Some Americans have been afraid to fly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

You can tell them all about the impressive safety record of U.S. airlines, but facts won’t change their mind.

Scientists have observed this phenomenon in a number of areas, ranging from childhood vaccines to the weather. We let prejudice, fear and bad information outweigh logic and facts.

That’s why we don’t always do a good job of assessing risks or understanding the nature of threats to ourselves, our families and our country.

Consider the case of flying commercially.

The death of a New Mexico woman on a Southwest flight in April was the first accident-related, on-board fatality on a passenger flight since 2009.

By comparison, typically 10 or fewer passengers die on trains in the U.S. each year, and tens of thousands die in car accidents.

But those figures don’t take into account the numbers of people using different modes of transportation or the miles they travel. An analysis in Popular Science does. It shows cars and other on-the-road vehicles are by far the riskiest means of travel, followed by ferries, then trains, then buses, then planes.

Most people who refuse to fly don’t care about statistics and studies. They are still going to get into a car, and not a plane. And most will find ways to rationalize their choice.

The same kind of poor assessment skills also are being used in the debate over gun safety.

First, the size of the threat is often exaggerated by those who argue for more regulation of guns.

Reliable data is hard to find, in large part because the National Rifle Association has more sway with Congress than science does, and that has thwarted government-sponsored reporting and research efforts.

But the available information makes clear that schools remain one of the safest places in America. Now, it is true that U.S. schools are more likely to be attacked than schools in most other developed nations. And it is true that gun violence in U.S. schools is more common than in most of the developed world.

That’s because our schools are part of a society that is more violent than most of the developed world.

And in that relatively violent culture, children are much safer in school than outside of it.

On average, fewer than 10 children die each year in school shootings.

More than 100 times that number die in accidental shootings every year, according to research and public news accounts.

Most of the children who die in accidental shootings are killed in homes. There is a strong correlation between accessibility to firearms and accidental gun deaths, according to research done by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute.

Given the data, it’s absurd to suggest that increasing accessibility to guns in schools will make children safer. The information shows we should expect the opposite results.

So as gun-control activists use fear to argue for more restrictions, gun-rights activists use fear to argue for fewer restrictions and more guns.

Using unfounded fear and emotion to develop policy is not the way to ensure either good laws or children’s safety.

Given the cost of the effort to put more guns in schools, anyone concerned about education costs and taxes, as well as those concerned about students’ safety, should oppose state and federal mandates requiring schools to hire and maintain more armed teachers and security guards.

Florida’s new law already is pushing up taxes at the local level, as school districts struggle to comply with the mandates on armed teachers and security guards.

Other than meaningless anecdotes and sincere wishes, nothing suggests the expensive measures will make Florida children safer in the aftermath of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., earlier this year.

The need to “do something” following a tragedy is understandable. The call to action after the Parkland massacre is justifiable.

But when we “do something” we should, as a society and a government, make sure that we are actually doing something to improve the situation. Not increase the odds that more children will be injured or die in gun-related incidents.

 

A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.