Gun Violence And Violence: Always The Same Thing?

Our friend Daniel Webster recently sent out a tweet which said: “Folks interested in violence prevention should read this.” And in this case, the ‘this’ refers to a long, detailed report by Thomas Abt, who says that by blending concepts from the fields of public safety and public health, he has created a “new conceptual framework for responding to community violence among youth.” So obviously, Gun-control Nation needs to follow Webster’s advice and take Abt seriously, if only because this report is partially based on the evaluation of many programs which attempt different kinds of interventions to reduce the violence caused by guns.

unicef             To set the overall context for this report, Abt cites a UNICEF study which says that at least 95,000 children (0 to age 19) are fatal victims of violence each year. However, if you go down into the details of the UNICEF report, you find that the death rate among children in the United States is roughly one-sixth the rate in Latin America and West/Central Africa, one-third the rate in Eastern and Southern Africa, and half the world rate as a whole. [p. 34]

Do these differentials mean that other countries have higher rates of gun violence than the United States? Actually, what it really means is that the UNICEF researchers aggregated country-level violence based on all types of violence suffered by children, most of which has nothing to do with gun violence at all. In fact, children suffer violent deaths for all kinds of reasons beyond physical assaults: bullying, parental neglect, sexual attacks, punishment, etc. The authors of the UNICEF report indeed caution the reader to understand that “the terms ‘abuse,’ ‘violence’ and ‘maltreatment’ are used interchangeably throughout this report for easier reading,” categories that have little to do with violence connected to guns.

Abt never claims that his study is the basis only for a better understanding of the kinds of interventions that reduce gun violence. On the other hand, many of the intervention programs he evaluates turn out to be programs, like Chicago’s Cure Violence, which focus not exclusively but certainly primarily on violence connected to guns. And the problem with using the outcome of such programs to develop a typology for responding to violence sui generis, is that gun violence is of a very different type from all other violent behavior because of the existence of – the gun!

The U.S. falls into a category whose average per-capita violence rate is so low because the other countries in that group – the OECD countries – have next to no gun violence at all. According to the WHO, the U.S. death rate from interpersonal violence (per 100K) is 6.1, Great Britain is 2.1, Spain is 1.4, Netherlands is 1.2, Japan is 0.6 and so forth. And that’s because we have all the guns. Trying to use the outcome of violence-suppression programs in the U.S. to determine how to reduce violence in countries like Lesotho or Mali is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Want to become an expert on interpersonal violence? There are two very distinct paths you can take. You can develop a facility in statistics, mine mountains of data and then analyze the data to produce this conclusion or that. Or you can do what Lester Adelson did, namely, become a big-city coroner and study first-hand the results of violent behavior itself. Out of which Adelson produced an article on gun violence that I still believe sets the standard for linking the most violent type of violent behavior to one thing and one thing only – the existence of a gun: “With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

What Thomas Abt tells us is that the way to reduce gun violence is to prevent the spat or the quarrel from taking place.  I think it’s much more effective to let the kids argue all they want as long as they can’t get their hands on those guns.

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One thought on “Gun Violence And Violence: Always The Same Thing?

  1. Nice. It is probably easier to keep the folks away from the guns than it is to change human behavior. Maybe instead of 21, the minimum age to own a gun should be 61…only half kidding.

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