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By Dallen R.

Quite a while ago, on a firearms forum the name of which I’ve forgotten, a young woman from Utah who wasn’t particularly anti-gun–but clearly didn’t want to own one–asked a simple question: Why? Why do so many people feel compelled to carry guns everywhere they go? . . .

There was a virtual avalanche of replies. Everyone was passionate and polite, but as the debate rolled on for page after page, it became clear that the conversation was going nowhere. Most of the replies centered around responsible self-defense, but her response always boiled down to “yes, but why?”

She was trying to understand, but just couldn’t see why anyone would feel the need to carry. To her, twenty-young-something and carefree, all this concern about bad guys looked like mere paranoia. I read through the whole seven-page thread, hoping one of the gun people would show her that she was wrong. To her credit she considered everything they said, but none of it came close to changing her mind.

Then, toward the end, a guy replied with a simple analysis that instantly clarified the whole thing. He cut past all the argument about numbers and criminals and paranoia and found the basic assumptions that drove the whole debate. When I saw what he’d done, a light bulb switched on in my head. I should have known all along.

Back when I was a grad student, I taught several sections of English 101. The composition textbook was a slimy hairball coughed up by the department’s race/class/gender doctrinaires, but it had a pretty good take on how to evaluate controversial arguments—go over the evidence and look for what the textbook called an “enabling assumption.”

That assumption is the point where different opinions emerge from the same evidence. Finding it will tell you a lot about the other side; finding yours can tell you a lot about yourself.

In this particular argument, the piece of evidence that kept coming up was pretty simple: the fact that there’s about a .005% chance that any given person will be murdered in a year.

People of the gun, especially the concealed-carrying subset, know that the odds are small, but we’re also aware that the stakes are huge. If you lose your gamble and wind up in that unlucky .005%, you lose forever. You’re dead. Or your family is. The logical conclusion: carry a gun, because the very existence of that small number means someone will inevitably lose. And with stakes that high, you do not want to lose if you can help it.

But look at it a different way, and everything changes.

Those odds are really long. At that rate you could live 500 years and still bet safely that you won’t be murdered. Why arrange your life around such a small possibility when you have other, more likely events to worry about? The logical conclusion: since you can safely assume that any given person you meet on any given day is perfectly reasonable and won’t try to kill you, carrying a gun everywhere is sheer paranoia.

The only sensible choice is to keep and bear arms–or the only sensible choice is not to. Different decisions, same evidence.

The girl I encountered in that forum had already gone as far as we can expect most people to go in considering a choice she didn’t agree with; she wasn’t arguing against anyone’s right to keep and carry (she could see that clearly enough), but her own assumptions had blinded her to something we thought was obvious…and ours had blinded us to hers.

All the gun people in that debate couldn’t prove that girl wrong because she wasn’t objectively wrong. She had a perfectly good reason for thinking concealed-carrying gun owners are just a little bit crazy…and though she couldn’t agree with the gun people, at least she now knew we had an equally good reason for our seeming paranoia.

We had reached opposite conclusions, both based on the same evidence, both enabled by equally reasonable assumptions; all we could do at that point was call it a day and agree to disagree.

Sometimes that’s all you can do. Sometimes it’s all you need to do.

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  1. There is a definite down side to concealed carry. The firearm, training, licensing, and ammunition are expensive. It is uncomfortable at times. It can limit your choice of clothing. It can limit where you go, what route you take to get there, and what mode of transportation you take to get there. And there is a super tiny chance (on the order of 1 out of 10 million) of an unintentional discharge, no matter how hard the firearm owner tries to follow the safety rules.

    If someone dislikes the down side and wants to take their chances, that is a perfectly fine choice and a rational choice I might add. Most importantly, I respect that choice. Where we get into problems is when people on the other side refuse to respect my choice to carry concealed … or even openly for that matter.

    • Your right in that it limits where you can go but more often than not I feel as though if it is a place I can’t carry in it’s probabaly a place I don’t want to go. IE if someone invites me to a bar where they feel the need to do pat downs at the door it’s probabaly some place I don’t want to go anyway.

  2. Good post.

    But at the end of the day, what the young woman from Utah thinks is, at best, irrelevant, and at worst, dangerous.

  3. Not everyone owns guns simply for self-defense or concealed carry. In fact, the majority of my firearms are not suited to CC or EDC.

