Do More Guns Equal Less Crime?

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In 1998 John Lott published More Guns, Less Crime, which has become both an intellectual totem for the pro-gun gang and a harbinger of doom for folks who believe we need to do more to control guns. Lott argued that as more Americans owned and carried guns that violent crime, homicide in particular, went down because criminals realized they might be going up against someone with a gun and therefore shifted to non-violent criminality (larceny, burglary,) in response to more people being legally armed.

lott             Before going further into the hullabaloo surrounding Lott’s work, let me say that he and I share something of an academic kinship insofar as we both have published books with The University of Chicago Press. So although we disagree strongly on many issues involving guns, our arguments are couched within accepted academic norms and never flow over into personal attacks; I wish I could say the same about some of the other voices raised in disagreement with his work.

The problem I have with Lott’s thesis is that it rests on an untested assumption about the nature of crime, namely, that people who use guns to injure others will pause, think and consider the situation rationally before pulling out the old banger and firing away. Despite what Lott says about the shortcomings of FBI data which shows that most gun homicides occur between people who know each other to some personal degree, I find myself still more convinced by the Lester Adelson’s statement that: “With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.” After plowing through Adelson’s classic, thousand-page textbook on forensic homicide, I think he knew what he was talking about.

On the other hand, Lott’s work has been severely criticized by academic researchers whose published rebuttals could probably run several feet in my personal library except that most of them can be found in various liberal blogs, so simply bookmarking them in my browser saves me a lot of shelf space. What these critics tend in the main to argue is that either Lott’s data is unrepresentative or that his statistical models aren’t sufficient, or that he misreads his own data, or a combination of all three.

There’s only one little problem with the entire corpus of anti-Lott work, namely, none of his critics have done any primary research at all whose results might allow them to advance a different thesis as to why Americans seem increasingly positive about using a gun for self-defense. What we hear again and again is that a majority of gun owners now claim that the primary reason they own a gun is to protect themselves and others, but I have yet to see a single survey which asks these same respondents to explain why they decided that the best way to defend themselves from crime was by owning a gun.

Even the other academic researcher who helped create the public discussion about using guns for self-defense, Gary Kleck, has published research which shows that in many circumstances using a gun for self-defense in a criminal assault is basically no more effective than making a phone call or just opening your mouth. And what we do know is that the number of people who actually use a legally-owned gun to defend themselves from criminals runs from scant to none.

Lott’s academic critics have not shown the slightest interest in trying to figure out what Nassim Taleb brilliantly calls the ‘Black Swan’ effect among gun owners, namely, the existence of an idea which may or may not have any reality behind it at all. And until people who honestly want to see an end to gun violence tackle this issue on its own terms, it will simply be impossible to craft a message about gun violence that gun owners will understand. With all due respect to Lott’s many critics, running batches of numbers through different statistical models is child’s play compared to figuring out why we humans believe and act the way they do.

Is Gun Violence Endemic Or Epidemic? It’s Both.

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So far this year our friends at the Gun Violence Archive are posting 7,821 deaths from guns. Which means that if the rate of gun deaths continues for the remainder of 2017, this year will end up seeing an increase in gun deaths over last year of around 15 percent, and an increase since 2014 of nearly 25 percent.

urban            I thought that gun deaths were going down because all law-abiding citizens are walking around with guns. Or at least they should be walking around with guns if you agree with the NRA. After all, the gun industry has been bragging about the ‘decline’ in violent crime at the same time that so many Americans are buying guns. Since the early 90’s, according to the NSSF, “homicides, other crimes, and accidents involving firearms have decreased dramatically,”

Actually, this dramatic decrease in gun violence more or less ended around 2000, then went up a bit, went down a bit, but now seems to be moving quickly upwards again. And don’t make the mistake of believing that this is just Chicago’s problem, even though the jerk in the White House keeps saying he’s going to send the troops into the Windy City to help Rahm out.  In fact, homicides in Chicago appear to be down by roughly 15% so far this year; too many lives are still being lost but we’ll take every bit of progress we can get.

Cities like St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland rank far ahead of Chicago for murder rates, Newark and Memphis are also more dangerous cities in which to live. Guns and gun violence are so endemic in many locations that the IPO of Shotspotter, whose technology tells the cops where guns are being shot off, jumped 26% as soon as shares went public, a sure sign that the violent use of guns isn’t going to disappear.

