Thursday, July 14, 2016

Violent Crime at Historic Lows

Amidst all the depressing news of the day there's a bit of good news to share, although you may have trouble believing it. David Harsanyi, senior editor at The Federalist, makes the case that violent crime is lower today than at any time in the last fifty years.

You'll have to follow the link to Harsanyi's essay to see all his graphs, but here's some of his argument:
Homicide rates, for example, have been falling to the point where in 2014 — the last year of FBI data offered — it was at 4.5 per 100,000 people, which is the lowest rate recorded since 1963, when it was at 4.6 per 100,000 people. We know there was a slight uptick in violent crime in 2015, probably making it the second lowest year for homicides in the past 50.

Put it this way: In 1990, in New York City there were 2,245 homicides. In 2015, there were 355. In 1992, Los Angeles County had a record high of 2,589 homicides. There were 655 over the last 12 months. In 1992, Chicago saw 943 murders, or a rate of 34 murders per 100,000 citizens. Although it still owns a far higher murder rate than most major cities, in 2014 there were 432 murders and in 2015 488. Last year, Dallas saw a spike in murders, yet the 10.7 homicides per 100,000 residents was the city’s fourth-lowest total since police started keeping track in 1930. In Denver 95 people were murdered in 1992, 34 in 2014, and 50 (a nine-year high) in 2015.
The graph Harsanyi uses in his essay to illustrate this is remarkable in how vividly it represents this drop. He goes on to talk about gun violence:
After the Dallas shooting of five officers, President Obama, as he always does, talked about more gun control. “We must take a hard look at the ease with which wrongdoers can get their hands on deadly weapons and the frequency with which they use them,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch insisted.

So it’s worth mentioning that this drop in violence has coincided with a spike in the number of guns Americans have purchased. We are told that the availability of guns (not the amount of people who buy them, but the guns themselves) is the problem because they are bought in places with relaxed laws and sold to criminals and terrorists in places with stricter gun control laws.
The graph showing this data is so stunning that I want to share it:

Harsanyi writes:
Despite this reality, according to a 2013 Pew poll, 56 percent of Americans believe gun crimes have risen compared to 20 years ago. This even though overall gun death rates have declined — and let’s include homicides and suicides (most gun deaths are suicide) — by 31 percent over that period.
His next claim, perhaps, may also seem counterintuitive to a lot of African-Americans, particularly young men, so many of whom believe that they're less safe now than ever:
The recent deaths of a number of African Americans at cops’ hands is also highly troubling, but .... [w]hile that debate rages, it’s important to note that African Americans are not only safer today than they were 20 years ago (and certainly 50 years ago), they have benefited tremendously from lower crime rates. Over the last 20 years, crime among African-American youth has fallen by 47 percent.
So why do we have the sense that things are much worse than Harsanyi's data warrant? Perhaps one reason is that the liberal media, eager to confirm the narrative that the U.S. is a violent, racist country, hypes any violence that's gun-related or race-related, feeding it to us 24/7 on cable and creating the impression that things are much more dire than they really are. Perhaps, too, social media reinforces the narrative by showing us actual episodes of violence that we'd never have seen and never have been more than vaguely aware of a few years ago. Finally, there are too many politicians who wish to exploit the occurrence of violent crimes to push their political agendas and who distort and misrepresent statistics in ways that mislead and misinform the public.

It's important that when an incident first occurs we remind ourselves that there's almost certainly more to it than what we see on a video and that it's irresponsible to draw conclusions about the incident until we have a reasonable grasp of the relevant facts. It's crucial that we strive to assess these incidents critically, objectively, and fairly, basing our judgments upon the facts and not upon our prejudices.

When we fail in this basic moral and intellectual duty and allow our emotions to rule our judgment, the initial tragedy is often compounded by even more tragedy as we've seen in Ferguson, Baltimore, and too many other cities.