We the People Series

Guns, guns, guns

Open Letter to MAA

Re: Mathematics Competition

At this writing, there are some 330 million people in the United States (see pop clock) of which 75 million are younger than 18, to yield 255 million adults that could own a firearm.  Among this group estimate, 55 million of these adults wouldn’t touch a gun or be too infirm to handle one or physically unable do so because of imprisonment or other factors restricting civilian gun ownership. The 200 million remaining would be among 393 million civilian weapons in the United States. The control ratio of adult-to-weapon is 1.965.  This number is significant enough to evaluate the U.S. as a probability space.

A word of caution and challenge.  The call to mathematize death by a weapon as a personal experience within the framework of odds is the wrong approach. Death by civilian gun ownership should not be compared with lightning strikes, a fall down the stairs or a trip in front of a bus. Regardless of the weapon control measures from national to local, applying the law of probability to the data sources available for analysis is tempting, but sends the wrong message because we live in a world of dull messages.

The almost daily occurrence of a mass shooting by firearms provides the hot button that gets our attention. Death by a weapon is now a national experience of human tragedy and represents an unparalleled threat to our culture as a society of caring people. The existence of this condition allows us to envision a world of armed guards standing before every place of assembly like pawns in a lifelong chess game of potential violence.

There are alternatives to cognitive dissonance, and throughout the remaining days of this decade, the possibility of a far better vision for life in America is possible.  I fear for all those who would enclose a weapon into their hearts and hands to achieve an end. A far better vision is possible. Please call upon mathematicians to identify the United States as a sample space and use a set of events in which each involves zero or more outcomes of gun violence.  Here is the hard part, the assignment of probabilities to events will ignore the individual experience from events to probabilities.

I want you to produce a new expression re-focused by the massive volume of weapons and the likelihood of general use in the form of interpersonal violence as a message.  Create a number from the national experience and call it the cultural endangerment factor, or the national pain index.  Above all other goals, the analysis of your membership to contribute to a language of hope for us all.


More detail and discussion (HERE) in Washington Post and from the BBC on American gun culture (HERE)