception of Agency

Digby (and others) have being raising an important point: as horrific as the Boston marathon bombings were, gun-related violence exacts far more deaths than the bombing did, yet we aren’t horrified by most gun murders. Put another way, the phrase routine gun violence should be an oxymoron, yet it isn’t and we seem inured to that. Digby thinks this is because terrorism invokes fear of the ‘other.’ That may be, but I think there’s something else–the misperception that gun violence involves agency.

Most people think that bombings such as those that occurred in Boston are pretty much unavoidable. It’s a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. In my case, I had planned on trying to sneak across the marathon about an hour later than the bombings as the runners usually thin out by then and you can often sprint across Boylston (because I don’t feel like walking the long way). In previous years, the easiest gap in the fence has been very close to Forum restaurant (though in years past, a different restaurant was there; the previous tenants were Vox Populi). If they had decided to murder people at 4pm instead of 2:50pm–but for the grace of the Intelligent Designer goes the Mad Biologist. A thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. Not much I can do to avoid danger unless I never go the grocery store again–and I think even the most rabid gun nut would agree (I hope).

But when shootings happen, mass or otherwise, people often think there’s something they could do. Run away, hide, fight back, persuade the shooter to stop firing, shoot back. Something. That’s the myth of the gun: many people believe they have some agency in that situation. At least in mass shootings, it seems luck is as important as in bombings–usually the shooter runs out of bullets, has a round jam, or for inexplicable reasons, goes somewhere else. If people realized–and if we let the CDC study this, we might be determine to what extent luck is involved in surviving gun violence–that there is a huge random component to surviving gun violence, then maybe we would find it equally terrifying.

Myths can be very deadly.

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7 Responses to Bombs, Bullets, and the Misperception of Agency

  1. “Run away, hide, fight back, persuade the shooter to stop firing, shoot back. Something. That’s the myth of the gun: many people believe they have some agency in that situation.”

    An astounding observation. You should contact the U.S. Army immediately. They are still under the delusion that that there IS agency during gun violence – on the part of the shooter who is deliberately slaughtering people, and on the part of the opposing soldiers, who, armed with their own guns, are non randomly taking out the threat. The fools!

  2. Bottanybuff says:

    I think people are also more afraid of things like bombs because of the possibility of gruesome maiming, rather than just regular old death. People get limbs blown off, they get their genitals blown off, it’s gross and frightening. Whereas the perception is that bullets are cleaner wounds, and tend to either kill you or not. This probably has something to do with movie gun violence, IMHO.

    Uh, not quite sure what the above poster’s point is, though. I’m pretty sure we’re talking about gun violence in communities, not in war zones.

    • The OP equates the efficacy of shooting your attacker with doing nothing. That is how useless he feels a gun in the hands of a person actually is – completely useless. This, of course, is nonsense and is proved nonsense by the efficacy of using a gun, whether that be in wartime or by a civilian using his firearm to protect himself.

      Mad Mike detests guns so much, he can’t even imagine a civilian using one in a legitimate or helpful manner. That is my point.

      • dr2chase says:

        I think, outside of wartime, that it’s already been shown that guns are net-useless. They have their uses, but they also have their costs, and you have to weigh one against the other. Guns are used for crime, suicide, murder, and mistakes, as well as for self-defense. And even if a gun is used to kill a “bad guy”, you cannot count the bad guy’s life as if it were zero; that is (legally) only the case for very bad crimes.

        Note that this is a simple numerical calculation — count lives lost, count lives saved. If guns lose more than they save, then they’re a net loss. And what causes people to do the math wrong is pretty much exactly what MtMB is writing about — the assumption that the good guy with the gun will correctly identify the bad guy, and not miss, as well as the assumption that the good guy will not have a suicidal impulse, or forget to put the gun away, or make a mistake while cleaning it or demonstrating it.

        • 1) I think that what the research on guns shows is that we don’t have anywhere near the data we need to draw any conclusions. As I understand it, in large part we have the NRA to thank for that. Thanks for nothing, NRA.

          2) I don’t count suicide – the supposed number one reason for gun-related death, to be a drawback.

          3) Almost all the rest is murder. I have a feeling the vast majority of this is drug/gang related, which makes this a problem easily solved by legalization. But we have no good
          data, so it is all supposition.

          4) I don’t see the how your net gain/loss analysis is meaningful. Having a gun and using it well is 100% gain for you at the time. And for every day of your life, thereafter, because you are alive. That’s all that matter to me, as an individual. I don’t give a shit if other people, using other guns, have less satisfactory results.

          I like my car, and I travel safely in it. Other people have cars, too, and a lot more people die from their car than get murdered by guns. Does that mean guns are a lot safer than cars, (even though guns are supposedly made for the express purpose of killing people) ?

          5) The fact is that a miniscule proportion of the guns in the U.S. are used in crime, and a miniscule number of gun owners use their guns in crime. And a very small number of people die unintentionally every year in gun accidents. If we analyze the issue by gun-days, it is now an overwhelmingly net gain for guns. In other words, there are ways to look at the gun issue which are not hyperbolic and fear-laden.

          ) The gun issue is simply not worth pursuing, IMO, if you are concerned, like me, about something important like global warming, especially as we are hot on the heels of two Supreme Court decisions affirming the rights of individuals to own and use guns. Karl Rove has an orgasm every time he sees another liberal writing in public about gun control. The are too many batshit nutty Republican voters who vote only because of this one issue, and they keep electing even-more-batshit crazy Republican politicians. The Left really needs to stop alienating the MILLIONS of folks who hunt; folks who might otherwise be on our side in order to help the environment. Can we all please just ruin Karl Rove’s sex life? ;D

  3. dr2chase says:

    Never mind that we completely flub risk estimation. Exercise, diet? Forget the bomb in your street, the one in your chest is the one that will do you in. Or cars? 3000 pedestrians killed each year, ten times that many not-pedestrians (and what a great way to not-exercise). The noise (notice how quiet it was during “shelter in place”?) alone is estimated to cause a million lost years of life each year in Europe (http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/apr2011/2011-04-01-02.html ).

    Then we have all the standard MtMB rants — not enough hand-washing, not enough vaccination, too much gratuitous use of antibiotics.

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