What do we do when two sets of statistics appear to tell us different things, but they’re both true? Do we ignore one set because of our own biases, while latching onto the other? Do we, because our minds are too small and inflexible, insist that they can’t both be true, and that it only appears to be that way because of smoke, mirrors, and the unethical (or ignorant) manipulation of data?
Or do we sit down, open our puny little minds a bit, and try to understand the complicated nuances that actually do allow for both sets of statistics to be true, thus walking away with a greater understanding of the issue as a whole than we previously gravitated toward when we only saw things in black and white?
I mentioned this once before when I talked about Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics About Planned Parenthood, and Unicorns. In this post I tried to explain two things could be simultaneously true.
The first was that only 3% of the work Planned Parenthood does is abortion related.
The second was that they could still be the “single largest” provider of abortions even if they only did 10%, if the other 90% were spread out among smaller independent providers.
My point there was to get each of the extreme sides to take a look at how the other side saw things, and go “Oh…” Did it work? I don’t know.
Here’s another case where two seemingly incompatible sets of statistics can both be true: Most guys are not sexual predators…but the small number of them who are do damage far out of proportion to their numbers, and cause women to not trust the rest of us.
And let me hit you up with one more related set of statistics before proceeding to my main point. Most Catholic priests are not pedophiles…but the small number of them who are, combined with the horrible mishandling of the situation by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, have done damage, once again, out of proportion to their numbers, that will last for generations.
So having given you those three examples, which I’m assuming you are able to understand the nuances of, let me now go to the main course and talk about what I really came here for.
Guns and gun violence.
And here are my two sets of seemingly incompatible statistics, both of which are true:
Most gun owners…the overwhelming majority of gun owners…are responsible, law-abiding citizens, with no anger management issues, racist tendencies, or desires to overthrow the government when things don’t go their way. On the other hand, a very small minority of gun owners, armed with some very powerful weapons, do unspeakable damage far out of proportion to their numbers.
So there you have it. Both things are true. Now the question is how do we go about dealing with the problem that we alone in the industrialized world seem to have with gun violence? Does being able to see and understand both sides of the equation enable us to maybe come out of our own well-fortified corners and out of our own ideological bubbles…to talk to (and not scream at) each other, to listen to and try to understand each other as we try to solve this horrible problem? Will being able to do this enable more people to come in from each of the extreme sides (and some of them are unbelievably extreme) to somewhere in the middle where we can all agree on a compromise?
I don’t know, but I think it’s worth a shot.