Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Should Universities Avoid Sensitive Topics Because of Guns in the Classroom?

 

There is paranoia over having guns on campus at state schools in Texas, but where is the evidence to support the fear that armed students will suddenly resort to violent disagreement? Professors are being encouraged to avoid sensitive topics if there are armed students in the classroom. Has discussion of sensitive topics previously resulted in attacks on professors with knives, clubs, chairs, or fists?
 

With students potentially carrying weapons after Aug. 1, University of Houston faculty members may want to avoid sensitive subjects or drop certain topics from their curriculum altogether, a forum of professors suggested recently.

A slide shown at a recent discussion of a new state law, which will allow licensed individuals to carry concealed handguns on campus, says faculty may want to “not ‘go there’ ” to avoid creating a tense situation. This echoes concerns voiced by professors across the state that allowing guns into the classroom will limit academic freedoms and inhibit discussion of sometimes touchy subjects.[1]

 

We do need to know more about the causes of shootings, but Congress has prohibited studying this because the research often reflect the biases of the researchers, whether pro-gun or anti-gun. Researchers on the topic have not done a great job, but that is a reason to improve the research, not to prohibit research.

While there have been a lot of school shootings, is there anything to suggest that these shootings have had anything to do with discussions of sensitive topics?

No.

Will this change if students are allowed to carry firearms on campus?

Probably not.

Research would be nice, but Wayne LaPierre (executive vice president of the National Rifle Association) appears to be convinced that guns are the cause of all of the problems in America. He is the main opponent of research, which he seems to expect to uncover his secret. LaPierre is also the person who seems to profit the most from every mass shooting that makes the news.

News coverage of a mass shooting is a fund raiser for Wayne LaPierre and the NRA. While LaPierre fights to keep guns in the hands of criminals, most NRA members are more reasonable.
 

Pew - guns - background checks
Section 2: Opinions of Gun Owners, Non-Gun Owners[2]
 

Gun ownership is a topic that many people approach emotionally, rather than logically. People want guns for protection, even though there is no valid reason for the average person to feel safer with a gun. There are plenty of reasons to feel less safe with a gun.

The best way to protect yourself is to stay away from violent people, such as gangsters, but that is not always possible.

What is a gun supposed to protect you from? Being killed –
 

All homicides
Number of deaths: 16,121
Deaths per 100,000 population: 5.1

Firearm homicides
Number of deaths: 11,208
Deaths per 100,000 population: 3.5
[3]

 

What is the greatest risk of owning a gun?
 

All suicides
Number of deaths: 41,149
Deaths per 100,000 population: 13.0
Cause of death rank: 10

Firearm suicides
Number of deaths: 21,175
Deaths per 100,000 population: 6.7

Suffocation suicides
Number of deaths: 10,062
Deaths per 100,000 population: 3.2

Poisoning suicides
Number of deaths: 6,637
Deaths per 100,000 population: 2.1
[3]

 

People with guns are almost twice as likely to intentionally kill themselves as they are to intentionally kill someone else, so why the fear?

Then there are 505 unintentional firearms deaths, 281 firearms deaths in the undetermined category, and 467 firearms deaths in legal intervention/war category. Even the accidental (unintentional) deaths outnumber the appropriate deaths.

This does not mean that there is no good reason to own a gun. There are many, but just for the feeling of protection in a low crime area, like some who are prepared for a home invasion, is like buying a lottery ticket. Your odds of winning do not change, regardless of how many tickets you buy. Estimating the home invasion rate, since it is not usually a specific part of crime statistics, is a guess at what is just a tiny part of the violent crime rate, which has been decreasing for a quarter of a century.

Perhaps a gun is not just supposed to protect you from being killed, but from being attacked, or just from being anxious about being attacked. The suicide statistics do not suggest that guns provide an effective psychological benefit.

The NNT (Number Needed to Treat to produce a benefit) is almost impossible to measure, because of the prohibition on research and the difficulty in identifying cases where a gun might have prevented something vs. when having a gun may have contributed to a bad outcome, vs. the many other difficult to measure possible outcomes. Outcomes of even positive reports might have been better without a gun, since we generally have no way of knowing what the outcome would be if a person did not have a gun.

The NNH (Number Needed to Harm) is easier to measure. Add the accidental injuries, the accidental deaths, and the suicides and divide by the number of guns. Even this will have some difficult to measure possibilities. The difference is that the majority of this number is unambiguous, while the benefit is almost entirely speculative.

The bad outcomes are only going to be a fraction of one percent. They are like dealing with terrorism, which is like mass shootings – rare, dramatic, and emotional. We are not good at making these decisions rationally.
 

But how dangerous are guns?
 

Actual causes of death in US in 2000 - a
Actual Causes of Death[4]
 

Some of the death rates, such as due to motor vehicles and firearms, have decreased since 2000, while others, such as illicit drug use have increased.
 

Three Selected Causes of Injury†— National Vital Statistics System, United States
The full image shows more dramatic changes since 1979, but I edited it to show only the changes since 1999.[5]
 

Guns are much less dangerous than tobacco, obesity/inactivity, or alcohol, but more dangerous than terrorism. We don’t worry much about tobacco, obesity/inactivity, or alcohol, but we panic about terrorism. Risk management is not something we do well. We evolved a fight, flight, or freeze response to threats. These are reflexive and emotional responses. Universities are supposed to promote reasonable discussion of diverse and sensitive topics, but they have encouraged political groups to shout down the ideas they do not want to hear.

Professors are supposed to think clearly about things, and educate students to think clearly. Avoiding sensitive topics, because students might not be reasonable, is not reasonable.

Footnotes:

[1] UH faculty suggest steering clear of some topics if students armed
By Benjamin Wermund
Updated 8:30 am, Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Houston Chronicle
Article

[2] Section 2: Opinions of Gun Owners, Non-Gun Owners
March 12, 2013
Why Own a Gun? Protection Is Now Top Reason
Perspectives of Gun Owners, Non-Owners
Pew Research Center
Study

[3] Deaths-Final Data for 2013
Jiaquan Xu, M.D.; Sherry L. Murphy, B.S.; Kenneth D. Kochanek, M.A.; and
Brigham A. Bastian, B.S., Division of Vital Statistics
National Vital Statistics Reports
Volume 64, Number 2
February 16, 2016
Free Full Text in PDF format

[4] Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000.
Mokdad AH, Marks JS, Stroup DF, Gerberding JL.
JAMA. 2004 Mar 10;291(10):1238-45. Review. Erratum in: JAMA. 2005 Jan 19;293(3):298. JAMA. 2005 Jan 19;293(3):293-4.
PMID: 15010446

[5] QuickStats: Death Rates* for Three Selected Causes of Injury†— National Vital Statistics System, United States, 1979–2012
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)
November 21, 2014 / 63(46);1095
Edited to show only the changes since 1999
Free Full Image with footnotes from CDC.

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Comments

  1. I think guns should be taught in our schools, we are Americans and guns are part of our culture. It should be part of our curriculum like sex education and PE.

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