The Brennan Center Gives Us An Impotant Report On Violent Crime.

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The Brennan Center has just released an important and authoritative report on crime trends in the United States, and its discussion of the murder rate in major U.S. cities is particularly significant for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community. This is because guns are the tools of choice for people who commit homicides, and were it not for the use of guns in serious assaults, our homicide rate would not be 2 to 7 times higher than what occurs in the rest of the OECD.

urban             The not so good news about the Brennan Report is that it is based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report whose data is admittedly less than exact. The really good news, on the other hand, is that the report focuses on murder, which is the one serious crime category for which the numbers are usually correct. The report covers 1991 through 2016, a period during which violent crime fell by roughly 50%, although the jury is still out in terms of explaining how and why such a significant drop actually took place. In fact, the best evaluation of the different ‘crime decline’ theories was also published by the Brennan Center in 2015.

The pro-gun community celebrated the crime decline after 1991 because it coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of personally-owned guns, particularly in the years following Obama’s electoral victory in 2008. In particular, the contrast between crime rates and gun-ownership numbers allowed Gun-nut Nation to promote one of its favorite narratives, namely, that more guns equals less crime because the ‘bad guys’ are afraid that anyone they attack might respond with a gun. It’s a clever argument but cannot be supported by data, credible studies or truth.  Gee – what a surprise that pro-gun advocates would advance a theory which has no basis in facts.

The Brennan study, on the other hand, breaks down homicide data in the largest 30 American cities, but I wish the report would have contained an estimate for what percentage of all homicides occurred in these 30 sites, as well as a comparison between homicides which occurred within the cities themselves, as opposed to the relevant Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in which these cities happen to be.  A 2006-2007 CDC study found that for gun homicides, the MSA total was almost twice as high as specific city totals, and I am not sure that the UCR data can be analyzed to give a clear picture of homicide in MSAs.

But that’s a limitation of the FBI data, it’s not a criticism of the Brennan Center report itself.  In fact, what the report clearly shows is that the recent spurt in homicides, which has provoked the usual hysteria from the latest gang of crime-fighters led by Donald Trump, is actually confined to a handful of cities, whereas the overall violent crime numbers in the U.S. keep going down.

The pro-gun gang would like to have it both ways. On the one hand they want to take credit for the continued crime decline by going on about how this trend is because so many people own and carry guns. On the other hand, they don’t miss any opportunity to promote the sale of more guns by reminding everyone that the ‘good guy,’ (a.k.a. the armed citizen) is what keeps the ‘bad guy’ away.  And here is where the new Brennan study is so important, because it points out that the recent spurt in homicides has actually only occurred in three urban sites: Baltimore, Chicago and D.C. As for other major urban centers, murder is up in some, down in others, but there’s certainly no massive, national ‘crime wave’ of the sort that Trump and Sessions would like you to believe.

The Brennan researchers deserve our thanks for analyzing the FBI data in clear and convincing terms. But this still leaves us with the bigger question, namely, what do we do in cities like Baltimore, Chicago and DC? “I’ll send in the feds,” tweets Trump. Yea, right.

A New PSA From Sandy Hook Promise Which You Should Watch.

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This week a PSA was released by Sandy Hook Promise which is a graphic and disturbing effort to draw attention to behavior which might indicate that someone is at-risk for engaging in violence with a gun.  The purpose is to build awareness about gun violence prevention through collaboration, training and group discussions in schools and other public venues.  The group claims to have trained more than 1 million educators, parents, community leaders and students in their “Know The Signs” program, and they must be doing something right because Gun-nut Nation has lost no time in warning their folks that the project is nothing more than another attempt to take away everyone’s guns.

sandy-logo           One part of their website which drew my attention is a downloadable factsheet on gun violence with data divided into daily and annual numbers based on an average for the years 2003 to 2013.  Thanks to our friends at the Gun Violence Archive, some of the gun violence numbers, which come from the CDC, have been shown to be pretty far off, particularly true for accidental shooting deaths and even moreso for the number of individuals shot by cops. But the number I found most interesting was the topmost category of the Gun Facts sheet, something called “Acts of Gun Violence” which is a category of gun violence that I have never seen before.  And the number, which is an average of 549,380 each year between 2003 and 2013, is so astonishingly large that I decided to look further and try to figure it out.

