Think Carrying A Gun Makes You Tough? Think Again.

Anyone remember a New York City gang known as the Westies?  They were a bunch of Irish hoods from the West Side dock area known as Hell’s Kitchen who basically were responsible for maybe more than 60 murders from the 1960s until the gang was finally busted up around 1985 or 1986.  Actually, what led to the gang’s demise was the gentrification of Manhattan’s West Side, the appearance of a new neighborhood called Clinton, and the replacement of block upon block of tenement, slum housing with condos and co-ops costing a million dollars or more. But in their heyday, the Westies gang were considered a bunch of guys you didn’t mess with, because if you did, there was a good chance you would wind up dead.

then westies            In fact, it’s not clear that the Westies actually did a job on most of the victims whom the Gambino crime family paid them to rub out. Because I happened to live in another neighborhood in ‘da city’ and the gang on my street corner, who called themselves the Spades, were the guys to whom the Westies actually sub-contracted out most of the Gambino crime family work.  Imagine that – a gang of white kids who called themselves the Spades.  Oh well, those were the days.

Anyway, the guys I knew who called themselves the Spades worked construction, which meant that every day they showed up at some high-rise being built somewhere in Manhattan and hung around.  And when they did a job for the Westies, what this meant was that a van would pull up at the construction site, some guy with a bag over his head would be hustled out, then grabbed by the Spades who would trundle him up a few flights of stairs.  Six guys would go up the stairs, five guys would walk back down.  The other guy would fly back down through the elevator shaft, or out of a window, or whichever way worked best.

Dig this. The Spades were very dangerous and very violent but none of them ever carried guns.  And the reason they didn’t carry guns is because they knew that on a regular basis, usually once every evening as they were hanging around on the corner, the cops would come by, push them up against a wall and administer the Miranda warning which meant taking out a blackjack and clopping them over their heads. And if anyone was found with a gun, he was going away.  A knock on the side of the head was nothing compared to three to five in the joint.

Now you would think that guys like this would always have guns.  But what was the point of carrying a gun?  They didn’t need one to do what they did for the Westies; heaving someone off a roof had a much cleaner and guaranteed end.  And they didn’t need guns for self-protection; after all, who was going to mess with them?

I thought about the Spades and their attitude towards guns when I saw those jerks in Texas swaggering along with assault rifles slung over their backs. Do any of these open-carry morons actually believe that walking around with that gun is going to protect them from who knows what?  For that matter, would it make any difference if instead of an assault rifle openly displayed they had a Glock stuck in their pants?

I think that someone who goes around carrying a gun, particularly someone with absolutely no idea of how to use the damn thing, is just a case of arrested development playing out a childish fantasy about how big and tough he’d really like to be.  Because it’s easy to pretend standing your ground by pulling out your banger and firing away.  But what would you do if you had to deal with a difficult or dangerous situation and had to use your brain?  Oh my God! Behave like an adult?  Why me?

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An Open Letter To Professor Alex Gourevitch: Guns Are One Thing, Racism Is Another.

You recently published a long and detailed commentary on gun control and racism which I have read with interest and care.  Your basic point seems to be that the usual response to mass killings, as reflected in President Obama’s first remarks about Charleston, is to call for stricter gun control laws which you believe will have the ultimate effect of increasing the racism of our criminal justice system while having no real impact on controlling gun violence, particularly mass gun violence.  You assert that there are already too many arrests of minorities, too many racially-motivated defendant pleadings and too many incarcerations, all of which would simply increase if we institute more criminal laws to control gun violence in response to events like the slaughter at the Emanuel AME Church.

roof               You also bring to the discussion some comments about research by scholars like Levin, Fagan and others concerning stop-and-frisk policing methods employed by the NYPD whose value in allegedly bringing down gun crimes has been evaluated in both positive and negative terms. Some of this research argues that stop-and-frisk was entirely based on racist assumptions about who might have been walking around with illegal guns, and that this strategy, useful or not, was yet another example of an extra-legal effort to combat gun violence that served only to engender racism between the police and the community whom they are sworn to protect.

