America is a Violent Country

by Kieran Healy on July 20, 2012

The terrible events in Colorado this morning prompted me to update an old post about comparative death rates from assault across different societies. The following figures are from the OECD for deaths due to assault per 100,000 population from 1960 to the present. As before, the most striking features of the data are (1) how much more violent the U.S. is than other OECD countries (except possibly Estonia and Mexico, not shown here), and (2) the degree of change—-and recently, decline—-there has been in the U.S. time series considered by itself. Note that “assault” as a cause of death does not distinguish the mechanism of death (gunshot, stabbing, etc). If anyone knows of a similar time series for homicides specifically, let me know.

Click for a larger version.

Here are the individual time series.

Click for a larger version.

{ 154 comments }

1

magistra 07.20.12 at 3:30 pm

One immediate thought – is the decline in deaths related partly to improved trauma care? Isn’t it the case that more US troops survive wounds now that would have killed them previous wars? Is the same effect causing some of the change here?

Meanwhile the UK have just announced the lowest murder rates for 30 years.

2

Lynne 07.20.12 at 3:39 pm

Recently there have been two gang-related shootings in Toronto and the flurry of public reaction has been predictable and annoying in that it has utterly ignored our biggest source of guns, which is the leaky border with the U.S. The U.S. is indeed a violent country but the Americans I talk to simply can’t see how different a society is where guns are not normal household equipment.

I do realize that your post doesn’t specify gun deaths, but those are the deaths on my mind lately, and I believe comparable figures on gun deaths are available—I saw some years ago (maybe ten years ago) but don’t know where to find them. The difference in rates of gun deaths between our two countries (which are universally considered to be almost identical) was simply staggering.

3

understudy 07.20.12 at 3:42 pm

Demographics plays a role, as does immigration. I notice self-assualts are not included, which would double Japan and Korea’s listed rates …

4

ChadW 07.20.12 at 3:49 pm

I agree with magistra on trauma care and EMT response improvements preventing deaths. Another thing to consider for these charts is the rate of population growth from the baby boom era which could cause some saturation in the values from 1970 to 1990 when the number of violent crimes was actually increasing.

There has definitely been a drop in violent crimes since the early 1990’s. I’m sure you can find the raw count numbers (rather than rates) to show that the number of overall violent crimes has been dropping since 93 or 94, particularly in the major metropolises.

5

Turbulence 07.20.12 at 3:55 pm

If anyone knows of a similar time series for homicides specifically, let me know.

You might try the Bureau of Justice Statistics here.

6

Bruce Wilder 07.20.12 at 3:56 pm

For the U.S., it is almost a cliche to point out the strong regional patterns behind this extraordinary contrast. I doubt that the Northeast, Great Lakes states or the urban West Coast looks so much different, compared with the run of other OECD countries.

The old Confederacy’s Deep South and the Wild West, however: even bigger differences.

Just a hint in this map for homicides.
http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/usa/top-15-causes-of-death

7

Marc 07.20.12 at 4:01 pm

There are also extraordinary regional trends in US violence. There is a factor of 6 difference between the highest and lowest rates for states in the US:

http://www.census.gov/statab/ranks/rank21.html

Note that this isn’t just urban vs. rural; South Carolina is the highest and Vermont is the lowest. SC doesn’t have a major metropolitan area, nor is there an unusual rate of recent immigrants. The South has always had a high violent crime rate, and this factors into things like US politics in a major way. The incarceration rate is also offscale and has enormous regional differences.

There has also been a huge overall drop in the US crime rate, with major cities now pushing 50 or more year lows. There are a lot of factors driving this.

8

Marc 07.20.12 at 4:02 pm

@6: showed up while I was editing. Great minds, etc.

9

thomas 07.20.12 at 4:10 pm

@Magistra: Aggravated assault is also down sharply over the same time period, so it’s not just that assaults are less often fatal

10

Billikin 07.20.12 at 4:11 pm

After seeing so many graphs that indicate problematic trends that began in the US around 1980, it is refreshing to see a beneficial trend that started around then. :)

11

Matt Stevens 07.20.12 at 4:16 pm

A few things:
* I’d like to see a comparison of non-lethal crime rates. Does the US have more crime, or just more homicides, than other industrialized nations, and if so how big are the differences?
* I would also like to look at other areas with high crime and homicide rates: Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and elsewhere. What traits do they share with the US but not East Asia and the EU?

12

ChadW 07.20.12 at 4:19 pm

Another note is that along with the prevailing violence and lack of gun control in the US, there is a mass hysteria brought about by the media and other powers that be. Most local tv network broadcasts are filled with shocking stories and ‘scoops’ that promote the fear of anything alien – even your own neighbor. “There is a groping prowler on the loose”; “Another gang-related shooting in the slums”; “Is your neighbor stalking you”; “Is your toothpaste made in China”; etc.

