I remember back a few years ago reading a headline that said men who took a certain over-the-counter drug were 50% more likely to get cancer. I don’t remember what the product was, but it was something that I took from time to time, so I paused to read the article before moving ahead to the comic pages.
Towards the end of the article I learned that the study involved a cancer that was found in one in 100,000 men, and that taking this medication in significant amounts would lead to one and a half men out of 100,000 getting this cancer. An increase of one-half of a man.
The fault was with the headline writer, though the person who wrote the article took his or her good natured time in getting to the actual risks, which were really nil.
We often lose a sense of perspective on things. If I said that 10,228 people died in 2010 from something preventable, it would seem outrageous not to, well, prevent it. And, in a way that is happening. The number of preventable deaths from this was 7,152 higher ten years before. Of course, I’m talking about alcohol related traffic deaths.
In 2011, 38,364 people died from suicide. Drugs and alcohol may have been involved in many of those deaths, but a sense of hopelessness or self-loathing was likely at the root of those people’s problems.
In 2010, over 11,000 people were murdered with firearms, but over 5,000 were murdered without the help of a gun. That year there were more than 40,000 drug-induced deaths. And, to be honest, I’d bet that many, if not most, of the gun deaths were related to the buying and selling of drugs.
I’m not very comfortable around guns, but it is interesting, in terms of perspective, to see that alcohol related traffic deaths are about the same as the number of murders with firearms. And, neither is close to drug-induced deaths.
And yet there is growing interest in making drugs legal, and any suggestion that alcohol be outlawed brings hoots of laughter, since “we tried that already.” And indeed, we did.
The death of more than 38,000 people due to suicide suggests a big problem in people’s mental health, which, when paired with drugs and firearms, gives us a very dangerous formula, as we’ve seen too many times in the past few years.
It is a mistake to over-simplify. Since the mid-1960’s people have been trying to ban guns, and other people have fought against banning them. The iconic bumper sticker, “If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns” is an over-simplification, but also worthy of some consideration.
It is true that society would be better off if zero people were killed by guns, or drugs, or cars, or alcohol, or by their own despair. It is unrealistic to expect such an outcome, but a reasonable discussion of how to solve these problems is a good thing, as long as we keep our sense of perspective.