I’d like to respond to the second issue first.  It’s true that New York City experienced an unprecedented drop in gun violence first under Rudy and then continuing with Mayor Mike.  And much of this decline is tied to stop-and-frisk policing tactics which is obviously tied to racial profiling which is tied to racism, etc.  But you have to be careful about perhaps pushing this argument too far.  The decline in violent crime and gun crime in particular since the mid-1990s (although the decline largely flattened out after 2000) occurred in virtually every metropolitan center whether a change in policing and police tactics took place or not.  In fact, an entire cottage industry has grown up around figuring out why America and other OECD countries appear to be less violent over the last twenty years. I am not sure that any of the multiple crime-decline theories explain the issue pari passu, but inconvenient or not,  scholars have yet to settle on a single, determining factor when it comes to explaining criminal behavior with guns.

Now let’s move to your central argument, namely, that from the perspective of the inner-city community, more gun control means more criminal laws and, hence, more racism in the legal and penal systems that minority populations disproportionately endure.  Nobody would or should argue that the penal process delivers equal justice to minorities and the poor.  And with all due respect, we really didn’t need Dylann Roof to walk into Emanuel AME Church with a Glock 21 to remind us that racism is still alive and well.  But where I think your argument falters is the assumption that because the President calls for more gun control, there will be more criminal laws that will result in more minorities getting arrested, going up before a judge on some trumped-up charge and then going off to jail.

What is really happening is that laws making it easier for anyone to gain access to a gun, or carrying a gun on their person, or bringing that gun into what was formerly a gun-free zone have increased exponentially, while laws that restrict gun access or restrict ‘gun rights’ are the exception, not the rule.  One year after Sandy Hook, 70 new laws had been passed easing gun restrictions, while only 39 more restrictive measures had been signed into law, half of which concerned updating mental health records, a strategy with minimal impact on controlling the violent use of guns.

We need to defeat racism and we also need to defeat violence caused by guns. But each issue deserves to be challenged on its own terms.

 

Heller Versus District Of Columbia II: The NRA Loses A Big One

Ever since the Supreme Court decided in 2008 that the 2nd Amendment gave law-abiding Americans the right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense , the NRA had been racking up a very impressive series of legal wins in various courtrooms around the country, most recently a decision in California that struck down San Diego’s concealed-carry law as being an infringement of 2nd-Amendment rights.  But the music stopped playing last week when the Federal District Court in Washington D.C. upheld the city’s gun registration procedure which had been challenged by the self-same Dick Heller whose lawsuit became the basis for the historic 2nd Amendment decision in 2008.

Dick Heller

Dick Heller

Anyone who wants to own a gun in DC has to go through a pretty lengthy and cumbersome process, including a detailed background check, followed by a safety and proficiency course, and then is required to submit the actual gun to the police department for inspection and registration, the permit for which must then be renewed every three years.  Gun purchases are also rationed, i.e., nobody is permitted to purchase more than one handgun every thirty days.  There is no other political jurisdiction in the entire United States, including New York City with its infamous Sullivan Law, that mandates such a comprehensive registration procedure for all firearms, and it was the requirement that long guns be subject to background checks and inspections that, among other procedures, was challenged by Heller in his new lawsuit.

The District Court’s opinion runs more than 60 pages, based largely on testimony by, among others, the DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, former ATF agents Mark Jones and Joseph Vince, and Dan Webster, who heads the Bloomberg Center for Gun Policy at Johns Hopkins University.  The plaintiffs produced testimony from Professor Gary Kleck, a long-time academic supporter of the NRA.  I don’t have space to go over every point that was argued in detail, but there was one basic issue that stood out and, not surprisingly, was omitted from a summary of the case posted by the NRA.

