Saturday, January 15, 2011

Get a Grip

     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.


June said...

Citing rates is helpful in understanding the reality of the situation.
We have a LOT of people in this country; 307,006,550 as of November 2009. It isn't surprising that we have a lot of everything that goes with people.
When you look at the rate, and the changes thereof, Aha! it appears a little different.

Just at random, a reader at Aging Gratefully once commented that my dancing in supermarket aisles, if indulged in the UK, would get me arrested for undue enthusiasm in a public place.
Amusing, but how constricting if even slightly true!

Dick Klade said...

I've pondered this some. Considering the U.S. population was constantly rising while the crime rates diminished, the change is even more pronounced. In the last decade, gun ownership advocates have succeeded in weakening control laws in many places. Could it be there's a shred of truth in their argument that armed "good guys" tend to reduce the number of "bad guys" willing to risk criminal acts? said...

Excellent piece, and I will try to get a grip. Another factor is drug use. The alledged killer used drugs. Mentally ill or not, drugs did not help. Liberalizing drug laws won't help either as the Dutch know all too well.

There are many things that can be done to improve the economic situation, although recent evidence suggests low income is not the cause of crime. The recent suggestions from President Obama's commission should be implemented. I for one had no idea some people wrote off mortgage interest for second, third, fourth homes. Oh sure, the realtors may scream for a while, but the recent home sales fiasco shows us the upward spiral cannot continue. Talk about a pipe dream. As for guns. Our Senator Webb carries a concealed weapon. I don't own a gun but cannot see why we need bazookas to kill deer.

PS most murder victims were killed by someone they knew, often a disgruntled spouse. Often the victim is female and the killer male. Should we get rid of men? :~))

Kay Dennison said...

I'm not against guns per se but I fail to see the necessity to own an AK-47, assault rifle, or other military weaponry.

Dick Klade said...

I think getting rid of men is a great idea, with one exception!

Sightings said...

I, too, fail to see why it should be acceptable or legal to have military weaponry in the civilian population -- other than maybe old collectors' items. But I'm not so sure about this idea of getting rid of men . . . can we make a few more exceptions so I can keep my poker group together and be able to find a foursome for golf?

Btw, schmidley and anyone else who's interested, I did finish "Freedom" and I would recommend it as worth both the time and money. (Okay, it's a little long; but it did con't to hold my interest.) As mentioned, I was skeptical, but Franzen has drawn a believable, insightful portrait of a modern American family. Patty's conflict seemed convincing; Joey was an interesting character (his g/f Connie perhaps not so much); and while the ending was a bit melodramatic, it still kind of made sense and as a reader I found it reasonably satisfying. said...

Frantzen was a dramatist, and it shows in his work. Will look for this book when I start reading anything other than text books after May 2012.

Sure, you can keep your poker group as long as they don't own AK47s or other weapons of mass destruction.

Jokes (and Hollywood) aside, ninty-five (95) percent of all murders are committed by men. Perhaps only women should be licensed to kill.