The number comes from a DOJ – Bureau of Justice Statistics publication, “Firearm Violence, 1993-2011,” used by the Sandy Hook people to come up with their half-million average gun violence figure by averaging yearly numbers from 2003 to 2011.  What pushes the overall average up to just slightly under 550,000 is a big jump in one year- 627,200 shootings in 2006 – moving the annual average to what otherwise would have been around 475,000 gun assaults each year. I’m not saying that 550,000 criminal gun assaults is something to sneeze at; I’m saying that the ‘annual average’ of just under 550,000 does not accurately represent these stats.

The number that DOJ calls ‘criminal firearm violence’ and Sandy Hook calls ‘acts of gun violence’ comes from the annual survey of criminal victimization known as the National Crime Victimization Survey or NCVS. This annual survey is mandated by Congress because the only other national crime data is generated by the FBI, and their numbers are based on how many people are arrested or crimes are reported, both of which, as we know, are far below the actual number of crimes.  The NCVS numbers are collected from interviews with more than 160,000 people each year and I can tell you from personal experience that the NCVS analysts know how to crunch numbers and crunch them very well.

There’s only one little problem with the NCVS numbers on gun violence. They are based on nothing more than a good guess. Because if you take the trouble to drill down to the actual survey questions from which this data is derived, you discover that respondents are asked whether they were attacked with a knife or a gun but they are not asked to specify which was which.  And since the FBI tells us that for every ten reported assaults, six involve a gun and four involve a knife, I guess this is how the NCVS come up with their number on gun crimes which then are used by BJS which then end up in the factsheet published by Sandy Hook.

Now you would think that for something as serious and costly as gun injuries that we would try to establish some numbers that are even reasonably accurate, never mind simply meeting the test of good, common sense.  But neither accuracy nor common sense will define how government will collect or use data over the next four years. If they bother with data at all.

Does Gun Violence Affect Urban Economic Trends? The Urban Institute Says ‘Yes.’

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Over the years, the Urban Institute has published some significant research on gun violence, I’m thinking, for example, of the study they published in 2014 which examined the medical costs of gun injuries.  And now they have come out with a new report which attempts to analyze the cost of gun violence with reference to business and employment trends in three cities – Minneapolis, Oakland and Washington, D.C.

urban            Trying to figure out the effects of gun violence by counting the number of people killed or injured with guns is easy; understanding how gun violence affects neighborhood quality of life is a much more difficult task, primarily because socio-economic changes in any community are influenced by so many variables that it’s always risky to assign primary cause to one issue like gun violence or anything else. And the authors of this study are aware of this problem and also note the degree to which studies about the impact of gun violence on the quality of life in any community are few and far between.

Notwithstanding these caveats, however, this new study appears to validate the general idea that there is an inverse relationship between economic activity and gun activity; as the latter goes up, the former goes down, and vice-versa, at least in the three cities covered in this review.  The authors are also aware of the limitations imposed on cause-and-effect arguments when measured through the use of regression analysis, but here again they try to be sensitive to these limitations both at the level of analysis as well as discussing the validity of their results.

I want to raise two issues with this report that in no way detract from its value or importance but nevertheless deserve to be discussed.  First, beginning the data collection in 2009 and running it through 2012 creates a significant problem because these years, particularly 2009 and 2010, marked the worst economic trough experienced by the American economy in the previous fifty years.  The fact that employment in all three cities began to expand in 2011 must reflect as much the beginnings of economic recovery from the Great Recession as from anything else.  I would have felt somewhat more confident in tying economic trends to gun violence had the report compared employment, business openings and so forth to levels in these communities prior to 2007-2008, if only because such a comparison would have at least given some perspective on whether what happened after 2010 was a real shift in economic activity or just a return to economic levels experienced prior to 2008.

The second issue that I want to raise goes beyond this report itself to the whole question of how gun violence is measured and, for that matter, defined. The authors define gun violence only with reference to gun homicides which, they admit, is the least typical form of violence caused by guns. What would have made this report more conclusive would have been a comparison of economic trends to general violent crime trends, in particular, other violent but non-fatal crimes committed with guns.

