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I may be moving to the US in several months (for work). I'm very worried about gun violence in the US, where:

  • In 2016, there were more mass shootings than days of the year.
  • In 2016, over 15,000 people were shot to death (over 33,000 people were killed by guns overall including suicides, accidents etc.). And that's not counting the wounded.
  • In 2011, over 450,000 people were victims of a crime committed with a firearm.
  • Statistics show that the US is in a "world of its own" relative to other developed states in the world: I live in the Netherlands right now, and it has 13x less gun deaths per million people (2.1 vs 31.2).
  • Even law enforcement in the US is heavily armed and extremely prone to violence, shootings particularly, having killed 1095 people in 2015.

Specifically, I may be moving to Texas, which is a "concealed carry" state, in which people can even hide their guns, and though this requires a license, the government is required to issue that license and there isn't much/any restriction regarding who gets it.

My questions are:

  • Generally speaking, what should I do / be aware of so as to reduce the chances of being involved in gun violence (other than living as a hermit)?
  • What can I do to avoid being worried about the gun issue? I mean, the fear of the police, fear of people who seem unfriendly/intimidating and brandish guns, and suspecting people might be concealing and gun and might pull it out if you cross them.
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    You're still far more likely to get hurt in a traffic accident than in gun violence. – gerrit Oct 3 '17 at 9:00
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    @gerrit I strongly suspect that you're also much more likely to get hurt in a traffic accident in the US than you are in the Netherlands. – Qwerky Oct 3 '17 at 11:20
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    @Qwerky around 3× more likely, but probably much more than that if one keeps on cycling like a Dutch person would. – gerrit Oct 3 '17 at 11:46
  • @gerrit: But when I'm off the road I can relax. And when I'm on the road I can focus on driving carefully and avoiding potential hazards. If I don't slack off anyway. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 3 '17 at 14:04
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    I'm in Texas several months already (for work) and never seen gun here. – Alexan Oct 10 '17 at 15:22
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Don’t get fooled by statistics. If you compare the gun violence numbers to the total population, it is still very small, and you will proably never encounter it - I live in the US for 15 years, and I have not seen a single gun yet (outside a shop). Your chance to have a serious car accident while driving is significantly higher.
Of course, there are places where your chances are higher to encounter one, but those are locations you probably would avoid anyway.

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    You're mostly wrong. The numbers per capita are exceedingly high - the highest among developed countries. See here for per-capita deaths and you can sort and check for yourself. Of course some places are more risky than others, so I guess I could check the stats for the region I'm going. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 3 '17 at 14:06
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    I know they are the highest, but that doesn't make me wrong - read what I wrote: ... it is still very small... - it is still not a relevant risk compared to traffic accidents. – Aganju Oct 3 '17 at 16:42
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    But traffic accidents are not comparable in the following senses: 1. You can't get in a traffic accident when you're not driving; so when I'm not driving, I'm not worried about getting into an accident. 2. I know how to reduce the risk of being in a traffic accident when driving; I don't know how to reduce the risk of being involved in a gun incident. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 3 '17 at 16:46
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    If those were equally distributed, that would give you a 1:500 chance. But they are not (equally distributed), so it is much less. Right now, your risk of getting a heart attack is higher than that. – Aganju Oct 3 '17 at 17:55
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    @einpoklum, Is a crime involving a gun really that much worse than one involving a knife, or fists and boots? I'd also note that the rate of gun homicides in the US is 3.6 per 100,000 while the (fairly comparable) age standardized rate of cancer deaths is 96. I don't know how to entirely eliminate the risk of either of these, but if I had angst about dying I know which one I should be spending more time worrying about. To be clear I'd like it a lot if the US improved their gun laws, but it is still overwhelmingly more likely that what you die from will be something else. – Dennis Oct 3 '17 at 19:20
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I wouldn't worry about it. A substantial majority of those gun murders are criminals killing other criminals and most of the rest are domestic matters--neither of these poses any appreciable threat to those who don't put themselves in the situation in the first place. Even most of those "mass shootings" are criminals killing criminals--a lot of people really torture the data to make the threat look larger than it really is.

Locally, a simple test: If the victim isn't a criminal a murder will be in the paper, likely rather prominently. I don't think what I see in the paper is more than 10% of the murder rate. (This year excepted--I live 9 miles from the MGM Grand mass shooting.)

Most states in the US permit concealed carry. It's basically a non-issue--if someone has managed to keep their nose clean long enough to get a concealed carry permit it's very unlikely they are of a criminal bent. If someone with a concealed carry permit goes to jail it's far more likely because they did something wrong in carrying (generally a matter of carrying where they weren't supposed to) than they did anything criminal with the gun.

Even in Texas it's unlikely you will see a gun other than on a guard's or officer's belt unless you choose to put yourself in a position where you're likely to encounter them. (Note, however, that there are shooting sports--and thus you're likely to see them behind the counter in sporting goods stores.) As an adult I've seen guns once unexpectedly--I was in a store that is mostly a ranch supply store and it didn't occur to me they would have a firearms section. (Edit: Since I wrote this I had another unexpected encounter with a gun. I live in a state that permits open carry--and for the first time in the quarter century that I've been here I actually saw someone doing so. The gun stayed on her hip where it belonged, surprising but not threatening.)

