Not Quite Right

Since there was so much media handwringing over the Pennsylvania school stabbing a week ago (as well as the brutal knife murders off campus at the University of Calgary on Tuesday), we can probably expect a lot more coverage since another such stabbing occurred at a Florida school today. As media pundits on both sides attempt with varying degrees of success to politicize the issue (“Tighter laws! More guns for self-defense! Knife restrictions in school zones!”) the real scope of the problem— and the statistical data about such attacks— get purposely obscured or widely-skewed by those determined to twist the truth to support their argument.

Therefore— in the service of calm rationality— allow me to offer a few facts of the matter:

In 2011 (an average year) over 1700 people were murdered with knives in the United States (or, less than half as many people who got killed worldwide by hippopotamuses during the same period. Seriously, that’s a real statistic). The non-lethal stabbing numbers, where a victim was assaulted with a knife, topped 15,000 that year alone… part of a trend that’s been around for decades. There are 314 million people in the USA, which means in any given year, roughly 1/19th of 1%, or 0.00052631578, of the population will be involved in some kind of violent incident with a knife.

If every one of those stabbings was reported by the major news services and posted to every social media in existence, there would a constant barrage of news ONLY about stabbings. There would be a report on a stabbing every half hour. The constant coverage would appear horrible and terrifying— yet, twice as many Americans die every year from accidental drowning than from stabbing by a knife.

Sadly, these recent incidents aren’t extremely special, nor are they extremely rare. They just happened at schools, and school violence is a hot-button political issue at the moment, so they received more television screen time than usual. Such attacks are terrible tragedies, sure— but in the United States, we get those pretty regularly, for lots of different reasons. So don’t freak out. Things aren’t getting exponentially worse, nor are mobs of knife-wielding children descending upon our schoolyards— media reports of this stuff are just getting faster and more ubiquitous.

How can such occurrences be prevented? Perhaps we should arm everyone… after all, if everyone is armed and able to defend themselves, doesn’t that mean no one would prey on anyone else and everyone would be safe? So why not just do that?

Well… because that’s never EVER worked, ever, in the history of ever. Not even in the Old West of gunslinger fame (which never actually existed as portrayed in popular western movies and TV shows, btw). Historically, the more people in a social environment who are armed, the more incidents of violence tend to occur— and the better they are armed, the more life-threatening are the resulting injuries.

“An armed society is a polite society” is a popular maxim, except it doesn’t work. As with the same argument for capital punishment, it places too much faith in fear as a deterrent. There will always be those too foolish, or too angry, to give a shit about the potential consequences of their actions: attackers who are literally too dumb to know when they should be afraid. Nor does being “armed and trained with weapons” preclude some combatants (those more naturally skilled, bigger, stronger, or better armed) from adopting unfair and socially-damaging bullying behaviors from positions of strength. Which we know they will, because they always do.

That’s why we have courts of law in the first place. The same reason we have armed police paid for at taxpayer expense: to enforce laws specifically designed to protect our collective citizenry from predators. Want to defend yourself? Make better laws and pay for better police. If you get a vote, be sure to use it. Remember… despite complaints by jaded cynics since the dawn of democracy, everybody’s vote counts. If it didn’t count, the politicos wouldn’t be willing to spend all that money trying to buy it. Nor would they be trying so hard to gerrymander districts to concentrate certain voters in certain places. VOTES COUNT.

Big money doesn’t ever definitively decide the result of American elections— voter turn out does. In the end, campaigners can buy as many stupid commercials and print ads as they want— but it all comes down to how frightened the people are, how dumb the people are, and what nonsense they’ll buy into. Or won’t.

So be smart with your vote, and use it to defend yourself. You’ll surprise a lot of over-paid political analysts if you do, because rational, intelligent self-interest is NEVER what pollsters expect.