In this regard, an analysis of economic trends might have been more nuanced had the authors looked at hiring and sales figures versus armed robbery, if only because so much of the economic activity in census tracts with high crime rates tends to be street-level, retail services and sales.  These are not neighborhoods which support large numbers of skilled, white-collar jobs, and decisions to open small, retail or service establishments will bear much more heavily on quality-of-life considerations as they are experienced at the entrance to the store. In Minneapolis, for example, homicide rates remained fairly steady between 2010 and 2012, but robberies increased by 15%.

This is a good, serious and detailed report.  Support for this effort came from Everytown, you know, the Bloomberg bunch that wants to take all the guns away.  Do you believe that any small business owner who ever looked down the barrel of a gun would mind?

 

Don’t More Guns Equal Less Crime? Not Any More.

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What’s going on?  After year-to-year declines in the violent crime rate going back twenty years, all of a sudden in 2015 things turned around and now violent crime rates are going back up.  Now the good news is that the overall violent crime rate – 372.6 per 100,000 – is well below what it was five years ago when it stood at 404.5.  It’s also about 20% lower than it was ten years ago and more than 70% lower than its alarming peak in 1994. So yes, we are a lot safer than we were twenty years ago, on the other hand, a two-decade drop in violent crime may have come to an end.

conference program pic            What’s more disturbing about the overall increase is that the biggest year-to-year increase occurred within the murder category which is, for most of us, the sine qua non of violent crime.  Every violent crime category – murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery – showed an increase from 2014 to 2015, but rape was up 5%, aggravated assault increased by 4%, robbery was just slightly higher, but the homicide rate jumped by 10%, and that’s a lot more dead bodies, 1,532 more dead bodies to be exact. And although the difference was not all that great, you might as well know that the percentage of murders committed with guns also slid up from 69% to 71%.

Now according to Gun-nut Nation, as the number of privately-owned guns goes up and, in particular, the number of gun-owners who are allowed to walk around carrying a gun goes up, violent crime is supposed to go down.  The idea that more guns equals less crime is not only the title of a book written by one of Gun-nut Nation’s most cherished mouthpieces, it has been the watchword of the entire marketing scheme for guns since white suburbanites became afraid of crime and people stopped hunting, both of which became kind of obvious even to the gun industry back when Ronald Reagan was making room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the first George Bush.

Remember Willie Horton?  Bush’s 1988 opponent, Mike Dukakis, had the bad luck of having supported the furlough program which let Horton out of slam for a weekend furlough whereupon Horton went down to Maryland, raped a young woman and then was arrested and thrown back into jail.  Maybe the Horton ad swung the election for Bush and maybe it didn’t, but the one thing it certainly did was to focus attention on the issues of race and crime.  And this was the same time that the NRA began ramping up the campaign to get states to issue concealed-carry licenses (CCW), with only a handful of states going along with the idea in 1987 but more than 30 states granting near-automatic CCW by 1995.

It was also in the mid-90’s that a serious increase in violent crime due primarily to the crack-cocaine epidemic began to abate with a ten-year cycle of increasing crime rates from the mid-1980s being replaced with annual declines of violent crime which continued for the next twenty years.  And what accounted for this year-after-year decline in violent crime?  The ‘fact’ that so many Americans owned guns and more and more Americans were carrying concealed weapons outside their home.  The argument was first made by a Florida criminologist named Gary Kleck, then refurbished and expanded by another ersatz academic named John Lott, and just before the FBI released the 2015 numbers the gun industry’s official broadcaster, the National Shooting Sports Foundation blared on its website: “Gun Crimes Plummet As Gun Sales Rise.”

But how will the NSSF explain away the increase in violent crime while gun sales and CCW permits continue to soar?  I’ve got it!  Just blame it on the possibility that Hillary might defeat Trump and then immediately ban all guns. No matter which way you cut it, you’ll always find someone who believes the Martians have established a colony at Area 51.

What’s The Difference Between The Victims And Perpetrators Of Gun Violence? Not Much.