As for the number of crimes committed with a firearm--in practice you're better off if the mugger has a gun than if they have a lesser weapon. The more superiority the mugger has the more likely they are to use the threat rather than actual force to accomplish their aims. You're better off if the mugger points a gun at you and demands your wallet than if he clonks you and takes it. Note that while our murder rate is high our other crime rates are not--if anything you're probably safer here.

For the average person not engaged in anything criminal the only substantial effect of guns is to avoid actions which could be interpreted as threatening if you're stopped for a traffic violation. No sudden movements, never put your hands out of sight without telling the officer what you're doing. (If you are of a criminal bent the issue is very different--guns mean that you can't be confident of being able to overpower someone.)

  • Thank you for the detailed and thoughtful response. Still, 1. You're making a distinction between "criminals" and non-"criminals"; could you make the distinction explicit? 2. Are there stats to back up the claim that gun violence is mostly limited to criminals? 3. You can get a concealed carry permit in Texas even if you've had many convictions in sub-felony offenses. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 4 '17 at 8:47
  • @einpoklum I make the distinction between criminals and non-criminals because most of the murders arise out of their criminal activities--either robberies (either for drugs or for the proceeds of previous crime) gone bad or extra-legal punishment for wrongdoing. (You can't go to the cops and say "He stole my cocaine!") – Loren Pechtel Oct 4 '17 at 14:20
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    @einpoklum As for stats, I have never seen formal stats and I would be surprised if they exist. The closest I have seen is one study that found 2/3 of murder victims had multiple felonies on their rap sheets. I'm going more on the circumstances of the murders. When you look at a list of murders you can be pretty sure of what's going on just from the circumstances. – Loren Pechtel Oct 4 '17 at 14:25
  • Also consider that out of all gun deaths in the USA, 2/3rds are suicides. So you reduce your risk of being killed by a gun by 2/3rds simply by not buying one. – gnasher729 Nov 19 '17 at 0:20
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I will take a slightly different approach to answering your question than the approach taken in the other replies. Statistics do show that the gun violence rates are quite high in the U.S. than any other developed country in the world (see here, here, and here). But enough has been said on this topic already.

I agree with the other replies on this thread in that your chances of getting caught in one such incident are low (while I must add that they are not insignificant). Gun deaths do not appear in the top ten causes of deaths in the U.S. (see here) but the factors that are most common causes of deaths are not going to be conditional upon where you live (i.e., your moving to the U.S. is not going to significantly increase your chances of a heart attack, road accident, septicaemia, or cancer etc.)*. The only factor that does materially change when you switch countries (in the developed world) is death or injury from gun violence.

Here are some other factors to consider:

  1. Death is irreversible (obviously) and is the most likely outcome of a shootout.
  2. Many bullet injuries are life changing.
  3. You do not have to be in dubious places or involved in suspicious activities to invite this on yourself. There have been many** incidents in posh neighbourhoods, hospitals, churches/chapels, schools, bars, restaurants, or open air concerts (see here).

I myself was recently given the option to move to the states and after half a year of deliberation I politely declined citing this reason. I have extended family in the U.S. and many friends over there and two close encounters in my second level network (meaning someone I know personally knows someone who was a victim personally). In the book, Nudge, the authors argue that people who do not have personal experience of an event tend to overlook statistics warning of that event more and people who do have personal experience of an event tend to exaggerate those statistics more. Perhaps I am exaggerating because I fall into the second category but I am not alone (see here).

Footnotes:

* Unless of course you change your lifestyle significantly.

Comparison only valid for developed countries. See for example here, here, and here.

-1

Although you can't eliminate this risk entirely, it's worth considering that you can drastically reduce your risk by avoiding certain places and situations. This report on Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008 reveals, for example, that only 21.9% of murders were committed by strangers. I interpret this to mean that if you avoid making enemies, your risk is much lower. If you know strategies to deal with being threatened with a gun, and how to avoid being shot by the police, your risk is even lower still.

Sadly, your risk is also affected by your race, with black people at far greater risk in most parts of the US.

It's worth considering that gun violence rates vary drastically among different locations in the US. This is true at all levels---state by state, city by city, even street by street. It's easy to get statistics at the state level. Usually, large cities have higher murder rates, often with extremely high rates concentrated in certain neighborhoods. Street level statistics are available for many large cities like this one for Houston. If you drill further, you may also find time-of-day data; there are many places that have low risk during the day and high risk at night.

No matter where you go in the world, there are risks of violence as well as other dangers. How much risk you're willing to accept is up to you. I don't have a good plan to stop you from worrying about it, but knowing that much of the risk in the US is concentrated, I would reassure you that in most parts of the US the risk of gun violence is smaller than other risks that exist anywhere.

  • The instructions about how to be subservient to the police are another de-motivation for moving to the US, all in themselves. "Land of the free" was it...? – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Apr 5 at 13:18
  • What country doesn't require you to obey the police? – krubo Apr 5 at 13:19
  • I have to agree, though, that the current US rate of police shootings of civilians is unacceptably high for a civilized country. – krubo Apr 5 at 13:21
  • In most countries, almost none or none of the things described at the link will create even a small chance of a policeman shooting you, and in many (most?) countries only few of those things will put you of risk of any physical violence by the police in general. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Apr 5 at 13:21
  • Yeah. The police in the US consider themselves to be at higher risk because so many civilians have guns. Not a good situation on any level. – krubo Apr 5 at 13:23

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