Oh man, I do not want to set myself up as some kind of know-it-all or holier-than-thou pontificator, but in the aftermath of the Tucson tragedy there seems to be a lot of hand wringing about how terrible things are in the United States, how civil discourse is at an all-time low, how violence is a way of life, how America is going to hell in a handbasket.
Well, I happen to share some of that sentiment -- but primarily on the economic front. I think we're turning into another Europe, which I didn't think would be so bad until recently when Europe seemed to lurch from one crisis to the next. But that's a subject for a different entry.
The question here is violence. The Tucson shootings were just awful. And I share the opinion of people who call for more civil political discourse -- from both sides -- and for more regulation of guns.
But the fact is, America is safer than it has been in a long time.
The number of homicides in the U. S. peaked 20 years ago, in 1991. That was the year when 24,700 Americans were murdered
Since then, despite all the right-wing rhetoric and left-wing outrage, despite whatever proliferation of handguns that has occurred, the number of murders has been going down, down, down. By 1996 the number of murders had declined to 19,650. By 2002 murders were down to 16,229. And the latest figures, for 2009, show that 15,241 homicides were committed in America. Let's not be complacent. That's 15,241 terrible tragedies. But it's a lot less than 24,700 terrible tragedies.
The murder rate in America -- the number of murders per 100,000 people -- has gone down even more. The homicide rate in the U. S. actually peaked back in 1980 at 10.2 per 100,000 people. By 1996, the rate was down to 7.4 per 100,000 people. And in 2009 it was 5.0 -- less than half the rate in 1980.
At the same time, the total number of crimes in the U. S. is also down, despite an increasing population, from over 14 million crimes in the early 1990s, to barely more than 10 million crimes today. Violent crimes are down. Rapes are down. Auto theft is down.
Experts may differ on the reasons for the decline -- an aging population; better police work; better economic opportunity. Maybe even stricter gun laws, because we have developed some regulations (imperfect though they may be), including the federal Brady Bill which starting in 1994 required background checks before a person could buy a gun. I don't know why criminal activity is down. But it is.
Interestingly, when you compare Americans to those law-abiding people up in Canada, you find that the homicide rate in the U. S. is in fact much higher -- about 2 1/2 times higher. But other crime rates do not follow the same pattern. Rates of break-ins, auto theft and arson are actually higher in Canada than they are south of the border.
And speaking of south of the border -- the murder rate in Mexico is more than twice what it is in the U. S.
So next time someone tries to tell you that America has a culture of violence; that there's no hope for the future; that the right-wing extremists are encouraging assassinations. Take all that with a grain of salt. Yeah, there are too many guns in the hands of irresponsible people. Yeah, sometimes we glorify violence.
But we're doing better than we were. And as long as people do get outraged at violence, both public and private, we're sure to do better in the future.