What appears to be happening in gun violence is what a brilliant physician and public health researcher, Katherine Kaufer Christoffel, wrote about in 2007 when she analyzed a shift in gun violence from ‘epidemic’ to ‘endemic’ rates. I happen to think that Dr. Christoffel’s article is one of the most important and informative contributions to the public health literature on gun violence and you can download it here. What she argues is that gun violence quickly spiked and then just as quickly declined between the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s because it was perceived as an ‘epidemic’ and treated as an emergency through a combination of local policing and health initiatives, coordination between stakeholding agencies and national legislation (e.g., the Brady bill.)

The result of these efforts, which also paralleled an overall decrease in violent crime, was that gun violence rates fell back to where they had been in the early 1980’s, but have since then remained steady and, in the last several years, started to go back up. But the transition from epidemic to endemic gun violence doesn’t mean that a fundamental ‘cure’ for the problem has been found. To the contrary, the problem with endemic public health conditions, as Dr. Christoffel points out, is that not only do they result in much suffering within the populations where the problem still exists, but they can ‘flare up’ as epidemics from place to place and time to time.

What we are witnessing in cities like St. Louis, Baltimore and Detroit are exactly the return of an epidemic of gun violence which grows out of an endemic condition that has stabilized nationally but has never really been brought under control. In 1993, there were just under 40,000 gun deaths (homicide, suicide, accidents) which set a national gun-violence rate of 15.4. If the year-to-year increase continues at the recent rate, we could exceed the 1993 gun violence numbers within the next two or three years.

I hate to say it but it needs to be said: A lot more people may have to get killed or injured before something that really reduces gun violence ever gets done.

 

Where’s All The Crime That Guns Protect Us From?

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Once again Gun-nut Nation is celebrating the continued health of the gun industry by misstating the monthly FBI-NICS background check number to make it appear as though gun sales continue in Obama-like fashion even during the Age of Trump.  The Washington Times blared: “Gun purchase background checks hit record after terror attacks overseas,” even though what continues to go up are background checks for gun licenses, not purchase of guns.

sessions                On the other hand, even if folks are increasingly using the NICS system to become legally-qualified to own guns, this still means that many Americans remain convinced that having access to a gun is a good way to deal with their fears of terrorism and crime. So as long as such fears abound, and as long as the gun industry creates messaging that exploits those fears, the more that guns will be floating around.  And guess what? We suffer from an extraordinary level of gun violence for one reason and one reason only, namely, too many guns.

If we regulated gun ownership the way guns are controlled in other OECD countries, the total number of civilian-owned guns would probably be around 50 million, give or take a few million here or there. How do I come up with that number? Because 14 million Americans hold hunting licenses, and let’s say that each hunter owns three rifles and shotguns, throw in another 5 million for trap, skeet and sport shooters and you’re at 50 million guns; i.e., a per-100,000 rate of roughly 15.7, which is half the gun-ownership rate of countries like Canada, Austria and Sweden, which experience little, if any gun violence at all. But in fact our actual gun-ownership rate is seven times higher than the rate calculated above, and probably half are handguns, which is what accounts for nearly all the 125,000 gun deaths and injuries that we experience each and every year. Because when there are 150 million handguns sitting in glove compartments, closets and drawers, it’s not unlikely that 200,000 or more will disappear from their rightful owners every twelve months and wind up in the wrong hands.

Now you would think that in the only industrialized country which has given its citizens relatively free access to guns, that everyone would own a gun.  After all, if the polls show that nearly two-thirds of all Americans believe that having a gun in your home protects you better than if you don’t, then obviously a lot of people out there buy the gun-industry’s idea about the virtues and values of gun ownership but don’t go out and purchase a gun. Meanwhile, for the first time in 15 years, more than half of all Americans (according to Gallup) believe that violent crime is on the rise. But each year the U.S. Department of Justice asks 160,000 adults whether they have been victims of violent crimes, and last year the DOJ reported that there had been “no significant change in the rate of violent crime.”

Talking about the Justice Department, its current boss has a date today with the Senate Intelligence Committee where it’s expected he’ll deny that any conversations he ever had with anyone, not just some guys from Russia, could constitute a crime.  And Sessions is a real expert on crime, having stated that we are in the midst of a ‘criminal epidemic’ even though he also admitted that violent crime is at a 50-year low.  Sessions has a boss who thinks that murder is the ‘highest’ in nearly 50 years; his misstatements on crime are so glaring and stupid that CNN actually ran a major story in February when Trump actually said something about crime which happened to be true.

