The social and economic uncertainty surrounding the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic has Americans understandably concerned about their personal safety. In March 2020, the FBI reported the highest monthly number of firearms background checks ever recorded: 3,740,688. Compared to March of the previous year, Americans bought 1.1 million more guns in a single month. Ammunition is also flying off the shelves, with sales in some states increasing more than 4,000 percent.
Many recent first gun-buyers are people who were previously either ambivalent or even opposed to gun ownership. Several such people have reached out to me with questions about which gun they should buy. Many fellow firearms instructors report the same experience.
It’s easy to see why Americans are worried. While we live in a generally high-trust society, catastrophes can easily disrupt the delicate social order on which that trust depends. As it is sometimes said, we are all only nine meals away from anarchy.
Desperate people do desperate things. Economic goods are human goods, and while the current lockdowns are necessary to contain the pandemic, they carry real human costs. Many of these costs — joblessness, homelessness, mental health issues, and drug abuse — lend themselves easily to criminal behavior.
Always Be Prepared
Am I saying society is on the brink of collapse? No, we are far from an apocalypse. The point is simply that the world is and has always been a risky place, so it makes perfect sense to be proactive and prepared. When things are peaceful and prosperous, we often don’t pay attention to danger because things are going so well. But in times of great social and economic stress, we are more attuned to things that might go wrong.
Having a disaster plan isn’t as foreign as some might think. We routinely make decisions aimed at mitigating risks. We purchase insurance, maintain emergency savings, and get flu shots. We keep spare tires, jumper cables, flashlights, and fire extinguishers handy, and buy extra supplies just in case we might need them.
Unless you happen to be naively optimistic, you’re already a “prepper.” Even if you’re relatively “lucky,” you can bet something catastrophic will eventually befall you sometime in your life. Better to be prepared than to be caught off guard.
Prepping for improbable events isn’t necessarily irrational; it is often wise. Consider this: In 2017, more than 2.7 million people were injured in 6.4 million car crashes. With 327 million people in the United States, this means the baseline probability of you getting injured in a car accident each year is slightly over 0.8 percent.
Now, a 0.8 percent chance might be perceived as pretty good odds. After all, that’s a 99.2 percent chance you won’t be injured. But .8 percent of 327 million still comes out to 2.7 million people each year, which is no small number. Are you willing to bet you’ll never be one of those unlucky few? Probably not.
Although your chances of getting into an accident are small, consider what you stand to lose if you do get injured. Making preparations, such as buying insurance or carrying road flares, isn’t irrational, despite statistical improbability.
The Odds of Violent Crime Are Higher than You Think
With that point in mind, let’s look at the odds of violent criminal victimization. In 2018, 3.3 million people ages 12 and older were victimized in 6 million violent crimes. There were 23.2 violent victimizations per 1,000 U.S. residents ages 12 and older, meaning 2.3 percent of Americans 12 and older were victims of violent crime in 2018. This is much greater than the baseline odds of injury from motor vehicle accidents, for which preparation is rational.
If you have a 1-in-50 baseline chance of being violently victimized each year, wouldn’t it be rational to take prudent measures to protect yourself? I think so.
That is exactly why millions of ordinary Americans own guns. Firearms are extremely effective in preventing injury and do not require a great deal of effort to use and keep around. Guns are a perfectly reasonable, cost-effective, safe, and convenient form of risk mitigation.
Owning a gun is like keeping a spare tire in your trunk, a first aid kit at home, or an emergency savings account. We hope never to use them, but we’re glad we have them. None of this indicates paranoia. Carrying a gun is similar to carrying insurance, except it’s better: You actually get to collect the benefits without having to incur serious harm.
Insurance against national catastrophe makes pretty good sense when you consider the past few hundred years of failed states, civil wars, and less-than-ideal regimes. Among other things, the track record of state-sanctioned citizen slaughter, vigilante violence, and racial conflict shows that when societies do go bad, they tend to go extremely bad. Think of the hundreds of sovereign nations that no longer exist due to war and internal strife.
Police, of course, serve a valuable public function. But most police responses come after crimes have already been committed. Less than half of all personal crimes are even reported to police. Moreover, in times of crisis, police are stretched thin. At the time of writing this, 17 percent of the New York Police Department is out sick, and many police departments are not performing arrests or even responding to “minor” crimes.
All this highlights the need to be self-reliant. Ultimately, we are our own last line of defense. We may delegate some of our protection to civil authorities, but the natural right to protect ourselves is inseparable from our humanity.
Gun Owners Aren’t Paranoid, They’re Smart
Some people believe you’re more likely to harm yourself or someone else with a gun than to use it in self-defense, but that isn’t the case. The findings of more than 19 surveys specifically designed to measure the number of defensive gun uses all confirm that defensive uses are vastly more common than criminal uses. A small sampling of these can be viewed on the Active Self-Protection YouTube channel, which has collected several hundred video clips of successful civilian self-defense encounters.
The often-heard charge that gun owners are paranoid and fearful is just naive psychoanalysis unsupported by credible research. Indeed, a recent study has found that gun owners report lower levels of fear and victimization than those who don’t own guns. If anything, there is a lot of irrational fear directed toward firearms as inanimate objects, something famed firearms instructor Jeff Cooper calls “hoplophobia.”
To all the new gun owners out there: Welcome to the Second Amendment community. We’re glad you’ve decided to take the protection of yourself and your loved ones seriously. Get training, be responsible, and be prepared.