    Even if a psychic could foresee the future and guarantee I would never, ever need a gun for defense, I still wouldn’t give up an inch of my RKBA. Guns are fun. I enjoy shooting sports, I enjoy challenging myself, I enjoy the history & engineering behind firearms, and I enjoy the smell of gun powder. As an adult and an American, I have every damn right to possess firearms, whether it’s a Barrett .50 cal, AR-15 or fine double gun. It’s nobody’s business as to why I choose to own guns, all that matters is that I choose to own guns. I need no explanation or justification. If people can’t understand that, perhaps they can understand my middle digit when they try to give me crap about what’s in my gunsafe.

    • ^This.

      I would also add that the only person who should give a damn whether or not I carry concealed or openly is me. Should go back to when it was normal to openly carry and no one gave a damn.

  4. Great post. I would reckon that in certain segments of the population, that chance of being murdered is much much less, and in certain segments it is much, much higher.

    Fact is no one that I know personally not involved in a law enforcement action has ever required a self defense firearm. Ever. That accounts for a lot of human years of experience.

    So I am nuts for carrying a gun. No I’m not. 🙂

    • Great comment that certain segments of our population have a much higher probability of being a murder victim.

      Even more importantly, any given individual’s probability of being a murder victim can radically increase in an instant — such as discovering that you have a stalker. Another example could be a woman whose ex-boyfriend announces that no one can have her if he cannot have her.

      In the situations where you suddenly discover you are someone’s target, you do not have the luxury of several weeks to choose and purchase a firearm, train, and get a concealed carry license.

      I live by the adage, “Better to have it and not need it … than to need it and not have it.”

  5. Why? Why do so many people feel compelled to carry guns everywhere they go? . . .

    It’s L. Neil Smith’s fault.

    • Agreed! I read the “Probability Broach” when I was about 12 years old. It has continued to color my political outlook to this day.

  6. This woman is a child and her question a childish one. You choose to carry a gun for the same basic reason that one chooses to wear a seatbelt or drive a certain route.

    By her logic, all alcohol should be banned, same with swimming pools.

    • Did you read the article? The woman in question did not want to ban guns, she just didn’t understand the reasons people gave for carrying them. She could equally say your decision is childish, and she would have no more basis to say it than you do about her.

      • Sure she’s being childish; I’m sure if I asked her if she has fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, wears a seat belt, teaches her kids not to talk to strangers and stop drop and roll, life insurance, health insurance and knows CPR she would say “sure I do, I’m a mature responsible adult” and I would ask her “but why? the odds of any thing bad happening like you’re prepared for is miniscule?” and she would say, “because that’s what being responsible means” and I would say, ” that’s why I carry a gun and that’s why, when it comes to guns, you’re being childish”.

  7. “the fact that there’s about a .005% chance that any given person will be murdered in a year.”

    How many given people do you know? How many given people are in your family? How many do you work with? Eat in the same restaurant with? Pass by when you are walking down the street or set beside in the theater?

    What percentage of women are raped? What percentage of children and molested? How many people are victims of armed robbery? How many people suffer home invasions? How many people are beaten, shot and stabbed each year but are luck enough not to die? There are worse things than death and they are often a great reason to have a gun on you.

  8. There are two points I must counter in this article.

    One,self defense is not a game of luck.Having a self defense mindset means anticipating the possibility of having to kill someone to save your life.One does not need a firearm necessarily to accomplish this.There are millions of Americans who live in states and cities where concealed carry gets a law abiding person more time in prison then their attacker,and structure their defense accordingly.

    Point two brings me to why the woman in question couldn’t fathom why someone would carry a gun.Most people in American society,even in major cities rife with crime, are never exposed to violence in person.TV is an antiseptic medium to view the horror of a murder or sexual assault.One thus could derive the erronous perspective that crime is some isolated event akin to a Solar Eclipse. That’s why people can’t wrap their heads around concealed carry,and why entire cities and states elect politicians opposed to the practice.They’ve never been robbed,their friends have never been shot at,and guns are clearly deadly tools which can kill at the slightest sign of inattentiveness; a person might logically reason that its better to take guns away entirely then to permit the risk of a tragedy on account of idiocy,to say nothing of deliberate murder or a kid playing with a loaded weapon.

