They’re all walking out today. And I support it.
I’m guilty though.
I’ve been playing both sides of an argument. I realized it when I read an article posted by Alex Tabarak, an economist I follow, that pointed out the alarmist nature of how we’ve been talking about gun violence in schools.
In it, the article points out that there have been 16 mass school shootings in America— shootings with four or more fatalities not including the shooter—since 1996. And that the rate is actually decreasing.
More kids die each year from bicycle accidents and drownings than from school shootings.
That’s normally my line.
When it comes to crime, in general, terrorism and global calamity, I’ve been quick to point out exactly where we are on the arc of mankind’s existence. I was and still am a evangelist of the sentiment President Obama expressed when he said, “if you had to choose any time in the course of human history to be alive, you’d choose this one. Right here in America, right now.”
Disease. Famine. Crime. War. All the worst of them are behind us. And though we will see episodic backsliding from time to time, the sine wave of human wellbeing travels on an upward slope. As Steven Pinker says in his book Enlightenment Now, looking at the data and concluding anything else is “delusional.”
My great and constant criticism of alarmist perspectives, beyond my fundamental disagreement with things that are materially wrong, is that they are often used to further political objectives. The narratives that the world has gone mad and is about to come to pieces are not new. They’ve been told consistently through generations while the lives of those telling them have spiraled towards abundance, safety and the greatest global standard of living in history.
Too often, the political objectives being sought aim to deny access of “new” people to things the “old” people have for fear of a erosion of society, standards or resources. For me that’s a high price to pay for irrational fear.
So why, then, are school shootings different?
The first is a point that Tabarak’s economics partner at the blog Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen, makes to highlight the impact of forcible deportations resulting from the current administration’s policy on DACA.
“The resulting problems are especially high costs, not only because of the associated dollars, but also because our precious self-image as a humane country implies keeping such episodes to a minimum. Too many violent stories and images, even when they technically can be justified by laws, damage our conception of our country. Eventually that will shape our future behavior and not for the better.”
When it comes to school shootings, the same can be said. Even if the likelihood is so low that concerns of it happening to you or your child are literally irrational, there’s something about the safety of our children and our need to feel that these horrifying acts are impossible that is an important part of our society.
To Cowen’s point, too many violent stories and images, don’t serve us well in the long term.
We would have to average a commercial plane crash a week in order to kill as many Americans as we do in car crashes every year. Last year, zero planes crashed. Though our insistence on airline safety to the standard we have achieved is not entirely rational relative to other harms like driving, we pursue it without debate. Somewhere long before a commercial plane crash per week would have Americans realize a level of fear that erodes the general feeling of safety we depend on to live in a free and open society that includes air travel.
And so it is with School shootings. Yes, my kids are less safe swimming in my neighbors pool than they are at school. Drownings don’t erode societies the way that school shootings do. And yes, we call could for media blackouts. But, that’s not really what America is about either. Which takes me to the second reason why school shootings are different.
What I’m advocating against, in a movement like #neveragain, is things like access to schools for people who intend to harm children, access to firearms for people who shouldn’t have them and limitations to processes, policies and technology that enable both to happen.
I’m not advocating against people.
If you tell me that the immediate and certain harm to an American who can’t purchase an AR-15 is the same as a family whose six-year old was murdered in Sandy Hook or a family whose 40 year resident father was just deported, than I’m happy to have that discussion in the presence of anyone.
One thing that consistently frustrates me about the Second Amendment debate in America is that we haven’t done the work to truly support the Second Amendment in America. The idea that something as foundational, for some, as the right to bear arms would live in pristine condition across time, population density, technology and cultures, is not realistic. The hard-line tactics of lobby and political hacks to have a goal of “do nothing at all ever” smacks of a combination of fear and laziness.
If you want guns, do the work. Create the effective legislation. Establish the processes. Insist that we account for the fact that modern fire arms are the most effective way in the world to escalate violence.
Do the work because not doing it is leaving the right so cherished by many conservative Americans at risk.
We put 144 million Americans in aluminum tubes and flew them into the upper boundary of the troposphere and landed them on the ground in places hundreds and thousands of miles a way last year without incident because we insisted that our society depended on that standard.
Surely we can send our children to school with the same insistence on outcomes.
If we don’t, the long term impacts of our irrational fear will begin to tug at the fiber of our society. And then the fear won’t be irrational any more.
Millions of students are walking out today to make that point.
We should pay attention.