Here are two true statements:

1. The number of privately held firearms in America has nearly doubled in the last two decades while the number of gun murders per capita was cut in half.

2. The number of kids abducted by strangers in 2011 was 105, out of approximately 73 million children in the United States. That's down slightly from 115 two decades ago.

After Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured
hundreds more by firing into a crowd from the 32nd floor of his Las
Vegas hotel in October, America dove headfirst into our now-traditional
national shoutfest about gun laws.

One side sees its argument as
self-evident: The moment when dozens of people lie dying in the street
of gunshot wounds is the right time to pass laws restricting private gun
ownership. The other side, by and large, frames its argument in the
language of rights and freedoms: You may not like what some people do
with some guns, but the Second Amendment exists for a reason.

Too
often absent from both sides of the debate are well-parsed statistics.
Restrictionists will cite the approximately 33,000 annual gun deaths in
America, but that number reveals almost nothing about the question the
public really wants answered after Vegas or the Orlando nightclub
shooting before it: How likely am I to die in an incident of random
violence?

Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, as statistician Leah Libresco explained in The Washington Post
shortly after the Vegas shooting, and "almost no proposed restriction
would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use
them." Next are "young men aged 15 to 34, killed in homicides" that are
often gang-related, and after that "the 1,700 women murdered per year,
usually as the result of domestic violence."

The number of people killed in mass shootings is far smaller—there were fewer than 90 incidents
that fit the FBI's formal definition of "mass killing" with a gun in
the last three decades, most of them with just four victims—yet the
center of gravity in the gun control debate isn't suicide hotlines, drug
legalization, or domestic violence shelters. Instead, politicians and
pundits perseverate on reducing firing speeds, excluding mentally ill
people from the right to buy a gun, and building lists of people with
ties to terrorist groups: interventions aimed at minimizing the odds of
already-rare deaths from mass shootings.

A frenzy of attempts at
preventive policy making follows each high-profile incident but actually
creates the conditions for future failure. Gun prohibition produces the
same problems as drug or alcohol prohibition; attempts to restrict
harmless sale and possession in order to catch a minority of misusers
yield all kinds of unintended consequences.

Black markets make the
purchase of prohibited items riskier and more expensive, and make the
transactions untraceable. Bans are likely to be disproportionately
enforced among black and Muslim gun owners, increasing racial
disparities. Narrowly tailored restrictions will push product
development teams at big firearms manufacturers and garage tinkerers
alike to find workarounds that circumvent the letter of the law. And any
mass confiscation of illegal weapons or accessories will lead to more
violence, as die-hard gun rights believers inevitably fight back against
law enforcement.

Take a misunderstanding of the scope and nature
of a problem, combine it with a desire to "do something" in the face of
national anguish, and you get a recipe for both bad law and cultural
conflict.

A nearly identical problem plagues another heated
national conversation: Are our children in danger? How likely is my kid
to be grabbed by a kidnapper? Underlying much of the invective about
helicopter parents, millennial snowflakes, and trophies for everyone is
the question of what risks American kids realistically face.

In a
country where violent crime has been largely declining for decades, and
where crimes against children have declined even faster, there is
nonetheless an overwhelming conviction among parents and the press that
the world is more dangerous than it was for previous generations. But
the FBI says reports of missing children are down 40 percent in the last
two decades, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that teen
homicide rates have fallen by more than 40 percent; homicides of kids
under 14 are at a near-record low; and overall child mortality rates
have declined almost by half.

As Lenore Skenazy and Jonathan Haidt explain in "The Fragile Generation"
(page 18), the result is a cultural and legal landscape where attempts
to protect kids from imagined or exaggerated risks generate new—and very
real—threats to their well-being. Oversupervision and reflexive appeals
to authority for conflict resolution push ordinary kid squabbles and
teen misbehavior into the principal's office or even prison, instead of
giving kids the chance to resolve disagreements on their own. As parents
opt to keep children indoors, opportunities to practice independent
decision making and to make mistakes in low-stakes situations with
friendly strangers disappear. Obesity is on the rise, and physical
fitness—an aid to self-determination and independence, according to J.D.
Tuccille (page 14)—is suffering.

Parental paranoia also conspires with legal paternalism to keep teens out of the grown-up world. On page 54,
check out a map of all the ways the law is delaying adult milestones
and sending mixed messages about when adolescents can be trusted to make
decisions about marriage, work, driving, smoking, and more. In her
interview with Reason's Robby Soave on page 56, advice columnist turned Atlantic
essayist Emily Yoffe describes a campus culture where women in
particular are neither trusted nor expected to know their own minds when
making decisions about sex and alcohol, and where young men are
subjected to flawed adjudications where adult authorities determine
their fate, sometimes without ever getting a chance to defend
themselves.

Raising kids to believe in personal responsibility and
autonomy is tough in a world where the politicians and bureaucrats
respect neither. In the 21st century, when a child is taken from his
parents by people he barely knows, it's likely to be the result not of a
snatching by a stranger but of busybody neighbors calling Child
Protective Services because they disagree with someone's parenting
choices.

Mass shootings, kidnapping, and child abuse all happen,
of course, and they are horrible. But demagoguing those small-but-real
threats to push through intrusive laws is dangerous in its own way.

Unfortunately,
citing statistics rarely changes hearts and minds. Each mass shooting
seems to ratchet up the panic over private gun ownership. Each
kidnapping calls for wall-to-wall coverage while parents enroll their
children in yet another supervised extracurricular.

One reason
Americans are more inclined to panic over shootings or kidnappings these
days is, perversely, that these incidents are so rare. They are the
last isolated cases in what was once an epidemic of commonplace
violence. Because kids do not go missing as a matter of course, we freak
out more on the rare occasions when they do. As even schoolyard
fistfights become unusual, we treat each one like a national security
incident instead of a learning experience. Our culture has changed,
mostly for the good, with wealth, a robust rule of law, and an
ever-expanding circle of empathy driving the drop in violence.

Legislation
is a blunt instrument, and carving ever-changing mores into the legal
code means pushing well-meaning adults to behave in nonsensical ways.
Police, social workers, and a large number of teachers, doctors, and
other trusted figures are increasingly required by law to behave as if
the sidewalk in front of the school, the Publix parking lot, and the Las
Vegas strip are risky environments, when in fact they're safer than
they have ever been. The law is nearly always a lagging indicator of
changing social practices and expectations, not a leading one.

Would-be
restrictionists of all kinds thrive in a world where ordinary people
believe they are constantly in deadly danger—even when that danger is
grossly exaggerated.