    Solving this dilemma requires something this nation doesnt have; a media structure based on ethical reporting of the facts.Because our modern media has bought into the myth of crime as a rare event themselves,the average person has no exposure to the truth about the public benefits open ownership of weapons provides.Our media structure is a great example of the blind leading the blind,which is why people stand and debate us from a position of abject ignorance.

    • +1

      In addition to the media, we have to contend with the government school system and hyper-political university faculty.

      One political party commands most of the popular information methods.

  9. I would offer that in terms of self defense, being murdered is at one end of a very long and violent range of other possible outcomes. How about rape? I’ve worked as a volunteer for a rape crisis organization and the general risk from rape is this (which is mostly independent of geography, socio-economic status, etc.): a woman in America has a one in eight chance of being raped in her lifetime. That probability was true 30 years ago and I believe it is still valid today.

    Defending oneself is not just about protecting yourself from homicide, but also agg assault, rape, attempted murder, carjacking, theft, etc. Add in all violent crime, and the probability of being personally touched by it, even in this era of decreasing crime rates, tends to get quite a bit larger, around 444 out of every 100,000 I believe. Of course, it is 4-5 times higher in the UK, so at least we have that going for us. Oh, yeah, and we can shoot back. Funny how that works.

  10. Interesting article. I wonder if the anti gun woman in question ever considered that the evidence undermined her own position. After all, if the chance of being murdered is so small that arming yourself is insane, then taking away weapons in order to stop murders must be equally( if not more) insane.

    • Guess you, too, didn’t read the article. She wasn’t arguing to take guns away or ban them.

  11. Restrictive countrywide gun licensing could possibly make you statistically safer. At the same time, it would leave you and your family defenseless against an attack should one take place. So, you are being asked to sacrifice the means of defending yourself and your family to make the society statistically safer. I see this approach as but an example of collectivist versus individualist outlook on life, and it is a known fact that the two outlooks are basically two different ideologies that aren’t easily reconciled. One can try splitting the difference by having background checks, permits, whatever, but sooner or later the 800-pound guerilla of a question will appear – may issue versus shall issue licensing. And at that point, there are no further differences to split – it’s what you believe in.

    What’s interesting is that the above has more to do with ownership, not so much the issue of carrying, which was the subject of the debate described in this blog entry. The reason is that a criminal only needs access to a gun, not a permit to carry it, which is why shall issue carry permits have not led to problems where they had been – often quite reluctantly – introduced.

  12. I would say your chances of being murdered in your lifetime are very low,but your chances of being mugged, robbed, or assaulted are likely much higher (albeit still small)

    From my own experience, I don’t know anyone personally who has been murdered, but I do know people who have been mugged, who’ve been carjacked, who’ve been jumped and beaten on the streets, who’ve had houses broken into, etc.

    I’d also say your chances of being murdered vary based on location. It’s probably unlikely I get murdered while in the confines of my house, but if I chose to take a stroll down certain streets in Detroit or Chicago, or any major American city, my chances of being murdered are probably much higher.

    • I’m the flip side of that , Pat. Nobody in my immediate circle has been robbed or jacked or burgled. However, sadly enough, we’ve had a murder.

      But on my fathers side of the family, with the exception of my father, we had a group of biker trash and other such shady charecters that were frequently involved in violence, both giving and recieving. I had 1 first cousin that died proving you can’t rape a .38. I had 2 more killed in shootouts with the cops. They were not innocent victims. A lot of it was centered around the illegal drug trade.

      • Dang jwm, sorry to hear that.

        Probably the most serious incident I remember was when a few of my high school friends were carjacked in Rochester, NY.

        If I recall correctly the perp walked up next to their vehicle while they were at a stop-sign or traffic light, put a gun up against the window and told them to get out.

        Close second was another guy I knew in high school who either mouthed off to or flipped off some dudes walking on the street near the same area. He got pulled from his vehicle and beaten for that.

  13. Nice article!

    I’ve felt a bit alienated by both sides of the gun debate at times, but by starting with that enabling assumption stat I feel like I can finally express my own journey with guns.

    I am comfortable with risks. I explore caves as a hobby (it’s what my handle means), and while I’m obsessive about doing so safely, I accept that there are a lot of terrible things that can happen, and no matter how careful I am there’s always a chance I won’t come back from any trip I go on. It’s a risky business, but I suppose that’s even part of the appeal.