The NRA and other pro-gun organizations have consistently argued against any expansion of gun control measures because, according to them, such procedures make it more burdensome for law-abiding citizens to own guns while, on the other hand, criminals will always find a way to get around the law.  To quote the Plaintiffs: “Criminals circumvent the process by purchasing guns on the street and bypassing registration altogether.”  To which the District Court rejoined: “According to the Plaintiffs, municipalities should be limited to enacting only those firearms regulations that lawbreakers will obey – a curious argument that would render practically any guns laws unconstitutional.”

You got that one right, baby.  That’s what it’s all about.  The truth is that pro-gun activists don’t want any laws or regulations on firearms, regardless of the intent of the law.  On the other hand, it has to be said that most people who want more gun control would just as well see the 2nd Amendment go fly a kite.  As future gun litigation rumbles through the legal system, I hope that  jurists will be as candid and forthright as was Judge James Boasberg in speaking for the D.C. District Court, because in a debate that has been too clouded with overheated rhetoric and unsupported facts, it’s refreshing to read a legal opinion which clearly points out the basic issue separating the two sides.

Watch Out Gun Owners: Bloomberg’s Out To Get Your Guns!

I can see it now.  The NRA annual meeting is about to kick off in Indianapolis and I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that every speaker at the banquet and other public events will be told to say something nasty about Mike Bloomberg’s new campaign to “get rid” of guns.  What’s going on is that Bloomberg has announced that he’s going to spend 50 million bucks to bankroll a new organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, to build a grass-roots movement across the country that will mobilize voters to enact background checks at the state level to counteract the NRA whose power at the federal level has prevented an expansion of national background checks from taking place.

Bloomberg and many other gun-control activists are convinced that the key to cutting down the rate of gun violence is the ability of the government to keep guns out of the hands of disqualified individuals (felons, mentally ill, etc.) by requiring pre-transfer clearance for anyone who wants to acquire a handgun regardless of whether the transfer occurs in a retail store, a gun show, or two people simply standing in the street.  The evidence supporting this argument can be found on the Everytown website, and it goes like this.

bloomAccording to Bloomberg’s organization, in 2010 there were 14 states plus DC that required background checks for all handgun sales, and together these states had a 3.17 rate (per 100,000) for gun deaths, whereas the remaining 34 states (CO and DE were excluded due to new laws) registered a gun homicide rate of 5.09; a difference between the two groups of 38%.  If Bloomberg’s group is correct in asserting that universal background checks would bring the gun homicide rate in the country as a whole down to 3.17, we would be talking about at least several thousand less gun deaths each year, and that ain’t chopped liver, even if you’re the former Mayor of New York.

But the moment that anyone come up with a plan to curb gun violence, I always try to figure out whether the plan really aligns itself with the data that is used to explain how and why it’s going to work. Or are we looking at what we often encounter in the gun debate, namely, a confusion between coincidence and causality which has a way of somehow obscuring the facts?  I’m afraid that in the case of Bloomberg’s continued love affair with background checks, it may be a little of both. Here’s what I mean.

Of the 14 states that required background checks for all handgun transfers, nine of them had rates of gun homicides lower than the national average going back to 1970 and before.  The fact that many of these states at some point instituted background checks at the state level wasn’t necessarily the cause of lower gun homicide rates because most of these states had lower homicide rates before any gun control laws were put into effect. For that matter, Mike Bloomberg’s own city, New York, had the most severe background check system,, the Sullivan Law, on the books since 1908.  But the city experienced a severe increase in gun homicide between 1988 and 1993, and then saw the greatest drop in gun violence of any major city in the United States over the next twenty years, a trend that started under Rudy Giuliani but increased even more during Bloomberg’s stint in City Hall.

Don’t get me wrong. Study after study has shown that when you pass gun control laws, the number of gun owners goes down, which no doubt leads to less guns, which probably results in less crime.  But Mike Bloomberg’s successful effort to make New York City safe from gun violence was not, according to his own testimony, due to any change in the laws.  It was the result of smart and aggressive policing and his 50 million bucks wouldn’t cover the costs of such a strategy across the river in Hoboken, never mind across the United States.