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If you hang around the GVP community, you quickly memorize certain numbers: 30,000, which is the number of people killed each year by guns, although the real number is a couple of thousand more; 65,000, which is the number of people who are injured when someone else shoots them with a gun but they survive; 15,000, which is the number (give or take another thousand) who injure themselves each year with a gun; 2,000, which covers the ones who kill themselves or are shot dead by the police. Put it all together and you come up with roughly 115,000 Americans who are the victims of gun violence each and every year.

conference program picI actually think the annual number of gun violence victims is somewhere above 200,000, because as far as I am concerned, the people who aim the gun at someone other than themselves and pull the trigger are victims of gun violence too. We never think of the shooters as victims because, by definition, all of them used their gun to commit at least one crime, namely, aggravated assault or homicide with a gun.  And in our fractured world, if every crime has a victim, there also has to be a perpetrator, hence by definition, the shooter can’t also be a victim.  But in fact, he is.

Why do I say that?  First of all, most gun assaults are committed by people, usually young men, for whom violence, and particularly gun violence, is part and parcel of their daily lives.  Want to know who comes into the ER most frequently with a gun injury?  Someone who was previously arrested on suspicion of using a gun.  Okay. I know, I know, the cops usually arrest the first ‘bad guy’ they find. But if you don’t think that the average street shooter isn’t going after someone who previously went after him, then you don’t know much about the streets or the shootings that take place in the streets.  And when the victim of a shooting happens to be a female, the shooter is almost always some jerk of a boyfriend or husband who has previously belted her around numerous times, and maybe on occasion she defended herself by belting back.

Now we know just about everything there is to know about the victims who get shot with guns.  We know their age, their race, where they live, what they were doing when the gun went off, between the CDC and the FBI there isn’t much that escapes the eye.  And when we come to the shooters, even though many of them don’t get arrested, enough sooner or later wind up in detention so that we can get a pretty good idea about their demographics as well.

But here’s what we don’t know.  We have absolutely no idea why someone picks up a gun, points it at someone else and – boom! – it goes off.  And it doesn’t work to say that so-and-so used a gun because he came from a violent background or had a violent history, because most of the young men with that profile who want to commit a violent act do so without using a gun.  According to the Department of Justice, less than 7% of all serious criminal events involve the use of guns.  So how and why do the other 93% figure out how to commit violence without using a gun?

Those 7% who express anger and violence with a gun may not be victims of gun violence in a legal sense, but in terms of the impact of violence on their lives they are GVP victims just as well.  Because as Konrad Lorenz points out, anger and aggression can and should be used as tools to advance the social good. But those who cannot differentiate between the positive and negative uses of aggression will sooner or later end up alienated and marginalized by the community as a whole. And most will live shorter and more painful lives.

The Doctors For Responsible Gun Ownership Crawl Out From Under Their Rock Again.

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               It figures that just when an effort is being made to push money for gun research back into the budget of the CDC, that the Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership would crawl out from underneath their rock and once again simply lie to the American public about the medical risks of guns. These guys have been around for the last twenty years and even though they claim to represent a large group of physicians, I have never found a single doctor who would admit to being involved with these charlatans because what they say about guns and medicine is simply an attempt to promote gun ownership without the slightest shred of evidence that supports anything they claim to be true.

               Their latest attempt to use the fact that they claim to be real physicians in order to pretend that what they say is scientifically-based is a little meme on their Facebook page which purports to give the true ‘data’ about gun violence, in particular the number of lives lost each year because of guns. Their post begins with the statement that 32,000 ‘firearm-related’ deaths a year are, in fact, a number in decline.  Actually, the 2014 number is 33,599, which is up from the 2011 total of 32,351.  In fact, the number has been rising steadily since 2000 when it hit a low-point of 28,663.  Where do I get my numbers which show a 17% increase since Y2K?  The same place those schmucks claim to have gotten their numbers: the CDC. Moving right along.

               They then claim that 80% of all gun homicides are the result of crimes and participation in gang activity.  Now to begin with, they give the number as 10,560 when in fact the real number of gun-related homicides is 10,945.  You might think this is a trifle to be upset about, but remember we are talking about doctors who are supposed to use evidence-based data to support their point of view.  So either the number is correct or its wrong.