This fear of the world outside your own home started in the 50s with the suburban movement when people fled the cities in droves to live in secluded areas with as few connections to society as possible. Despite the friendliness of being neighbors, a paranoia is still present in the day to day mindset that nothing is safe and it is best to keep the doors locked and have a gun at hand. This need for “protection” from such fears has brought about a mob of stalwart ideologues that will not settle for any control lest they have their one mode of safety wrested from them. As the NRA slogan goes: “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!” It’s this mentality of a false sense of freedom where one thinks they are free to own a gun, without realizing that the purpose of such is to take another’s life. In my mind, owning a gun is premeditated murder toward as of yet unnamed victim. However, due to the strength and monetary power of these NRA blokes, control has been taken away from those that were elected to represent and protect them!

Lack of gun control begets more fear begets more gun ownership begets more violence begets more media reporting on violent matters begets more gun rights activists begets lack of gun control… Luckily there has been a drop in violent crimes as a whole, however, most mass homicides seem to start in the same place – fear. How best to combat these fears than through violent extreme measures…

13

ChadW 07.20.12 at 4:23 pm

@6 and @7 just made my point with higher crime rates in those NRA strongholds… Thanks!

14

David Moles 07.20.12 at 4:29 pm

It’s interesting* to put those numbers up against the UK’s recent weird obsession with “knife crime” and the increasing Amerification of its police.

* by which I guess I mean “depressing”

15

Matt McIrvin 07.20.12 at 4:32 pm

Bruce @6: Actually the data Marc links to at @7 indicate that the more urban Northeastern states are right on the national average. So, while far below places like Tennessee, they’d still be way above the OECD norm.

16

jme 07.20.12 at 4:36 pm

I would just like to say that I enjoy your posts because you use R and ggplot2 to make your graphs. (The content is good, too.)

17

Kim K 07.20.12 at 4:41 pm

ChadW: Listen to yourself. “Owning a gun is premeditated murder toward as of yet unnamed victim.” And you blame others for hysteria?
I own more than one gun. I have no intent of murdering anyone, for any cause. I do have intent of killing some tasty deer this fall, and some tasty partridge and rabbit too. I am not afraid of my neighbors, unnamed prowlers or gangs.
The only prowler I might shoot is a cougar or a bear if they decide to threaten my animals. Then again, if they don’t, I’ll let them be.
I leave my doors unlocked (although not my gun cabinet ;) and if my neighbor needs something, he knows he’s welcome to take it. I think this debate becomes very different in a rural setting. But, that’s the problem; you can’t lump all gun owners together and expect to make a coherent argument.

18

JanieM 07.20.12 at 4:43 pm

Bruce Wilder, that’s a great interactive map.

(But why on earth would they make one of the scale colors dark gray, then put the whole thing on a black background? At first I thought my own state of Maine wasn’t even there.)

Lynne: The U.S. is indeed a violent country but the Americans I talk to simply can’t see how different a society is where guns are not normal household equipment.

With respect, I think you need to talk to a wider variety of Americans.

I’m an American who — like a lot of the people I know — would favor stricter gun laws and, not coincidentally, an end to the so-called drug war and a scale-back of SWAT team weaponry and militarized police departments.

And I agree that on average, and by some kind of mythical frontier self-image, America is a violent country. I don’t like that imagery, and it’s not my preferred mythology for my country.

But Bruce’s map gives a fascinating indication of the variations, which I can testify to at a more anecdotal level. I’m 62 years old and I’ve lived for significant amounts of time in Ohio, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Maine. Nowhere in my family or among my friends have I ever known anyone who would say that guns are “normal household equipment.” Most of the people I know don’t have guns at all, or if they do they have one well locked away for purposes like shooting rabid animals — which is the only use to which the gun on my property has ever been put. (Rabid skunk. What a disaster.)

Or — they have guns for deer hunting, contra ChadW’s“the purpose of such is to take another’s life”, which is as silly a bit of sensationalism as the media sensationalism he deplores. Hunting is popular in Maine, so I know more people who own guns here than I did in my earlier life. The guns are hobby equipment, much like, let’s say, my flying brother-in-law’s Piper Cub. They do not lie around the house and I don’t know anyone who thinks of a hunting gun as a daily household accoutrement.

My basic point is that careless generalizations don’t help. What I would like to ask about America’s rate of violence is: Why are so many Americans so angry? I agree with ChadW that a vicious circle of (partly artificially induced) fear has something to do with it, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. I despise the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” people, but to just dismiss that assertion out of hand is an easy way of avoiding the hard questions about why the place of guns in American culture is so different from the place of guns in, let’s say, Swiss culture.

19

ChadW 07.20.12 at 4:47 pm

@17, Yes, I know about hunting and I agree with that means of gun ownership. I was just referring to gun ownership for any other means that generally shows up in more violent ways. I don’t see too many people owning a semi-automatic glock or an AK47 for the purpose of hunting…

20

Lynne 07.20.12 at 4:56 pm

Janie,

It was lazy of me to say “normal household equipment.” But would you agree that gun ownership is normalized in the States? Are you surprised when someone owns a gun? It isn’t here common here unless you are talking about farms and shotguns, or unless you are in a group of hunters. An American friend of mine with four young children takes it as routine that if her children are invited to another child’s house, that house might contain guns, so she is used to asking the parents whether this is so, and how the guns are stored. That’s what I meant when I grabbed the word “normal.” It would never have occurred to me to ask other parents about guns when I was raising children (I’m about your age.)

