Why Do Some People Shoot Other People? We Really Don’t Know.

In the past week I found media accounts of at least five cities which held community events to talk about gun violence.  The events are usually sponsored by a coalition of community groups, religious congregations, law enforcement representatives and the requisite political leadership from City Hall.  There will be some entertainment, probably a youth choir, a passionate, tug-at-your-heartstrings appeal from the mother or sibling of someone recently gunned down, and a “let’s get rid of the guns” rant from the head of the local Everytown group.  Pardon me if I’m sounding a little cynical, but I don’t see any real connection between these admittedly honest endeavors and any change in the rates at which we keep killing or wounding ourselves or others with guns.

I know, I know, the problem isn’t guns.  The problems are joblessness, hopelessness and all the other ness’s that pervade inner-city neighborhoods where the overwhelming amount of gun violence occurs.  Want to get rid of gun violence?  Get rid of the ghetto; it’s as simple as that.  But I’m not so sure that lifting sixty million people above the poverty line is such an easy task.  After all, we started trying to eradicate poverty after Michael Harrington published The Other America in 1962 and I think the only thing we’ve accomplished in that regard is to validate the old homily about how God loves the poor because He made so many of them.

gang boys chap 1                On the other hand, let’s not forget the fact that even if 11,000 people are killed with guns each year and another 50,000 are wounded, that gun violence is still a comparatively rare event.  In 2012, according to the UCR, there were roughly 10 million serious crimes against people and property committed in the U.S., of which 1/10th of one percent were gun homicides and another 1.5% were armed assaults.  So even though the chances of being the victim of a violent crime are about one person out of every thirty, the chances of being injured or killed with a gun are a lot less.  Which means that even in “high-crime” neighborhoods, there are an awful lot of people walking around with criminal intent who don’t use a gun.

That being the case, and the numbers don’t lie, we have to assume that the guys (and it’s almost always males) who do use a gun to damage someone else have made a conscious choice.  Because it’s not as if the shooters are the only people in the ghetto without a job; it’s not as if they are the only people in the neighborhood whose income doesn’t make it above the poverty line; it’s not as if they are the only ones without two parents in the home.  If this were the case, all we would have to do to solve the gun problem would be to get our hands on the U.S. Census neighborhood report, identify the folks who fit this down-and-out profile, and follow them around until they pull out their gun.

The problem really lies in the fact that we can do all the sociological research we want, we can amass and correlate all the data, and we still come smack up against one, unassailable problem; namely, we can’t talk to the people who pulled the trigger of the gun.  The victims are ready to talk from today to next year.  They’ll talk while they’re waiting for the EMT, they’ll talk while they’re being stitched up in the emergency room, they’ll talk at a community anti-violence event.  But the shooters won’t talk because: a) half of them aren’t found, and b) when they are apprehended the penal system and their lawyers won’t or can’t let them talk at all.

We need to figure out a way to get into the heads of the people whose behavior results in gun violence.  Most people, even criminals, don’t walk around with guns and even fewer use them in violent ways.  Until we understand what separates the shooters from everyone else by asking the shooters why they separated themselves from everyone else, we’ll have to hope that those anti-gun events make our streets and homes more safe.




The Politics Of Gun Control

So here’s the big question: If Harry Reid makes good on his threat to bring a gun control bill back to the Senate this year, what’s the chance that it will pass?  And the answer is: probably not very good.  And the reason that it’s not very good isn’t because the NRA is such a behemoth in the halls of Congress that they always get their way.  In fact, the NRA is very adept at taking credit for how the geography of gun ownership just happens to slant any national debate about gun control in their direction; a tilt that will probably continue for years to come. Here’s how it works.

Gun ownership in this country is skewed towards the West and the South.  It is estimated that there are 27 states in which per capita gun ownership reaches 40% or more, with  Western states like Montana and Wyoming probably having a gun in every home.  Only one Republican Senator from any of these 27 states – Susan Collins, voted for Manchin-Toomey last year, and 4 Democratic Senators from these states broke ranks with their party and also voted against the bill.

reidThe NRA doesn’t have to waste any time or resources going after votes in the 23 states that have per capita gun ownership of less than 40 percent.  All they have to do is make sure they can find enough votes in the ‘gun-rich’ states to kill any bill on the Senate floor.  And they also don’t have to spend all that much money on grass roots campaigns, telling their supporters to “flood” Congress with phone calls, emails and the like. Because together, these 27 states where gun ownership is so prevalent count less than 90 million residents; in other words, when it comes to national gun control, a majority of states hold less than 30 percent of the country’s population (and voters) as a whole.

The big problem facing gun control advocates at the federal level is that while the states that have the lowest per capita gun ownership contain a much larger overall population than the gun-rich states (these 11 states have nearly 120 million residents,) together they count only for 22 Senate votes, and that’s assuming that these 22 Senators are all Democrats, which they are not.  So in order to get a gun control bill passed and sent to the House, the battle comes down to the votes of the 24 Senators who come from 12 states where gun owners aren’t a majority, including Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio, states which often send Republicans to the Senate who won’t break ranks with their party’s leadership over gun control anyway.

The NRA would love a big red turnout in November as a way of keeping Obama under control during the last two years of his second term.  If this happens, both sides will spend every minute gearing up for the big one in 2016 and a gun control bill, along with probably every other piece of legislation, can go fly a kite. So in the short term, the battle over guns at the federal level will probably continue to favor the NRA.  On the other hand, in the longer term, the same demographic geography that gives less than one-third of the country’s population a veto over new gun laws may also begin to favor the other side.

What the NRA cannot change is the fact that the country is becoming more urban, more ethnically and racially diverse, and more dependent on single-parent households, all demographics that have little or no interest in owning guns.  You also don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that these changes will impact state legislatures and the shape of Congressional districts after the 2020 census which, following 2016, will only be four years away.  Given all that, I’ll take the short odds on the NRA for the next couple of years, but by the end of this current decade I’m willing to bet that even in what are now gun-rich states, you’ll begin hearing a much different tune.