More On The Great Decline In New York Crime

Between 1993 and 2012, the violent crime rate (homicide, robbery, forcible rape and aggravated assault) in the United States dropped by 48%.  During the same period, the violent crime rate in New York City dropped by 71%.  In 1993, violent crime in New York accounted for nearly 9% of all violent crimes reported in the United States, it’s now slightly above 3% of all U.S. violent crime, which is roughly the proportion of New York City’s population within the country as a whole.

The decrease in New York City crime became the signature accomplishment of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who tied this effort to an aggressive street-level strategy known as ‘stop-and frisk,’ along with particular attention paid to ridding the city of illegal guns, the latter making him the national poster-boy for gun control efforts after the massacre at Sandy Hook.  Bloomberg’s crime-fighting efforts were also augmented by the computerization of patrols and surveillance, known as Compstat, first introduced by his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, whose Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, is back running the NYPD again.

I am in the process of writing a book about crime in New York City that will cover the last twenty-five years and will be based, in part, on precinct-level crime data that covers the entire period, much generously supplied to me by several scholars who have published in this field.  The chart below shows the annual rate of violent crime (2000 as base year) in the USA and New York City from 1988 through 2012:

crime3

This comparison creates a bit of a problem for Mayor Bloomberg’s crime-fighting image, never mind his legacy.  First, while violent crime fell dramatically over the twenty-four years captured by the data, the most significant decrease occurred prior to 2002, in other words, before Mayor Mike arrived at City Hall.  Second, the decline in violent crime during Bloomberg’s tenure took place during his first two terms, whereas the violent crime rate actually increased in his last term, while the national violent crime rate, which rose slightly between 2003 and 2008, now continues to fall.

New York City’s increase in violent crime since 2008 has been masked by two factors: (1). A very significant decline in homicides, which have now dropped to an annual rate not seen since the end of the Korean War; and (2). a possible overcount in the city’s estimated population in the years leading up to the 2010 census, which would depress crime rates, even if raw numbers remain unchanged. Finally, citywide crime data or even data aggregated at the borough level can’t really explain how crime affects the average city resident, because each neighborhood is almost a city within itself, and each has very different profiles when it comes to crime.  For example, Brooklyn Heights is a lovely, toney and wealthy neighborhood with great views of the Upper New York harbor and a crime rate as low as you can get.  In 2013 there was 1 homicide in Brooklyn Heights, which works out to an annual murder rate of less than 2.  Walk one mile east into Fort Greene  and the murder rate per 100,000 last year was 12.  Stroll another mile east to Brownsville (below) and you’re on streets where the murder rate was 16.

Brownsville - East New York. Picture by author.

Brownsville – East New York. Picture by author.

Criminologists have been debating the reasons why violent crime continues to decrease both nationally and within New York City, but nobody’s come up with a definitive answer as of yet.  One scholar, Frank Zimring, has published a very good book on New York City crime, entitled The City That Became Safe.  But his data only goes through 2007, and while he argues that the city became safer because of stop-and-frisk, the NYPD continued that strategy through at least 2011 and crime rates went back up.

Violent crime is a multi-faceted behavioral phenomenon whose causes lie very deep within the social fabric of the community, and I’m not sure we really understand enough about high-crime communities to know why it occurs.  The good news is that while Compstat may not yet be able to eliminate crime, it certainly can tell us where and when crimes occur.  All we have to do is figure out the why.

Want To See Crime Go Down? Buy An Anti-Theft Device For Your Car

There will be plenty of debate over the next couple of years about Mike Bloomberg’s tenure as Mayor of New York but just about everyone agrees that perhaps his biggest accomplishment was transforming most of New York City into a crime-free zone.  Sure, there are still neighborhoods that aren’t safe, particularly some inner-city parts of Brooklyn and The Bronx. But if you live just about anywhere else in the five boroughs that comprise America’s most populous metropolis, the high levels of crime and violence that engulfed much of the city in the 1970’s and 1980’s seem to belong to a very distant past.

nypdOf course we also know that the drop in crime after the early 90’s wasn’t unique just to New York.  Virtually every major metropolitan area registered steep declines in violent and property crimes beginning in the early 90’s and lasting for about ten years.  Nationally, the violent crime rate dropped from 747 crimes per 100,000 in 1993 to to 386.9 in 2012, a decline of nearly 50%.  Property crime went down over the same period about 40%, a remarkable change given the extent of the recession of 2007-2008.

