Statistics, public policy and personal responsibility

Amid the fervor regarding the student walk-out protest and gun control legislative initiatives, I would like to point out a perspective rarely seen in the news or  social media. As public policy has broad control over the population as a whole, these decisions should naturally be based on well-researched studies that accurately determine what is best for the most amount of people.  That is why laws are essentially rules, not exceptions.


If anyone has been in a debate or discussion recently,  you will hear a reference to some study that supports the speaker’s standpoint, usually obtained from a social media post or from a 5 minute news segment.  Aside from the deficiencies of many of these soft science study designs, there is the challenge of extrapolating the study’s conclusion to real life scenarios.  This is almost as bad as someone providing an anecdote to prove their point. However, many will rely on these studies as some sort of proof that policy X is the answer to the problem of gun violence.


What is missing is the personal responsibility approach to many of these conversations. While they may be motivated by a Black Swan event such as the Parkland High School shooting,  this distracts from the more common threats to our youth. This not only pulls away resources from the more likely dangers of suicide, car accidents and overdoses, there is a fundamental limitation in this perspective of trying to prevent rampage violence.  It creates this amorphous, generalized threat and remedies that disregards the individual’s responsibility and power to prevent violence.


To give an example,  gun owners may be confronted with the statistic that a firearm is more of a threat to the owner from suicide or accidents than its benefit for self protection. There may be some merit  to this statement. However, it does not consider the all the factors that go into the option of the gun being a danger or an aid. Suicide is an extreme example of personal choice and the probability of an accident is directly correlated to the owner’s safety behaviors.  The point is the individual has the control if it will be used against them or to save them.


Public policy  should be based on well-researched studies that can help determine what is best for the community.  However, the predominant external locus of control perspective (identifying outside influences as the explanation for a person’s status), has created a culture which does not look at what they could have done personally to prevent a tragedy.  While most of us do not live near the location of this latest tragedy, everyone of us has someone in their lives, either at school, family members or relations, that is at risk. Naturally, I am talking about all people, including those outside the security profession. While the interest in public policy is good for engaging  our youth, I encourage people to challenge others about what they can personally do, with the people and situations in their lives, to prevent this senseless violence. Will banning AR-215’s reduce the number of school shootings? Hard to determine. But certainly reporting concerns and intervening/supporting a disturbed person can make a difference. I encourage other professionals to widen this support.  thank you