When people with power and media access say something frequently enough, it often becomes an accepted narrative whether it’s true or not. When the President talks endlessly about American ‘carnage’ I’m not surprised that the average person then believes that crime rates are going up. Maybe the next thing Trump will do is sign an Executive Order requiring that everyone must own a gun.

 

Trump Comes To NRA And Tells Them What They Want To Hear.

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None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. — Goethe.

              This coming Friday, April 28th, Donald Trump is scheduled to speak at the NRA meeting in Atlanta, the first time a sitting President has appeared before the faithful since Saint Ronald showed up in 1983. And what did Reagan tell the group he was doing in Washington to advance their 2nd-Amendment rights? He went on and on about how his administration was being ‘tough on crime.’  And he also singled out a group in Arizona called the Sun City Posse, which was ‘just individuals who patrol their neighborhoods in their cars,’ the way that George Zimmerman was patrolling his neighborhood when Trayvon Martin happened to walk by.

Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C Groundbreaking Ceremony             I’ll bet you Trump will basically roll out the same tough guy nonsense when he appears before the NRA later this week. And why not? Getting tough on crime has always sold well for the Republican brand, and come to think of it, fighting crime didn’t hurt the political fortunes of a Democrat named Bill Clinton as well. But Clinton didn’t tie his crime-fighting strategy to the promotion of guns; in fact, the passage of the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban marked him as the most successful anti-gun President we ever had.

Which is why the NRA had such an easy time of it during the Obama ‘regime,’ because sitting in the Oval Office, right in front of America’s gun owners, was a black guy who was determined to expand the so-called ‘assault’ on 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ And what better way to keep your followers energized and excited (and opening their wallets) than to remind them again and again that the ‘enemy’ is not only at the gates but is actually inside the hen-house looking out?

Which is exactly the problem now facing the NRA because the enemy has been replaced by their seemingly best friend, which means they have to shift from attack dog to tame dog without missing a beat. And this isn’t so easy when the person you pledged to help and support not only changes his political stance every day, but has backtracked on many of the issues which led you to help him in the first place. Remember how Trump-o was going to ‘get tough’ on China trade? Remember how he used to be against the ‘dream act?’  Remember all that nonsense about how America could only become great again if we didn’t stick our nose into other country’s affairs?

Take a look at this article in Politico which really nails how the ditherings of the Trump administration has fractured what was the unquestioned alliance of the Conservative media and the organizations they represent when this mutual relationship of Obama-haters were on the outside of political power looking in. Know what happened the day that Trump announced the (brief) elevation of Steve Bannon to be his right-hand man? Everyone else who had been slavishly promoting the Trumpian agenda said ‘how come him and not me?’

So Wayne-o was invited to journey out of his lair in Fairfax on Easter to the White House to help roll some eggs on the lawn; notice how Trump’s dinner with alt-right icons Palin, Nugent and Kid Rock didn’t even make his Twitter account? You can accuse Trump of this or that, but one thing you can’t accuse him of being is loyal to his friends. The fact that the NRA spent more than $30 million of its membership dues to get #45 into the Oval Office, to quote my beloved grandmother, they can go ‘chub en drerd.’ Which means go lay brick.

But in the meantime, claiming you’re tough on crime is always a safe bet. Which is why the NRA for years has been promoting the utterly false idea about the role of armed citizens in fighting crime. There’s only one little problem – there just ain’t much crime in places where most people live who own legal guns. But Goethe’s quote about false beliefs has never been more true than now.

 

Jeff Sessions Starts Fighting A Crime Wave That Doesn’t Exist.

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Now that a leading crime-fighter has been installed as Attorney General, we can rest easy because the great crime wave sweeping America will come to an immediate halt. And if you don’t believe there’s a lot of violent crime out there, Donald Trump promised to “liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities” if he were elected President. Which is kind of funny since a new report by the Brennan Center points out that with the exception of three cities – Chicago, Baltimore, DC – violent crime in the United States is at the lowest point of the last quarter-century, having declined by 50% since 1991.

sessions             But when was the last time you heard anything out of the White House which actually aligned with the facts? And when it comes to comments about crime the new Attorney General has even less regard for the truth than his boss. How could it be otherwise when he talked about New York City as one of nine jurisdictions that is “crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime,” with the city seeing “gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city [being] ‘soft on crime.’”