In most parts of the country the decline of crime leveled around 2005 and has moved slightly upwards over the last several years.  But remarkably enough, not only did the crime decline continue in New York but it actually became even more pronounced over the last several years.  Frank Zimring, who studied New York crime through 2009, estimates that New York’s crime decline between 2000 and 2009 was at least twice as great as that of any other major American city, and in certain specific crime categories crime declined in New York over other cities to an even greater degree.

There are lots of theories out there that attempt to explain why the decline of crime in New York is both so steep and prolonged.  Much of the credit usually goes to much more aggressive policing aided by computer-aided deployment of resources in high-crime zones.  Tracking and curtailing the activity of street gangs and gun merchants also come in for examples of strategies that seem to work.  But if you ask me, one of the real heroes in figuring out how to cut crime in New York should be the insurance agent who figured out that nifty idea to offer policy discounts for vehicles equipped with electronic burglar alarms, because if there’s one thing that’s driving (no pun intended) New York crime rates downhill, it’s the virtual disappearance from many neighborhoods of automobile theft.

Between 2000 and 2013, the category known as ‘grand larceny – auto’ dropped by more than 80%!  No other crime category declined at that rate and no other crime category  declined by at least 50% in every precinct in the town.  The 5th precinct in lower Manhattan had just one reported vehicle theft per month, the 100th precinct in Far Rockaway, Queens, had less than two car thefts every 30 days.  Even though car ownership in New York City is far below the national average, the DMV reports that there are still nearly 2 million vehicles registered in the city, and daily commuter traffic no doubt boosts this number by at least another half-million or more. With all that traffic there were less than 7,500 vehicle thefts reported for all of 2013.  The police and Mike Bloomberg have done quite a job.

Actually the drop in auto thefts has little to do with effective policing because the truth is that with the new technologies it’s getting harder to steal a car every day.  Of course a car thief may luck out and find a car door unlocked or a forgotten set of keys.  But between incentives provided by insurance companies and aggressive enforcement of alternate-side parking which drives vehicle owners to keep cars off the streets, staying in business as a car thief isn’t an easy gig.

But if the cops and the Mayor don’t deserve so much credit for making it tough on car thieves, then this substantially changes the profile of crime in New York over the last twenty years.  Because if we pull the auto theft numbers out of the overall crime data covering the last ten years, all of a sudden New York’s vaunted crime decline becomes somewhat less steep.  In fact, the overall drop in crime since 2000 is no longer 50% but comes out around 20 percentage points less.  This is still a very impressive number but it’s far below the level being thrown in Bill DeBlasio’s face today.  I only hope that the new Mayor also knows how to read between the lines.

Why Has Crime Declined In New York?

The year-end numbers are just about in, and once again, New York City appears to be setting a new record about crime.  But what used to be a record for the most crime has become a new record each year for the least crime of any major American city.  And when you consider that four of New York’s five boroughs separately constitute five of the country’s ten largest cities, you begin to get an idea of the scope of the achievement.

crime2

The decline in New York City crime is even more significant because while major crime rates declined throughout the United States (and western Europe) from the mid-90’s into the following decade, the crime drop in New York has continued past 2005 whereas, with the exception of Los Angeles,  it has leveled off or shown slight increases everywhere else.  The data for all this is best summarized in Frank Zimring’s The City That Became Safe, which covers the period up to 2009, although crime rates since that date have continued their downward trends.

