Are We Being Rational About Mass Shootings?

Peter Cooperson | Poland

Recently, two mass shootings occurred in the United States. However, despite the high level of emotions caused by footage from the scenes that saw the horrific murders happen, gun control policy should in no way be viewed as hot-headedly as it has been by the establishment. In fact, one can easily argue that the data itself carries a quite different message: actually, gun control is irrational.

The Irrationality of Panic

Tragedies from 9/11 to the most recent shootings promote mass amounts of public discourse. The direction of this discourse in the growingly populist West exemplifies the fact that man is not homo economicus. That is, rational thought is to a great degree foreign to our species, a theory which the field of behavioral economics confirms. The growing time preference in our increasingly accelerating world serves as further evidence.

If people were indeed rational, the order in which one presents information should lack importance. Yet, it is common knowledge that preferential presentation of information is a popular manipulation tactic. People are much more likely to panic when a negative stimulus is presented suddenly and en masse, even if they are not in real, statistical danger.

Guns Are No Exception

Despite what many would like to think, politicians cannot sustain themselves just on ideas. Votes matter and this is why even some Republican politicians such as Rep. Michael R. Turner of Ohio have turned to support anti-gun legislation in the aftermath of the recent shootings. Turner specifically must appeal to his voting base, simply because the shooting in Dayton happened in his congressional district. Others, such as Joe Biden also support the populist reforms, yet as a means to achieve the highest office in the country, stating that he would want to ban “assault weapons” (an arbitrary term to say the least). In fact, nearly every Democrat running for the office has said the same.

Even if banning all of these guns would decrease overall homicide rates (a very far-fetched idea), the idea to do so should be, rationally speaking, much more obscure than a proposal to ban swimming pools, which are a much more common cause of death (and much less essential an item, too). Of course, it’s redundant to say that nobody proposes the elimination of swimming pools; they don’t cause mass death and thus don’t get mass attention. If we were rational, gun fright would comparatively give us less fear. The same logic also applies to airplane safety as opposed to cars; though the latter kill more, irrational fear of the former is widespread.

Emotion Control, not Gun Control

What does this have to do with policy creation in Washington? Legislation is close to a level at which people cannot easily navigate through their political lives. This is why the U.S. Constitution is such a fine document – no other national constitution is as short. As a result, liberty loopholes and government growth in America has been slower, allowing the historical prosperity of the republic.

Nonetheless, instances in which politicians have hastily passed legislation to calm down the public are not scarce in history, especially recently. This is how populism has operated from its commencement. A great example would be the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, after which President Donald Trump suggested a ban on bump stocks, mostly to satisfy the crowd. This is despite the fact that the tool cannot ‘make a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic’, as many claimed.

The more of these laws we pass, even if they have minuscule effects on the public, the more we lose legal minimalism and succinctness. And, of course, every gun law will further reduce our liberties. Therefore, let’s do our best to be rational; it will improve our lives today and for the future.


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