Not only has Big Apple violent crime dipped to historic lows over the last several years, but much of this decrease is the result – ready? – of a major drop in gang crime, particularly gang shootings, which is exactly the reverse of what numbskull Sessions now claims. For the first time ever, shootings in New York City during 2016 dropped to below 1,000, with gang-related shootings dropping by 25% from the previous year, and gang-related gun homicides dropping almost 40% which brought the overall homicide number down to 335.

The Attorney General is lying when he says that New York City is suffering from a gang crime wave, because the New York City crime numbers are reported each year to the Feds. Sessions is pushing a ‘tough on crime’ agenda not only as an attempt to make it look like the Trump Administration is fixing yet another one of Obama’s mistakes, but he’s recklessly endorsing a ‘get tough’ crime policy which isn’t needed at all.

Another Brennan Center report on the new direction being taken by Trump and his minions points out that not only is violent crime at historic lows, but that the ‘get tough’ approach “contradicts the emerging consensus among conservatives, progressives, law enforcement, and researchers that the country’s incarceration rate is too high, and that our over-reliance on prison is not the best way to address crime.”

There is some truth to the idea that while violent crime is going down, illegal drug-use is going up. But these are very different drugs from what fueled the explosion of crack-cocaine in the early 1990’s because this time much of the current drug products are opioids, which even though they come from overseas (mainly China) represent a much different type of drug problem both in terms of cause and response. And while the Brennan report finds some evidence that Sessions understands the need to tie more comprehensive treatment rather than harsher punishments to the increase in opioid use, the rhetoric coming out of his office continues to focus primarily on a ‘get tough’ approach to all crime.

What’s really behind this new policy to ‘get touch’ on crime? First is the cynical and wholly-politicized strategy to sell the idea that Trump is making America ‘great’ again by sweeping away all the political detritus of the Obama ‘regime.’ Second is the attempt to wrap crime policy around immigration because most immigrants are here illegally which makes them more prone to commit crimes (which in fact is not one but two Trump lies.)

If Sessions was really serious about reducing crime, he’d sit down with New York City’s top cop, James O’Neill, and ask him to explain why the city’s crime rates are so low. But what Sessions is really serious about is helping his boss convince us that every time he tells a lie he’s revealing a new truth.

When It Comes to Gun Violence Chicago Is Bad But It Ain’t The Worst.

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Chicago was ablaze with gunfire again this weekend and as of Sunday morning, five people were dead in a single house and another fifteen were in various hospitals with wounds.  There’s a good chance that the Windy City will rack up more than 800 gun deaths in 2016, almost double the number of gun murders in 2015, which was a 12% increase from the year before.  The city is looking at the newly-issued report of a taskforce that is calling for new measures to deal with the violence; you know, another taskforce, got it?

chicago             Last year I looked at the map of shootings for Chicago that is carried in The Tribune, and noticed that some neighborhoods, particularly parts of the South and West Sides, appeared overwhelmed with gun violence, whereas other areas of the city seemed to have little or no gun violence at all.  But the map for 2016 is different because although gun violence is still concentrated in neighborhoods like Austin in the West and New City in the South, shootings occur in every neighborhood, even in places like Rogers Park.  I lived in Rogers Park in the 1970s and forget about violence or crime, our apartment on Greenleaf Avenue didn’t even have a front-door lock.  This year there have been 25 shootings in Rogers Park, although that’s an improvement because shootings numbered 40 in 2014.

Doing a quick calculation brings the murder rate in Chicago (per 100,000 residents) to just around 30, give or take a few. The national gun homicide rate is around 3.5 per 100,000, in other words, one-tenth of what’s going on in Chicago these days, no wonder the weekend shooting deaths of five people in one house made the national news. Incidentally, I just went back to the browser and the city’s shooting toll since Friday afternoon has been upped to 9 dead and 26 wounded with most of Sunday still to be gotten through.

So what makes this city such a human shooting gallery with no end in sight?  It’s almost like you could walk down any street in the Second City and a bullet might go whizzing overhead.  Except the fact is that Chicago, compared to some other places, isn’t so dangerous after all.  St. Louis this year has a murder rate of 61, New Orleans is 46, Newark is 39.  I don’t know how many of these murders were committed with guns, but if the usual 70% average for guns used in homicides holds true in these towns, then all of them, and some others, rank well ahead of Chicago when it comes to the number of residents who are being gunned down.