While Professor Zimring does an admirable job in collecting, aggregating and summarizing crime data, his book doesn’t leave us feeling warm and fuzzy when it comes to explaining why this unprecedented change in criminal behavior occurred throughout the United States, nor why it continues to occur in New York.  Thanks to the data generated weekly by the NYPD’s Compstat program, he is able to tell us what, where and how much crime has declined, but the why remains an elusive conjecture at best. Zimring is aware of this shortcoming; in fact he readily admits that, like every other scholar who has studied this problem, he is unable to bridge the gap between numbers of crimes and causality; i.e., he cannot say with any certainty why the numbers keep going down.

Not that Zimring is without a solid conjecture, in his case having to do with effective policing, an explanation for which he is hardly alone.  In fact, of the nearly 300 explanations for the drop in crime during the 1990s that appeared in major media outlets, innovative policing strategies ranked as the most popular, although it was only one of at least ten basic theories put forth to explain the drop in crime.  A quick review of the bibliography in Zimring’s book and other sources indicates that the post-1990 debate has not produced any greater degree of consensus in academe.

I became interested in this issue when I began doing the research on Volume 3 of my series about guns in America, a book that examines gun violence as and when it actually occurs.  And since so much involving gun violence takes place within a criminal context, thinking about gun violence quickly leads to thinking about crime.  But what I find disquieting in all of the scholarly attention that is being focused on this issue is the extent to which virtually everyone seems to avoid the elephant in the living room, namely, understanding or even acknowledging the behavior of the criminals themselves.

With all due respect to my academic peers and betters, noting that crime rates are inordinately high in low-income neighborhoods doesn’t necessarily mean that because jobs aren’t available someone will turn to crime.  I would be much more convinced of the efficacy of an income-crime correlation if someone would take the trouble to simply inquire along these lines amongst the criminals themselves.  After all, if the robbery rate drops 80% in a neighborhood where the population remains the same, then we have to assume that there are  a bunch of people walking around who have decided that crime no longer pays.

The real problem with the data used by criminologists and other researchers is that we tend to make qualitative assumptions based on quantitative evidence and, in the process, simply fail to understand the social fabric that must be considered prima facie when talking about crime. Zimring, for example, notes that average incomes went up substantially in Manhattan but remained level in other boroughs, leading to the conclusion that economic change was not a determinant for the drop in crime.  But there are now many neighborhoods in Queens, for example, that have become major destinations for New Yorkers from other neighborhoods who want to eat Asian in Flushing or Indian in Jackson Heights and flood these streets on weekdays and weekends, no doubt their presence having a salutary impact on rates of crime. The mile-long elevated park known as the High Line in Manhattan, probably the single most-visited destination in the entire city since it opened in 2009, used to be known as an area where kids from Jersey could drive into the city through the Lincoln Tunnel, score drugs from the dealers and prostitutes who crowded every corner, and get back to their suburban neighborhoods in time to turn on the television and watch the latest installment of NYPD Blue.

I don’t know other cities the way I know New York, but there are certain social trends that have occurred, perhaps to a more obvious degree in New York, but in most other cities as well.  You can’t go into any urban neighborhood in the United States without noticing, for example, that virtually the entire street-level retail trade is in the hands of immigrants from Asia, the Indian sub-continent and the Pacific Rim.  These shopkeepers are in those delis and coffee shops day and night, their presence means that anything happening on the sidewalk will be observed, and even though they may only constitute a small proportion of the total inhabitants of a particular town, their numbers understate the extent to which their livelihoods serve as a critical resource for the safety of all.

If there has been one major socio-demographic change in the United States since 1990, it’s the re-urbanization of many city communities who lost population to the suburbs in the thirty years following World War II.  I suspect that much of the increase in crime that occurred in American cities in the 70’s and 80’s reflected the gradual disappearance of the middle class, just as I also suspect that much of the decline in crime beginning in the 90’s reflected a decision by the middle class to return to the urban core.  At this point my thesis is a conjecture and must await the application of some data that I have yet to study and some observations that I have yet to make.  But the one thing I won’t do is let the data speak for people who should be speaking for themselves.  If we really want to know why criminals have stopped committing crimes, don’t we need to walk right up to them and ask them to explain?

Want To Reduce Crime? Try The Bloomberg Approach.

