If you open a newspaper or read an online news aggregator about guns and shootings south of the 49th Parallel you might be forgiven for thinking its Ker-razy down there with people being gunned down on every street corner. Well, pardon me for being a bit sceptical, but I’ve been to the States a few times, and the only guns I saw were on the hips of Police officers and the odd sporting goods store.
We keep on getting told that gun deaths are this and gun crime is that, so I thought I’d have a look at some fairly reliable up to date (2013 / 2014) sources instead of the panties-in-a-bunch hysteria that passes for news nowadays. For the USA, the stats have been culled from the FBI’s resource pages. Never mind about posturing by bought and paid for politicians, let’s see what the cold hard data tells us, as well as taking a gander at 20th century violent crime stats. Like in the UK, the murder rate peaked in 2001 / 02 (9/11 and all that) and has been on the decrease ever since.
The USA for example, is now almost twice as safe per 100,000 from murder as in 1960, for example; 1960 saw 9,110 homicides out of a quoted population of 179,323,175. Now if we do the same exercise for 2014, there were 14,249 homicides (All causes) out of a much higher population of 318,857,056. If you care to examine the data tables, homicide in the USA has become an even more rare event in 2014. That’s despite all the scawy stories that we’re even more dooooomed than last week. Ooo, and it’s so ‘unprecedented’. As for being shot by a Law enforcement official, that’s a gnats bollock more likely, but not much. At least in terms of deaths measured against population. The same seems to be true across the Westernised world. The figures do not lie.
Gun crime? I think the answer is right there in the statistics. Most of the gun murders in the US at least, appear to be in the Southern states. At a first glance, California and Texas look well dodgy, with urbane gun controlled California outdoing those gun-totin concealed carry Texans by a country mile. Yeehaw pardner! I think. What is more telling are the stats referring to homicides by age, sex, and ethnicity.
Handguns do, at least superficially, seem to be the major problem. But the stats make no distinction between legal and non-legal ownership. Which is something I can’t seem to find any information on. Although a cursory reading of the FBI’s 2013 homicide statistics indicate that the majority of gun killings are down to African-American and Hispanic males between 16 and 30 years of age. Which for most people should not come as a massive surprise. So is the answer a blanket ban on anyone from that social grouping under 30 owning a handgun? Which would only take the guns out of the hands of the law-abiding, because, you know those criminals, well they don’t obey things like laws….. Ooo, and wouldn’t that be ‘racial profiling’? So much better that people get killed than a few get racially profiled, eh?
As for ‘gun-free zones’ well they’ve been a great success, haven’t they, accounting for ‘only 13%’ of all ‘mass shootings’? Please note; the FBI defines a mass shooting where ‘four or more people are killed’ and the ‘Everytown’ published research on this topic has been described as ‘highly misleading‘. So if only three got cut down in their prime, or there wasn’t an obvious sign up, sorry chums but it just doesn’t count. Except to all those poor bloody bereaved family members who thought their precious ones were in a ‘safe’ place. Be it an Army base (Contrary to popular opinion, soldiers do not generally go around armed on base), school, temple, public office or even a coffee shop with a home made ‘gun free zone’ poster taped to the door. ‘Gun-Free’ zones are no use at all unless it is impossible for anyone with a firearm (legally held or not) to get in.
Right, so what’s the answer? The Freakonomics team came up with the notion that abortion on demand reduced the number of single parent households and reduced crime overall (With an 18 year lag). Which certainly appears to be the case. Fewer unwanted children with low social expectations and lower self esteem is obviously a good idea. A stable home life with strong role models has always been a key factor in preventing kids from going off the rails. Teaching that violence is not the best first idea when attempting to resolve disputes also has merit, but that’s only going to work if those testosterone charged and frustrated young men who seem to do most of the killing find a better way of burning off all their untapped aggression. Which won’t happen by giving them Macramé and poetry classes, or simply taking the guns off everyone. The killers will only use illegal guns, or resort to knives, and when the knives are taken away, golf clubs, baseball bats, rocks and eventually their bare hands. Okay, so no real answer there……
On the other hand, speaking as someone who, as a young (and sometimes very foolish) man who used to run with the rougher crowd, I feel the answer to gun crime, and homicide in general may be found outside the simple knee-jerk ‘ban it’ mindset. Martial arts clubs (Especially boxing; see this UK parliamentary all party report on it here and this US based example), serious competitive sport, or somewhere a strong physical role model can make an impact or mentor otherwise aimless and rebellious youth. Because young men in particular need robust peer group based self esteem and somewhere to burn off their natural aggression. Which whilst not the complete answer, will help divert their natural violent impulses from manifesting in more destructive ways. Like the intoxicant fuelled gang lifestyles that only add to the violence. Or social isolation, where those lacking the communication skills needed to negotiate their way in the world occasionally boil over or ‘go postal’.
Here in Canada, we generally have lower crime rates because the culture is different and most kids seem to be trained to seek non-violent means of ‘conflict resolution’ from an early age. Here we have an overall homicide rate of 1.45 per 100,000 for 2014, although you can easily double that for Toronto and Montreal. In BC, you’re more likely to get snacked on by a Bear or Cougar than shot, even in the gang enclaves of Abbotsford and around East Hastings in Downtown Vancouver.
It’s rather ironic, but perhaps controlled gladiatorial punch-ups might prove the best short term available answer to violent (and therefore gun) crime? As well as good, intelligence-led policing like that which seems to be working in Manchester, UK. At least until the demographics and culture have time to readjust to a less violent ‘normal’? For example; first time juvenile offenders sent to ‘sweep the gym’ for a year, just to knock the corners off them, rather than do expensive jail time in what have been termed ‘Universities of Crime’ (A.K.A. Prisons)? Maybe some form of legalised ‘fight club’ where the violent can learn that getting hit hurts, so maybe it’s not such a good idea to hit others. Hmm. Co-opt ethnic (or non-ethnic) peer groups into competing rather than killing via subsidised sports facilities. Ex-Military (Preferably combat veterans) would be the ideal recruits for such a long term program. Someone with a few rough edges who can earn and hold the respect of otherwise feral youth. Give them a decent raison d’etre.
You know, it’s such a crazy idea it might just work…….. And no US President would ever have to cry in public, ever again……..