    It galls me whenever the gun control crowd hypes the dangers of guns or paranoia of gun owners, because in my estimation the risks are so minuscule that I am not at all bothered by them. That’s not an excuse to be cavalier about safety, but it does mean that as long as I’m completely disciplined about safety then there’s little to worry about.

    I didn’t get into guns to protect myself; I got into them because I think it’s great that we have the freedom to own firearms, and because I was interested in target shooting. It was only afterward that I began to consider that, by owning firearms, I’ve put myself in a position where I might protect myself or others, so I feel like I have the responsibility to learn how to do that. Just in case. I still believe that’s never going to happen, and I still think of my guns first and foremost as range toys / just another hobby, but should the unthinkable ever happen it would be a waste if I wasn’t prepared to do my part.

  14. Good article, though as someone else pointed out, self-defense is sometimes more than just a game of blind luck. As human beings we might not have complete control over the many happenings of life, though we can somewhat alter the odds in our favor – the reason many of us choose to own and train with the gun(s) of our choice.

    It does bear mentioning that if you’ve ever had a family/friend that has been the victim of a violent crime (murder, rape, home invasion, mugging, etc.) it does tend to raise your awareness and perception of the possibility of it happening. I’m fortunate to never have lost a family member or friend to murder, but I have distinct memory growing up of attending the funeral of someone at our church. He worked as a foreman in a construction company, and he fired a new guy who had been caught messing around on the job and endangering the other workers. An hour, the disgruntled employee came back with a gun and shot him. He had a wife and 3 young children.

  15. Did anyone ask her if she had smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extiguishers? Ask her if she wore her seatbelt even when not required to by law? Had her partner wear a condom when doin their thing? Wore a bike helmet when riding a bicycle? The same low percentage risk factors apply in all these scenarios, is someone with a fire extingusiher “paranoid”? No? Then why is that label used for a ccw?

  16. The x% argument per year leads to a false conclusion. Probabilities ares cumulative over a life time. If you live in Washington DC for 50 years your probability of being a victim is (1-.015) ^50 (the probability of not being a victim)which works out to a 50/50 chance. Even across the river in Virginia the risk factor over 50 years is (1-.004)^50 or about 1 in 6. Those are not insignificant odds.

    (Probability of being a violent crime victim is from the 2011 FBI data)

    • 1) No, probabilities are not cumulative.
      2) Even if they were, to assume they won’t change is a fallacy.

      And they aren’t really over a given year either. They’re instantaneous. At any given instant you have a 0.015 probability of being murdered in Washington DC.

      Carrying a gun for self defense is the same as carrying homeowner’s insurance on your house or installing smoke detectors and fire suppression systems.

      You are buying protection against a low-probability/high-cost event.

      • Yes they are:

        If the probably of not being a crime victim in DC is .985 in any year than probability of being crime free in two straight years is .985 *.985 or .985^2. The probability of remaining crime free for three years is .985*.985*.985 or .985^3. So to remain crime free for n years is .985*n power. Independent probabilities just mean that probability of event is constant per unit time. The probability of an event occurring or not occurring follows a binomial distribution of r occurrences in N trials. Since crime stats are compiled on annual basis so each year is a trial. So indeed the probability that DC resident who spends 50 years in DC is about 50/50.

  17. I tend to take the young woman’s viewpoint myself. I acknowledge that there is a chance of violent death and even though I could help prevent it by carrying, I choose to risk it and not carry. I even have a CCW. The benefit as I see it is that I don’t have to deal with the hassle. I mean, I have enough to deal with carrying a cell phone and my keys.

    You know, it’s more likely that I’ll get in a car accident than be involved in a violent encounter, and yet, I still drive a whole heck of a lot.

    • Your analogy is a bad one. The equivalent for guns would be refusing to leave the house because of the chance of a violent enounter. The proper analogy is not putting on the seatbeat to save yourself the hassle. Sure, you can drive years and years without having an accident or incident of any sort, so why take the time? However, if you were to have an accident, you would be glad you put the seat belt on.

  18. Self defense and the amount of effort you put in to it, is like insurance, you can go none, minimum coverage, full coverage, or a myriad of levels in between. It’s how at risk you think you are and how well taken care of you want to be should something happen.

