Are you crazy to carry a gun…or crazy not to?

by Dean Rieck

Recently, a friend of mine said that people who want a gun for protection are just plain crazy. My friend’s argument was that you’re a lot more likely to die in a car accident or a fire. The likelihood that you’ll be killed by a burglar who breaks into your home or a hoodlum who jumps you in a dark parking lot, my friend said, are about the same as getting struck by lightning. So thinking you need a gun means you’re afraid of an unlikely event and are therefore irrational.

I disagreed but couldn’t quote any statistics to counter the argument. And I had to admit, the idea of actually being killed by a bad guy did seem pretty remote. But I got to wondering what the odds really are, so I did a little research. And what I found was startling.

The National Safety Council is a nonprofit public service organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. On their web site (, they publish a chart with the “odds” of dying by various means. You’re probably familiar with the concept of odds. If you flip a coin, your odds of getting heads are 1 out of 2. If you randomly choose a card from a full deck, your odds of getting the ace of spades are 1 out of 52. The lower the number, the more likely it is to happen. The higher the number, the less likely it is to happen.

One column in the NSC chart gives the odds of dying in a particular way over the course of your lifetime. So, for example, the lifetime odds of being struck and killed by lightening are 1 out of 180,746. That’s a high number, so it’s not too likely.

But according to the chart, the lifetime odds of dying by assault of any kind are 1 out of 221. That means you have a 1 in 221 chance of being killed in an assault with a knife, a gun, a beating, or by any other violent means.

And how does that compare to car accidents and fires? The lifetime odds of dying in a car accident are 1 out of 608. That’s right. The odds of being killed in an assault are higher than the odds of being killed in your car. And the odds of dying by assault are also greater than the odds of dying in a fire (1 out of 1,399).

So here’s the point. Your odds of dying in a car crash are 1 out of 608 in your lifetime, but no one would say it’s crazy to wear a seat belt. Your odds of dying in a fire are 1 out of 1,399, but no one would think it’s irrational to install a smoke detector.

And it’s not just your odds of being killed in an assault that you should consider, because the odds of being beaten or raped or otherwise injured are far higher since most assaults do not end in death. According to the the U.S. Department of Justice, your lifetime odds of being a victim of violent crime are 1 out of 2. Yes, it’s a flip of the coin as to whether you’ll be the victim of violent crime at some point in your life.

The way I see it, having a gun handy is just as rational as buckling up or checking your smoke detector batteries. Pragmatic people know that bad things can and do happen and they take pro-active steps to avoid or survive those situations. Having or even carrying a gun is just one of hundreds of little things that responsible adults do to plan for unexpected events, especially when those events have dire consequences for those who are unprepared.

So it makes you wonder who’s really crazy—those who have a gun or those who don’t?