The dangers beyond guns

The media can distort our perception of risk

Aaron Deans, Online Editor

What poses a greater risk, being shot by a toddler, or dying in an earthquake?

If you picked getting shot by toddler, you’re right.

Seismologists estimate that over a century, about 40 people a year die from earthquakes, compared to one American a week being shot by a toddler.
According to these studies, people overestimate dangers beyond our control, whereas those in their control are underplayed. This is consistent with a recent AP Environmental Science survey that students conducted showing that the Branham community is ay off in estimating risk.

Branham’s AP Environmental Science class recently performed a survey to examine people’s perception of how serious certain risks are compare to how serious they actually are. While the risks of some issues, such as being overweight, were accurately estimated on average, the risks of other issues were notably underestimated or overestimated. People perceived the risk of natural disasters as 8 on average (out of a max value of 10), but the actual risk level is 1; the risk that comes with being unmarried, 6 out of 10, was underestimated as 3 out of 10.

According to teacher Kori Reynolds, APES students identified a particular trend: the risks perceived as highest were the ones that were most publicized.

“There is high-perceived risk on topics that are highly taught, educated, publicized, whereas other hazards, such as being male or poverty or being single, aren’t advertised and therefore, their risk is not correctly perceived,” she said.

As the APES survey shows, the media can throw off our perspective of risks so that we overestimate some and underestimate others. A significant example of this is the threat of guns compared to that of car crashes.

In 2016, 1,675 teenage Americans (ages 13 to 19) were killed using a firearm in 2016, while 2,829 more were killed in vehicle accidents. Yet, the misconception is that gun violence, is deadlier.

The mass tragedies at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the Pulse Nightclub in Florida and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut are all too familiar and receive lots of press and attention, rightfully so. However, car deaths involve fewer people per incident.

When gun violence takes the lives of innocent people, the media is quick to take notice and spread the word. In response, many students have spoken against this issue. While these efforts are well-intended and worthy of applause, a particular problem remains. However, when shootings become too much of a focus, other threats to the lives of Americans are underestimated.

These statistics on threat of guns versus that of vehicles suggest that in order to cut down on teen deaths, we need to do more than cut down on gun violence.  Improvements must be made in issues such as vehicle safety concurrently to further reduce teen deaths.