               More important, their statement about 80% of gun homicides being the work of criminals or gang members is simply not true.  According to the FBI, less than 20% of all gun homicides take place during the commission of violent crimes.  And somewhere around another 5% of all gun homicides are listed as involving criminal activities between gangs.  Most gun homicides are crimes after the fact because they take place as a result of a domestic or other dispute and until someone decides to end the argument by pulling out a gun, no crime has usually occurred.  Moving right along.

               Having decided that only 5% of all gun homicides take place outside of criminal events, these medical frauds then concoct the usual statistic designed to show that there’s really no gun violence in America by simply taking the number of murders left over after eliminating just about everyone killed with a gun, dividing that number by the total American population and declaring that “America does not have a gun problem.” 

               I’ll tell you what America has right now.  It has two or three men claiming to be physicians who simply invent whatever numbers they want to invent in order to serve as shameless shills for the NRA.  That’s all these guys are: shills and stupid ones at that.  You would think that if they wanted to convince any physician that their numbers mean anything at ball, that at least they would copy the numbers correctly from the CDC.

               But the truth is that these phonies aren’t looking to convince other physicians of the rightness of their cause. They are simply trying to make sure that any time the issue of gun violence and medicine comes up, they’ll get a call to appear on Fox News, the NRA video channel or some other media channel that will help them spread their exaggerations, untruths and outright lies.  God bless America, even quacks like this bunch can find a warm rock under which to build a nest.

              

A New Website That Really Gives The Data On Gun Violence.

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The research team at Everytown has put up a new website which gives an easy access to most of the numbers that we need to use in any discussion about gun violence.  And I like this site because it not only aggregates numbers for each gun violence category in readable and understandable formats, but also provides links to the original data sources, which in most cases happen to be the FBI and the CDC.

everytown logoThis brings us to an issue about gun violence numbers that needs to be addressed, namely, the fact that most of the data comes from two agencies, one of which is concerned with crime and the other with health. Which means that gun violence is defined differently, the data collection methods are very different and the ways in which the data are analyzed is also dissimilar to the point that comparisons between the two data sources usually don’t work very well.

Not that the FBI and the CDC are the only two places where you can go looking for gun violence data.  You can also relevant data collected and published by the National Crime Victims Survey, which operates under the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and somewhat more detailed CDC data can be found on the CDC’s WONDER database, although much of the latter data just links back to the WISQARS site.

The problem with all the data collections, however, is that none of the agencies whose reports are used, in the aggregate by the FBI or the CDC are mandated to submit any information at all.  The FBI claims that its data represents submissions from 18,000 “city, university/college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the program.”  Note the word ‘voluntarily.’  As for the CDC, all their numbers are estimates based on reports from what thy refer to as a ‘representative’ group of hospitals, but in the case of intentional, non-fatal shootings, for example, they specifically state that the data is drawn from a sample that is too small to be considered reliable.

It’s unfortunate that the GVP community is committed to evidence-based arguments about gun violence when the other side couldn’t care less about how they use data at all.  Take, for example, the attempt by John Lott to debunk President Obama’s claim about the frequency of mass shootings in the United States. After the Charleston shooting, Obama said, “we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.  It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”  Lott looked at mass killings in other countries, then divided the number of fatalities by 1 million and this bizarre data manipulation made the U.S. the 11th country for mass violence attacks, exceeded by such places as Norway, Slovakia and the U.K.  Between 2009 and 2015 these three countries together sustained 86 mass fatalities, whereas in the same time-period with a country that numbers 6 times as many people, ‘only’ 181 Americans died in mass attacks. But each of these countries experienced one mass shooting, the United States had twenty-five!

Everyone involved in GVP advocacy should welcome the Everytown data collection and should use it whenever they find themselves discussing gun violence in forums where such information can better inform the public at large.  But I do have a suggestion for Everytown in terms of maximizing the value of their effort because sometimes I get the feeling that when the GVP presents hard evidence about gun violence, they sometimes present it only themselves. I think it would be great if Everytown could get these numbers in front of every public office-holder in America who could or might vote on legislation that will reduce the human carnage caused by guns.  The Everytown numbers can better inform the public debate and should become part of the debate beginning right ow.

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