The safety catch with guns
Fear is a powerful motivator, despite rarely lining up with the facts. Pointing out that Americans are over 3,000 times more likely to be killed by guns than terrorism doesn’t reduce their fear.
Gun deaths are perceived as ‘normal’ events, whereas acts of terrorism are front of mind for the same reason they’re not actually likely to hurt us – they’re one offs. It’s called the availability bias; we recall stand out events more than everyday ones.
Our inability to accurately estimate risk is not only a maths fail (not being able to work out the difference between a 1-in-a-million risk and 1-in-a-thousand risk), but often inflated by a range of factors which boost our perception of risk; the more random and catastrophic the event and the more helpless we feel to stop it, the higher we perceive the level of risk.
Terrorist attacks are, by their nature, big news. Despite (and because of) their rarity, the media is saturated with ghastly images and the threat builds up in our minds. A study in the article showed there was more acute stress from repeated media exposure to the Boston Marathon Bombing than being at or near the bombing itself.
Lightning, buses and even falling out of bed kills more US citizens than all Jihadists. The point is, none of those provoke the same basic fear as a random attack.
As any behavioural scientist will tell you, feelings prompt more behaviour change than knowledge.