Gun Violence Isn’t Just A Big-City Thing – It Happens In Small Towns Too.

One of the gun violence issues that has come to the forefront over the last several years has been what is politely referred to as ‘legal intervention,’ which is what happens when a civilian is shot by a cop.  It became front-page news in August, 2014, when an 18-year old kid, Michael Brown, was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, MO, an event that led to community protests and the usual media noise from both sides when a Grand Jury refused to indict. So far in 2016 there have been at least 900 people shot and killed by police, a number more than twice as high as the ‘official’ count that we get each year from the FBI.

town             When we think about police shootings, we tend to think that most of them involve black civilians shot by white cops.  After all, that was the situation in Ferguson, it was also what happened in another cop shooting that made the national news involving a victim named Philando Castile.  But according to the cop-shooting tracker on the Washington Post, white victims of fatal police shootings outnumber blacks by two to one, and in some places the white-black racial disparity in cop shootings is even greater than that.

Take a look, for example, at Oklahoma, a state whose rate of cop shootings in 2015 was an alarmingly 1.14.  Now you might think that a gun violence rate of 1.14 isn’t very high; after all, we have cities like St. Louis, Newark and New Orleans with gun violence rates of 40 or more.  But we’re not talking about civilians shooting civilians, we’re talking about cops using their guns. So, for comparison, Texas this year will have a police shooting rate of 0.29; in Florida the rate will be somewhere around 0.27; in other words these states have one-fifth the rate of police gun violence than what was racked up in Oklahoma last year.

Not only are cops shooting civilians all over the place in Oklahoma, but most of the victims happen to be white.  Since the beginning of 2015, there have been 57 fatal legal interventions, of whom 35 were white, 5 were Native Americans, 3 were Hispanic and 12 were black.  Incidentally, the state’s population is roughly 70% white, so the number of white victims is pretty close to the percentage of the white population as a whole.

What’s going on in Oklahoma?  How come there are so many police shootings and how come this particular type of gun violence never makes the national news? The chief reason, it seems to me, is that most of these events took place in small towns that, from a media and news point of view, are way off the beaten track.  Ever hear of Okemah?  It happens to have been the birthplace of Woody Guthrie but right now the population stands at barely 3,000 souls.  On November 7, a sheriff’s deputy killed a 26-year old resident after the young man tried to run the deputy down with his car.  Or try Schulter, which has around 600 people living in the town.  Back in February the cops in Schulter got into a firefight with John Neuman who, as it turned out, had been released on bail having been previously arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife.

If the police gun violence which occurs in small towns like Okemah and Schulter took place in Philadelphia or New York, it would be all over the internet and all over the news.  For that matter, if any kind of gun violence that was five times the national average was occurring in a major city there would be meetings, marches, all the usual things which happen when a large urban community gets aroused. But let’s not forget that America isn’t just big cities; it’s also small, out-of-the-way places and, make no mistake about it, those little places often contain lots of guns.

 

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Do Good Guys With Guns Protect Us From Bad Guys With Guns?

The NRA and its academic acolytes like John Lott have been tirelessly promoting the idea that guns protect us from crime, which is another way of saying that everyone should carry a gun, which is another way of saying that we should all buy more guns.  And the proof that more guns equals less crime comes in the form of a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which shows that over the past twenty years, violent crime, particularly gun crimes, have fallen by more than 50 percent.  Since it’s over the same two decades that every state has adopted some form of concealed-carry law, the gun lobby argues that the reason we are a much safer country is because everyone’s walking around with a gun.  Now if we could get rid of those unhealthy gun-free zones, right?

Another, much more troublesome report was issued in January with data and conclusions that the NRA chooses to ignore.  The report was based on a study of 6,300 patients admitted to a Level 1 trauma center in Newark suffering from gunshot wounds between 2000 and 2011, a time when, according to the FBI-UCR data, overall violent crime in Newark dropped by 22%.  Actually, the murder rate during that period increased by nearly 60%, but since we’re only talking about less than 60 dead bodies lying around, we’ll leave that one alone.

crime2                Getting back to the gunshot wounds, the physicians who conducted the research found that the number of patients didn’t significantly change, notwithstanding the alleged drop in gun violence everywhere else, and the severity of the wounds substantially increased.  Despite the fact that Level 1 trauma centers utilize the most advanced life-saving skills imaginable, the mortality rate from gunshot wounds climbed from 9% to 14%, the number of spinal cord and brain injuries nearly doubled, and the incidence of multiple bullet wounds increased from 10% to nearly 25%.

The gun lobby could (and will) ignore these numbers were it not for the fact that the national picture for the trend gunshot wounds is roughly the same as what happened in Newark.  According to the CDC, the rate of intentional gun injuries per 100,000 was 17.25 in 2000 and 17.83 in 2011, holding steady nationally just like the researchers in the case of Newark’s University Hospital found over the same eleven years.   That being the case, how does one reconcile those numbers with the BJS report that the NRA uses to bolster its claim of such a dramatic decrease in the criminal use of guns?  The BJS report shows a decline in the gun homicide rate from 7 per 100,000 to less than 4 from 1993 to 2011, and a decline in nonfatal gun victimizations from above 7 per 1,000 persons to less than 2.  So who’s right?

They’re both correct except that virtually the entire decline in gun violence occurred between 1993 and 2002, while since the latter date the gun violence rate, including both fatalities and injuries, has stabilized or slightly increased.  This stabilization of the number of admissions for gun violence is exactly what was reported by the medical team at University Hospital in Newark, even while the severity and cost of injuries continues to climb.

Meanwhile, for all the talk about good guys with guns protecting us from bad guys with guns,  the “decrease” in gun violence ended in 2002, while the number of states that now issue CCW has roughly doubled since 2002. The NRA’s notion that we are a much safer country now that residents of every state can apply for CCW falls flat on its face, even when we look at the data that the NRA uses to prove its own case.