Today’s Opinion: People kill other people

POSTED: 04/14/11 12:02 PM

The argument that cars and criminals kill people, as Peter Gunn wants us to believe is a really simplistic approach of a rather complex issue.

We have a much better argument for Gunn that is nonsensical and an eye opener at the same time: swimming pools are more dangerous than guns.

In April of last year we wrote about risk assessment and about how hopeless people are at it. For some reason, we are always sure that we are going to win the lottery, but we are equally sure that we will never become the victim of some terrible traffic accident.

We illustrated our tendency to poor risk assessment based on Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner tantalizing book Freakonomics. In a chapter about good parenting, the authors highlight the poor decisions parents are taking to keep their children safe.

Molly is an eight-year old girl who has two girlfriends living nearby. The parents of one of the girlfriends have a gun at home, so Molly’s parents have forbidden her to play there. Instead, they allow Molly to go to another girlfriend, whose parents have a swimming pool in the backyard. The parents feel good about their choice: they protect their little daughter against a possible accident with the gun.

But Levitt and Dubner show that this choice is completely wrong, because swimming pools are far more dangerous than guns. They support this position with cool figures. In any given year there is a drowning of one child for every 11,000 residential swimming pools in the United States. Since there are roughly 6 million swimming pools in the country, this adds up to 550 drownings a year.

At the same time, one child is killed for every one million guns in the country. Since there are about 200 millions guns in the States, this adds up to 175 gun-related deaths.

The comparison of death by swimming pool (1:11,000) and death by gun (1: 1 million) is not even close, the authors argue. Molly is far more likely to die in a swimming pool that by way of gun play.

Cars don’t kill people. People who drive them and cause accidents kill others. Swimming pools don’t kill people either. People who are unable, or too drunk, to swim drown in them. Criminals are like animals: they have a strong, though hardly fair, survival instinct. Only the lunatics among the criminals kill. Berny Madoff never killed anyone for instance (though that point might be arguable), and he is the king of crooks. In general, guns don’t kill, but people who pull the trigger do.

So are we going to ban swimming pools and cars? Or are we going to come to our senses, realize that guns are actually designed to kill people, and realize that the more guns we put out there, the higher the chance is that somebody ends up in a coffin?


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