    You might not understand why your buddy has full coverage on his beater car, but you don’t go on a crusade to disallow him from doing it and he doesn’t do the same to you. Could you imagine the anti folks frak out if we started changing the laws to force them to own and carry a gun? That’d be some entertainment right there.

    I carry only in certain situations and places. I carry my full size because that is what I have…I haven’t been willing to get a dedicated carry gun. That’s how my risk vs effort calculation works out for me. Your results may differ.

  19. Murder isn’t the only negative consequence of violent crime by a long shot. My childhood home was burglarized almost 30 years ago, and my current home in Brea was burglarized about 3 months ago. The man who tried to steal my wife’s car was arrested. Carjackings, rape, burglary, animal attacks, etc. are all very real possibilities.

    There’s also just good old fashioned peace of mind that results from being prepared.

  20. “If your life’s worth protecting part of the time, it’s worth protecting all of the time.”

    Louis Beam

    Really who do you trust to take care of you? Unfortunately, the gun grabbers don’t think any of our lives are worth protecting.

  21. It’s fine to have a difference of opinion right up until the point the other person votes to impose their opinion on you. SCOTUS I’m looking at you right now.
    Then you have to suck it up and live under their rules. Welcome to it.

  22. That whole .005% thing is a statistic. Statistics change; sometimes quickly. That unknown is left out of the analysis. Implicitly that’s the tyrannical justification used by authorities to confiscate firearms during a natural disaster. Add to natural disaster pandemic, financial collapse, CME/EMP, etc. and I don’t feel so crazy at all.

  23. Here’s another way to look at the risk. I live in California, where we occasionally have earthquakes. The next big quake may come tomorrow or in 150 years. If it comes in my lifetime, will it be so severe we will lose power and water for weeks? I haven’t a clue, and I don’t think scientists do either. So I can buy an emergency generator and stock up on food and water, just in case, or hope for the best. I chose option one, because if an EQ happens and my family is harmed, it is my fault and I have failed in my responsibility to protect them. It’s that simple. The question of “Should I do X” has to be answered by “Can you live with yourself if you were unprepared and unable to protect your family?”

  24. First, you’ve given us the choices, of “feel compelled” and “feel the need.”
    If she wanted to know the answer “why?” then the way she phrases her
    question needs to be ascertained. To “feel compelled” describes/implies
    that someone is moved to act, as the result of some external unseen force.
    To “feel the need” describes/implies that someone has either heard about,
    or has encountered a situation that leads to them into making a conscious
    decision. The words “compel” and “need” can often be loaded themselves.

    Second, anyone who reaches 20-something, or even 30-40-50-something,
    and still can’t understand why people choose to carry a firearm, then they
    aren’t worth the time you’ll spend trying to edify them about the why of it.
    When you get to the crux of it,…they really don’t want to understand you.
    No, they only want you to stop poking holes in their, We are The World,
    kumbaya-singing, can’t we all just get along dream world where violence
    only happens to other people, and if it does, that’s why we have the police.
    These anti-gunners don’t need our explanations, they need nannies.

  25. “Sometimes that’s all you can do. Sometimes it’s all you need to do.”

    The problem is that gun grabbers (maybe not this woman in particular) are simply unable to just agree to disagree. They too often feel that they are right and we’re wrong, and take it further by insisting that since THEY don’t have guns, then there is no need for US to have guns.

  26. Why do people do / collect any number of things? I own firearms, have a concealed carry permit (disclaimer). The vast majority of American men watch the National Football League, College, and High School football games. Many of them collect merchandise, collectibles, etc. for the sport, and/or their favorite teams. You can apply this to any sport to include NASCAR, NBA, Baseball, Golf, Tennis, Etc. Personally, I don’t watch sports, nor follow them. I don’t care to watch men beat each other up to move a ball 100 yards down a grass field. But I respect that other people enjoy watching the sport, and may participate in the sport as they please! Women collect clothes, shoes, handbags (purses), and watch fashion styles. Why do they buy them, when they have more than enough to wear, yet still buy clothing, accessories, even if they may never wear or use said item. Why do I have firearms? I grew up around them, I hunted, I did target shooting in High School, and did some shooting while serving in the U. S. Navy. Pick any subject, or item and you can get discussions of why someone owns them, or does not know why people want them! As said above, “Sometimes lets agree to disagree” and get on with life.

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