Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gun Crime

The impression so many of us have as we read of the of the daily carnage in our cities and of the horrible mass murders in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut is that gun crime in the United States is more frequent than ever. In a recently released Pew Research Center study of 900 Americans it was found that only 12% said gun crime had declined over the last couple of decades, 26% said it had stayed the same, and 56% thought it had increased.

The facts, however, are otherwise. It may be surprising to learn, but homicides with guns are actually substantially lower today than they were during the 1990s. The LA Times, reporting on the Pew Study, said that:
In less than two decades, the gun murder rate has been nearly cut in half. Other gun crimes fell even more sharply, paralleling a broader drop in violent crimes committed with or without guns. Violent crime dropped steeply during the 1990s and has fallen less dramatically since the turn of the millennium.

The number of gun killings dropped 39% between 1993 and 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in a separate report released Tuesday. Gun crimes that weren’t fatal fell by 69%.
The Times mentions a couple of reasons for the disparity between the statistical facts and the common misperception of the facts by the American people. The suspicion is that the media's intensive reporting on gun crimes, particularly those which horrify the public, leads to the notion that homicides committed with a firearm are more likely to occur today than ever before. The public debate over gun control and the claims by advocates of gun control may also have fed the notion that the problem of gun violence is worse today than ever.

The U.S. still has one of the highest murder rates in the world, driven largely by urban killings. The victims of gun killings are overwhelmingly male and disproportionately black, which may indirectly explain why overall violent crime has fallen.

The two factors many experts believe responsible for the decline are both factors which largely impact this demographic: the withering of the crack cocaine market and surging incarceration rates. A third possibility is reduced lead in gasoline. Some researchers believe that lead can cause increased aggression and impulsive behavior in exposed children and that the reduction of environmental lead has concomitantly reduced those behaviors.

The Times doesn't mention this, but a fourth factor has also been cited as contributing to the decline in violent crime among black males. Over the last forty years some 60 million children, most of them black children, were aborted. It has been suggested that since many of these children would have grown up in conditions conducive to a life of violence and crime, the reduction in their numbers has led to a relative diminution - beginning in the 90s, twenty years after Roe v. Wade - of the amount of social trauma their communities experience.

Without getting into a discussion of whether the drop in violent crime is a moral justification of abortion perhaps the truth is that all of the above factors have played a role in reducing gun crime. The salient point, though, is that contrary to the impression created by the media and politicians seeking to limit gun ownership, homicide by gun is down almost 40% from what it was twenty years ago.