If the gun-violence problem in Chicago was just related to Chicago, we could probably come up with some quick and easy reasons why such an exceptional situation existed in only this one place.  But gun violence, more particularly the increase in gun violence, isn’t just a Chicago problem at all. It seems to be occurring in many places, and I am not sure that this generalized increase in gun violence is only found in high-density, inner-city neighborhoods. The FBI says that the murder rate is lowest in cities with less than 100,000 residents, but the town of Mangonia Park, FL (which has a great waterslide) registered two murders in 2015 which gave this place a murder rate per 100,000 of 151!  When a homicide occurs in a place like Mangonia Park it never makes the national news, but there are little towns (what the FBI calls ‘tiny cities’) all over the place and violent crimes, shooting crimes, take place in these spots as well.

Violent crime and, in particular gun violence dropped steeply in the 1990s and 2000s but levelled off but let’s stop patting ourselves on the back and pretending that we’ve got the problem under control. As the accuracy of gun-violence reporting gets more accurate, it’s clear the numbers are moving up.  And they are moving up everywhere, not just in the city on the lake.

What Happens When People Walk Around With Guns? People Get killed.

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This week the Colorado legislature showed itself to still have enough members with brains to beat back the annual brain-dead attempt to ‘restore’ gun ‘rights’ to the good citizens of the Centennial State. The Colorado GVP community shot them all down. You may recall that in 2014 Colorado expanded background checks to cover private transactions, and while the pro-gun strategy this year did not include an attempt to repeal the background check law, it did include Gun Nation’s favorite gun-rights ploy; i.e., permitless concealed-carry, including on school grounds.

ccwSpeaking of the joys and virtues of concealed carry, our friends at the Violence Policy Center have just updated their website which contains data on gun fatalities committed by CCW-holders, with the number now standing at 863 non-defensive deaths since 2007.  Since there is no official count for how many of the 31,000+ gun deaths each year occur thanks to someone using a gun that was being legally carried around for self-defense, we have to assume that the VPC number is far below the real number, but that’s not the point.

The point is that I have been listening to this crap about the millions of times each year that legal CCW-holders use their guns to prevent crimes, and if this is really true, then what’s the difference if a few hundred or even a few thousand people kill themselves or kill someone else with their concealed-carry guns?  One of the brain-dead legislators in Colorado explained why state residents should be able to bring permitless concealed-carry guns into schools in the following way: “I, for one, am tired of sending my daughters to school on blind faith that they will return home from a place where people are prevented by state law from equipping themselves to protect my daughters.”  Okay, so this friggin’ dope can go lay brick.

But to give the all dopes their due, I decided to look into the situation a little further by trying to figure out whether, in fact, all these people walking round with a concealed gun are making our communities more safe.  And what better place to examine the situation than in Florida because, after all, the whole concealed-carry movement first erupted in the Gunshine State.  And according to the Florida Department of Agriculture, which issues CCW, there are now 1.5 million active concealed licenses, so Florida must be a pretty safe place, right?

Wrong.  Let me give you a few numbers.  In 2011, the metropolitan area with the highest violent crime rate in the entire United States wasn’t Chicago, wasn’t Philadelphia, it was Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach.  In 2014, that wonderful family vacation spot known as Orlando had a higher violent crime rate than Chicago or New York. I could go on like this but the truth is that the massive armed citizenry in Florida hasn’t been worth a damn when it comes to keeping the good citizens of that state free from crime.

But let’s drill down a little further and look specifically at the issue of how CCW guns are actually used for or against the commission of crimes.  According to the VPC, there have been at least 21 Floridians killed by CCW-holders since 2013, an average of 7 each year.  On the other hand, justifiable homicides, have averaged roughly 23 per year in Florida since ‘Stand Your Ground’ was passed in 2005.  But while gun homicides have increased since SYG, no other violent crime category showed any real change at all.

Now wait a minute.  I thought the whole point of concealed-carry is to make communities safe.  So how come in Florida of all places the number of people getting legally killed with guns keeps going up but the crime rate doesn’t go down?   Here’s the bottom line and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand what it means.  Know what happens when more people walk around with guns?  More people get killed.  Gee, that was hard to figure out.

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