Now that Mike Bloomberg has departed from the scene, we might want to look more closely at his signature achievement, namely, the notion that he turned New York City into a crime-free zone.  There’s been a lot of give and take on this one, particularly because much of the alleged decrease in violent crime was believed to be the product of a too aggressive, stop-and-frisk strategy employed by the NYPD.  But while civil libertarians and criminologists bat that one back and forth, I prefer to spend a little time analyzing the numbers that have been produced by Bloomberg’s administration  to bolster the claims that New York is now a very safe town.

English: New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

English: New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But before I get into the numbers, it’s important to understand that while New York contains more than 8 million people, this immense population lives in five very distinct boroughs which, if we throw them all together and only talk about the city as a whole, we end up with a picture that bears little relation to the circumstances in which most city residents actually live. Because crime is the most potent barometer for judging what’s called “quality of life,” if people feel physically secure they tend to consider themselves better off even if their material circumstances are not what they would like.  On the other hand, when people feel insecure and threatened by their environment, no degree of physical amenities can restore their sense of well-being or mitigate their fears that things just aren’t right.

Enter the Bloomberg numbers machine.  According to his numbers, violent crime continues to decline in New York, with homicides, the most visible of all violent crimes, being reduced to the lowest level in more than thirty years.  The drop has been seen in every category of violent crime, and it has been going on far longer than any expert would ever predict.  Even the noted criminologist Frank Zimring, who recently wrote a book about the decline in NYC crime, recently admitted that the decline was even greater than what he predicted might occur.

But there’s only one little problem.  If you look at crime stats on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, it’s clear that in many parts of the city people aren’t safe at all and worse, the drop in violent crime in some areas, particularly the wealthiest parts of the city, has been so steep that it tends to mask a much more severe problem in other parts of town.  For example, according to the FBI, the national rate for the four crime categories that comprise violent crime stands right now at 386.9 incidents per 100,000 people.  There are neighborhoods in New York City where the violent crime rate is more than three times as high.  The national murder rate in 2012 was 4.7, but in Brooklyn’s Brownsville right now it’s 15.1.  Forcible rape is 26.9 nationally but it’s higher in the Morrissania section of The Bronx and nearly double in Brownsville and “Do or Die’ Bed-Stuy.

Want to live in a crime-free zone?  Buy a two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s West End Avenue complete with cockroaches for only $2.5 million and you’ll live without fear.  The 20th Precinct, which covers the trendy area around Lincoln Center, has a violent crime rate of 123.5, less than one-third the national rate, and has yet to see a single homicide in 2013, unless you want to count the night that I ate dinner at Mort Zuckerman’s  Masa restaurant and got stuck with the check. But seriously, if you take the crime numbers for the West and East Sides of Manhattan, they go a long way to help flatten out ghetto crime numbers from Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx.

Much of the criticism about Bloomberg’s tenure centered on the degree to which he lavished attention and concern on Manhattan but never got involved in what happened to areas where his wealthy friends didn’t happen to reside.  There’s no question that crime rates in even the worst NYC neighborhoods nosedived in the 1990’s as they did nationwide.  But to continue hiding behind crime stats for Manhattan simply shortchanges the rest of New York City and everyone, no matter where they live, deserves a life free from crime.

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Want To Get Rid Of Guns? Go Where The Bad Guns Are

Federally-supported gun violence intervention ...

Federally-supported gun violence intervention program (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to gun control, Congress still seems confused about whether more regulation equals better regulation.  I don’t think it necessarily does.  Particularly when a law is passed that only will make a difference if it is rigorously enforced at the level of the neighborhood and the street. And anyone who thinks that guns aren’t a neighborhood and street-level issue doesn’t know much about neighborhoods or guns, for that matter.  Which is why I wasn’t terribly concerned when Manchin-Toomey went down to defeat, because I knew that it would force people who are trying to do something about gun violence to stop looking to Uncle Sam for a quick solution that probably wouldn’t change things at all.

