On Gun Control and Anecdotal Evidence

I would have thought that a U.S. Navy veteran would be well-trained and competent to use a firearm to defend his home. Instead, the Columbus Dispatch (June 27, 2007, p. B1) reports that he accidentally shot his wife. I could use this incident to argue for tighter gun control laws, trigger locks, or not sleeping with a loaded gun next to your bed. Conversely, I could use the Virgina Tech shootings of April 16, 2007 to argue for relaxing of gun control laws or taking a loaded gun to class because then students would have been able to use guns to kill or incapacitate the shooter.

Basing any legal or public policy changes on either of these events would be a mistake because both are examples of anecdotal evidence. They are individual data points that may or may not accurately represent the national or local conditions that gun control and gun rights advocates are trying to address. These are both very emotional stories, and we cannot separate emotion from any human decision. However, we have a duty to do our best to ensure that our emotions and decisions are based on accurate data rather than anecdotes.

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