Saturday, March 10, 2007

gun control

From the NY Times yesterday:

Violent crime rose by double-digit percentages in cities across the country over the last two years, reversing the declines of the mid-to-late 1990s, according to a new report by a prominent national law enforcement association.

While overall crime has been declining nationwide, police officials have been warning of a rise in murder, robbery and gun assaults since late 2005, particularly in midsize cities and the Midwest. Now, they say, two years of data indicates that the spike is more than an aberration.

“There are pockets of crime in this country that are astounding,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which is releasing the report on Friday. “It’s gone under the radar screen, but it’s not if you’re living on the north side of Minneapolis or the south side of Los Angeles or in Dorchester, Mass.

Local police departments blame several factors: the spread of methamphetamine use in some Midwestern and Western cities, gangs, high poverty and a record number of people being released from prison.

Surprisingly, the consequence of putting a record number of people into prison is that at some later point, a record number of people will be released from prison. They can’t be locked up forever.

But the biggest theme, they say, is easy access to guns and a willingness, even an eagerness, to settle disputes with them, particularly among young people.

. . .

Seventy-one percent of the cities surveyed had an increase in homicides, 80 percent had an increase in robberies, and 67 percent reported an increase in aggravated assaults with guns.

. . .

Many chiefs blame the federal government for reducing police programs that they say helped cut crime in the 1990s. But they also say the problem is economic and social. “We seem to be dealing with an awful lot of people who have zero conflict-resolution skills,” Chief Magnus said.

. . .

Many chiefs blame the federal government for reducing police programs that they say helped cut crime in the 1990s. But they also say the problem is economic and social. “We seem to be dealing with an awful lot of people who have zero conflict-resolution skills,” Chief Magnus said.

And too many guns. Guns, guns, guns! Flood the country with guns, as the NRA has managed to do, and this is the predictable result. People in the suburbs gots to have their handguns, for some reason I have never understood, but then it’s young men of color in the cities who do the bulk of the shooting and the dying. The former is probably motivated by vague fear of the latter, but the actual chances of a drug-deranged inner-city youth breaking into a McMansion in Provo, UT or The Woodlands, TX or pretty much anywhere you’ve got a high concentration of dues-paying NRA members is close to zero. On the other hand, the chances of getting shot if you are a young man in the city who likes to carry a gun are quite high.

There’s an idea floating in the ether that having a gun on your person makes you less likely to be shot and killed, when all available evidence points to the opposite conclusion.

Meanwhile, episodes like this will forever be used to explain why we need even more guns in our society. Guns for every man, woman, and child! Then everyone will feel perfectly safe.

This quote from the Salt Lake Tribune article linked to above sums up the situation fairly well:

Homicide and suicide rates in countries where gun ownership is restricted - like Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom - are a fraction of the U.S. rate, Sackett said.

Just what kind of numbers are we talking about? Here are per-capita murder rates in other developed nations presented as a percentage of the U.S. rate, calculated from this site:

South Korea: 46%
France: 40%
Australia: 35%
Canada: 35%
UK: 33%
Italy: 30%
Germany: 27%
Spain: 27%
Japan: 12%

Fewer guns = fewer gun deaths. More guns = more gun deaths. While there are other factors involved, it’s hard not to see the pattern here.

That’s why law enforcement officials in cities with high murder rates are not happy with decisions like this:

Interpreting the Second Amendment broadly, a federal appeals court in Washington yesterday struck down a gun control law in the District of Columbia that bars residents from keeping handguns in their homes.

The decision was the first from a federal appeals court to hold a gun control law unconstitutional on the ground that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals, as opposed to the collective rights of state militias. Nine other federal appeals courts around the nation have rejected that interpretation.

Linda Singer, the District’s acting attorney general, said the decision was “a huge setback.”

“We’ve been making progress on bringing down crime and gun violence,” Ms. Singer said, “and this sends us in a different direction.”

. . .

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said the District was reviewing both the impact of the decision and the next steps it would take in the litigation. “Today’s decision flies in the face of laws that have helped decrease gun violence in the District of Columbia,” Mr. Fenty said at a news conference. “We intend to do everything in our power to get this decision overturned.”

But what do they know about crime and gun violence?

IOZ follows up on what I took Michael Moore’s point to be: that we have a culture that is uniquely (among developed countries) enamored with violence, which has both domestic and international manifestations. Americans might not be so wedded to their guns if we had a less militaristic, aggressive outlook on life. But strengthening gun control laws would be a good start towards curbing the bloodlust.

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