Yours is an argument that I’ve seen many times before, that we should strive to resist the alarmism and sentimentality that cloud our perceptions on the issue…and if we were all perfectly-logical Vulcans, you’d be right.

But we’re not Vulcans. We’re humans cursed with emotions…and here’s the problem with making decisions based solely on logic, without taking into account the effect those decisions will have on the emotions of others, and what their empathic reactions will be. And yes, this will seem like an apples-and-oranges comparison, but please bear with me.

In WWI, Germany invaded Belgium in order to make an end run around the French fortifications. They did so in the hope that it would lessen casualties on all sides, and they believed that England would not declare war on Germany because this plan presented no clear and present danger to England. In fact, at the time, most English were aware of the possibility of a general war on the continent, but they were more concerned with unrest in Ireland, and most wanted to stay neutral if war between Germany and France came to pass.

But when Germany invaded Belgium, the attitude of the English changed almost overnight, from pro-neutrality to a demand to declare war on Germany and the suddenly-hated Kaiser. Without the military aid (at first quite small but eventually numbering over a million) and the sudden comprehensive blockade on all German seaborne trade, the Germans would almost certainly have won the war on the Western Front.

And that was all because the Germans believed that the English would decide dispassionately, with their heads rather than their hearts. The Germans lost because they pooh-poohed the role that empathy plays on a nationwide scale.

How does this apply to school shootings in America? Because regardless what the numbers may show, the students believe that they are in real danger of being killed by a someone bringing a gun to school. This is little different from the fact that conservative media pushed the narrative for years that there’s a “war on cops”, when the real numbers show that the number of police killed on duty is still near a record low. An even better example is the perception among many (perhaps most) conservatives that undocumented immigrants are a major contributor to violence and drug activity in our nation, when in reality they are less likely than native-born Americans to engage in criminal activity.

In other words, perception is (for many people) reality…particularly in this age of internet-connected cell phones. We ignore the empathy and perception of the populace at our political peril.

Written by

Retired Navy. Inveterate contrarian. If I haven’t done it, I’ve usually done something close.

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