HERE ARE TWO true statements:
The number of privately held firearms in America has nearly doubled in the last two decades while the number of gun murders per capita was cut in half.
The number of kids abducted by strangers in 2011 was 105, out of approximately 73 million children in the United States. That's down slightly from 115 two decades ago.
After Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured hundreds more by firing into a crowd from the 32nd floor of his Las Vegas hotel in October, America dove headfirst into our now-traditional national shout-fest about gun laws.
One side sees its argument as self-evident: The moment when dozens of people lie dying in the street of gunshot wounds is the right time to pass laws restricting private gun ownership. The other side, by and large, frames its argument in the language of rights and freedoms: You may not like what some people do with some guns, but the Second Amendment exists for a reason.
Too often absent from both sides of the debate are well-parsed statistics. Restrictionists will cite the approximately 33,000 annual gun deaths in America, but that number reveals almost nothing about the question the public really wants answered after Vegas or the Orlando nightclub shooting before it: How likely am I to die in an incident of random violence?
Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, as statistician Leah Libresco explained in The Washington Post shortly after the Vegas shooting, and "almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them." Next are "young men aged 15 to 34, killed in homicides" that are often gang-related, and after that "the 1,700 women murdered per year, usually as the result of domestic violence."
The number of people killed in mass shootings is far smaller--there were fewer than 90 incidents that fit the FBI's formal definition of "mass killing" with a gun in the last three decades, most of them with just four victims--yet the center of gravity in the gun control debate isn't suicide hotlines, drug legalization, or domestic violence shelters. Instead, politicians and pundits perseverate on reducing firing speeds, excluding mentally ill people from the right to buy a gun, and building lists of people with ties to terrorist groups: interventions aimed at minimizing the odds of already-rare deaths from mass shootings.
A frenzy of attempts at preventive policy making follows each high-profile incident but actually creates...