One organization that really seems to understand gun violence where the violence actually occurs is the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, located at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.  The Director of the Center, David Kennedy, has been a researcher, policy expert and program director for more than thirty years, and prior to coming to John Jay, he directed the Safe Guns project in Boston which created a successful model for dealing with gun violence by uniting law enforcement, social service agencies and community groups.

By moving to New York, Kennedy has been able to take his experiences and widen his vision beyond one city to embrace the country as a whole.  The Center offers planning and technical assistance to help cities and towns build safer communities, and is currently engaged in ongoing projects in Chicago, Detroit, Newark, the State of Connecticut, and several Native American reservations.  The Center recently received a million-dollar grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to “develop and sustain its highly-successful crime-reduction strategies” which, BJA noted,  are in “high demand” from communities that want to implement such programs.

There are two things about the Center’s approach that I find exceptional.  The first, as I mentioned earlier, is the focus on prevention not through legislation, but with hands-on, street-level programs that actually work.  And the reason they work is that the Center combines theory with practice through diligent research into the effectiveness of what they are doing and an awareness that not two situations, two neighborhoods, two cities, are exactly alike.  This was proven, for example, in the different approaches to gun violence in New York and Boston; the latter created a tapestry of law enforcement, social service and community groups to deal with the problem while the former sent ‘stop-and-frisk’ police teams into high-crime zones.  Both programs worked at first but results tailed off earlier in Boston, then later in New York.   The Center’s success in its more recent programs shows that they learned from both.

It’s great to see efforts like David Kennedy’s Center for Crime Prevention and Control getting some nice, big funding support from the folks in DC.  But why doesn’t the NRA kick in some dough as well?  After all, the NRA keeps reminding us that they represent law-abiding gun owners who believe that 2nd Amendment guarantees should not stand in the way of getting criminal guns off the street.  Which is exactly what Kennedy and his colleagues are all about.  Want to build a real alliance between gun owners and non-gun owners over the issue of gun control?  Here’s the place to start.

Want To Own A Gun? Move To New York City.

English: New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

English: New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you follow the gun debate at all, you’re aware of the fact that Mike Bloomberg, the soon-to-be ex-Mayor of New York City, takes credit for a steep decline in the city’s crime rate due to his strict enforcement of the city’s tough gun laws.  But while this may mean that very few city residents own legal guns, research published by Gary Kleck (UCLA Law Review, #56, 2009) indicates that within another few years, the number of illegal guns may exceed the number of adults living within the city.  Imagine that!  The city with the toughest gun laws will also be home to the largest number of guns.  How is that possible?

According to Kleck, roughly 60,000 people move into New York City every year.  He doesn’t know how many people move out of the city each year, he’s just interested in how many move in.  Why?  Because he assumes that they bring guns with them when they show up. In 2000, just under 800,000 NYC residents had been born in another state:

These migrants presumably moved their possessions with them.  If handgun ownership among these migrants was equal to the U.S. average, migrants born in other states would have moved about 260,000 handguns from other states into NYC.

Kleck bases his calculations on the idea that per capita American handgun ownership is .0325 (one-third of a gun for every person.)  But those numbers have changed.  In fact, since the 1980s, handguns have entered the market over long guns by a ratio of two to one.  So the per capita ownership of handguns is probably now close to 0.50.  This being the case, if we follow Kleck’s logic to its ultimate conclusion, the continued migration of people into New York City from 2000 until 2013 means that at least 400,000 new handguns have come into town during the same period. Add this to the 2 million guns that NYPD believe were in the city in 1980, then tack on another 30,000 each year between 1981 and 2000, and we are up to 3 million guns.
If the demographic breakdown of New York City is anything like the national average, there are approximately 2,700,000 males between the ages of 18 and 65 living in the five boroughs right now.  Since very few women own guns, let’s add in the men over the age of 65 and the total is still below the total number of guns floating around the Big Apple.
You don’t have to take my word for it.  Just read Kleck’s article and do the math. New York City is the handgun haven of the United States.  There’s no doubt about it.