Why I Carry

"I am not overprotective", No. 20, 28 July, 2001

by Paul Hager © 2001

IC Title 35, Article 47, Chapter 2. Regulation of Handguns

Article I, Section 32, Indiana Constitution

The title of this piece provoked not hysterical, but certainly boisterous laughter from my wife. The occasion was last night, as we were sending our oldest daughter, Liana, off to bed.

Liana was wearing a long robe - one of my wife's castoffs - and preparing to head downstairs to her room carrying an armful of items consisting of portable CD player, headphones, and (of course) a CD. I immediately drew Liana's attention to the likelihood that she could trip on the long robe while walking down the stairs, and with her arms encumbered, would be unable to catch herself. As I reminded her, "We know from Medical Detectives that even a grown woman can fall down the stairs and get killed." Liana held up the robe with one hand so it wouldn't entangle her feet and started to go out of the room. It was barely adequate, which I pointed out, but said she could go on. At that point Liana said that she could just sit and do her sit-scoot technique for going down the stairs. My wife, Karen, started to say something, but I said to Liana, "that would be great", and then "thank you."

This was merely the latest instance of me acting in my capacity as safety officer for the family. I'm the one always pointing out various hazards, many of which attend exactly the sort of playing and climbing and jumping that kids like to do around the home. Since I try to be objective about things, I've stated to my wife - and to the kids as well - that I may tend toward being overprotective. After all, kids really need to run and jump, which may result in their scraping their knees or bumping their heads. This is all part of the process kids go through in order to develop basic physical skills and understand what their limits are. After acknowledging the possibility that I may be overprotective, I usually add that I'm burdened with a knowledge of physics, so I can easily see worst-case scenarios. "It's just ordinary prudence," is what I tell Karen.

Karen also knows how, in the past, I have agonized over Liana's using playground equipment, jumping on trampolines, and/or going on certain kinds of field trips. I never veto any of this, but it does make me nervous. My ultimate fear has been that Liana would want to do gymnastics - fortunately she has evinced no interest in that activity. As I tell Karen, people really underestimate the incidence of serious injuries and death associated with children's sports.

The subject of risk has been a fascination of mine for more than 20 years, dating back to research I was doing on energy and the environment. It was then that I discovered that public assessment of risk is almost inversely related to actual risk. Much of this is the result of people forming their ideas about the risk of various activities based upon news reports. I explained in The new millennium that the news media have a systemic bias that overstates the frequency of rare events and understates the frequency of common events. For example, the story of the 8-year-old boy who was recently attacked by a shark was national news. This news was augmented with lurid stories of previous attacks and in some cases with interviews of the survivors (most of whom were missing limbs). I wonder how many parents of kids decided, on the strength of those reports, that a vacation on the beach was not a good idea because of the risk of shark attack? The fact is that the probability of going into the ocean and being attacked by a shark is much less than the probability of being struck by lightening during a thunderstorm. The biggest threat facing a kid on the beach is drowning, and that's the threat that should concern a parent - not a shark attack.

The list of risks to which kids in the home or at school are exposed is lengthy. Bicycles and stairs are at the top of the list. I'm not so overprotective that we moved to a one-story house, or denied Liana a bicycle, but I make certain that my concerns about risk get communicated. As I tell Karen, since I know what the risks really are, I know what I should be worrying about.

Do I worry too much? Karen thinks so. That's why after the episode with Liana and the robe, Karen erupted into peals of laughter when I declared, "I am not overprotective."

Of the long list of risks in the home, guns rank very low. So low that I personally have no worries in that area. Even outside the home, the risk from guns is low. As I stated above, sports are fairly dangerous for kids. During the last several years that school shootings have been in the news, nearly twice as many kids were killed playing football. Besides, school shootings are actually preventable, as the Israelis have demonstrated. Teachers and other adults can and do carry guns there, and older students have access to guns to defend the school from terrorist attack. A school shooting hasn't happened in Israel in well over 20 years.

Being overprotective is doubtless a natural tendency for a parent. Protecting your kid without going overboard is a key element of the art of parenting. But being overprotective when it is totally divorced from reality is terribly destructive. If it makes sense to protect kids by removing guns from society, then we better eliminate all sports, swimming pools, playgrounds, and a host of other activities from society as well.