“I despise the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” people, but to just dismiss that assertion out of hand is an easy way of avoiding the hard questions about why the place of guns in American culture is so different from the place of guns in, let’s say, Swiss culture.”

Well, the place of guns in different cultures must begin with the number of guns, IMO. There are exponentially more guns on your side of the border than on ours. This is not a detail, it’s almost the whole ball of wax.

21

Ryan 07.20.12 at 5:01 pm

This article should have been titled:

America is violent; water is wet.

22

JanieM 07.20.12 at 5:28 pm

Lynne — I do agree that gun ownership is normalized, or taken for granted, here. As to whether I’m surprised when someone owns a gun — a mixed answer. I’m not surprised to know that someone has a gun for hunting. I would in fact be surprised — to understate the case by a lot! — to know that someone I’m talking to owns, let’s say, a Glock or an AK47. No doubt it’s just the circles I run in, but that’s part of my point. I have never known anyone who wanted to carry a gun around at the mall, or kept guns lying around the house unlocked, or thought that guns were a great means of self-protection.

Well, the place of guns in different cultures must begin with the number of guns, IMO. There are exponentially more guns on your side of the border than on ours.

I don’t know about “must begin.” Maybe the place of guns in different cultures begins with the purpose of the guns rather than the number.

As far as “exponentially goes,” I’d like to see a cite. According to Wikipedia, the US per capita rate of gun ownership is 88.8 per 100 and the rate in Canada is 30.8 per 100. Triple is not exponential unless you’re Michael Moore.

I’m not saying there’s not a problem. I’m just very skeptical of the sensationalism on both sides of the debate. I don’t see how it helps.

23

JanieM 07.20.12 at 5:30 pm

24

Gene O'Grady 07.20.12 at 5:33 pm

I see the lazy Wild West reference has snuck in. That is a myth — I’m quite sure that with a few exceptions (Lincoln County War, maybe some of the cattle drives, Texas) there was less of violence in the 19th century West than in the contemporary big cities in the East.

What does need to be referenced is the racial component in all of this — and the fact that there seems to be a correlation between racism and racial exploitation and the tendency to resort to violence to get your own way or take out your emotions.

Also, there is a remarkable contrast between the attitude of my father and grandfather to their hunting equipment to the bravado (and ignorance of basic gun safety) we see among many gun enthusiasts presently.

And I would be curious if any of the social scientists (“you people,” as Anne Romney would say) know of any studies that distinguish the effects of alcohol abuse on violence from the effects of other recreational drugs. I remember nearly fifty years ago a fellow student had his nickname change from “Mad Dog” to “Docile Dog” when switched from beer to marijuana. Although that actually made the New York Times, it has to be rank as the most anecdotal of evidence.

25

Marc 07.20.12 at 5:58 pm

Gun ownership is also all over the map (and at about 30% nationwide):

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/health/interactives/guns/ownership.html

The distinction is both regional and rural vs. urban – states like Vermont are high and states like Rhode Island are very low. Gun ownership also has significant class divisions; it’s far less common among college educated professionals than it is among rural blue collar workers. Smoking is a good example: it’s become almost a social class marker in the US at this point. Guns are similar.

26

Matt McIrvin 07.20.12 at 6:05 pm

I have never known anyone who wanted to carry a gun around at the mall, or kept guns lying around the house unlocked, or thought that guns were a great means of self-protection.

I recall, a while back, reading an anecdote from a non-US citizen about visiting the home of an American (a science-fiction writer, I think) with some other folks, and realizing that the guy had a pistol lying unprotected on his coffee table, and that none of the Americans present seemed to react in such a way that they found this unusual.

It struck me as odd, since, speaking as an American, I know the scene would seem mighty peculiar to me. But another explanation occurs to me: the Americans quite likely knew that the sort of Americans who keep pistols lying on their coffee tables are also extremely touchy about anyone reacting in such a way as to indicate that they have a problem with it.

27

Kasper 07.20.12 at 6:21 pm

I would love to know the story of why the Korea graph looks the way it does. I guess drugs/drug policy is always a decent bet.

28

american 07.20.12 at 6:23 pm

america is not a country!!!!!!!!! america is a continent

29

Mike 07.20.12 at 6:26 pm

@20: Not to be overly pedantic, but as that table wasn’t what I was expecting: that’s a table of the average number of guns owned per 100 people, not a ratio describing the number of gun owners. (That is, I had misinterpreted “gun ownership” to be a binary variable.) It would be interesting to see how the distributions of gun ownership compare across nations–you could imagine some places that have a small number of collectors each with large numbers of guns, and other places where many people have only a single gun for a single purpose (for hunting, home protection, shooting pests on the farm, etc.).

30

Geoffrey 07.20.12 at 6:34 pm

One thing that’s interesting to me is that the relative fluctuations in the US are actually not that rare. That is, the rate in the US doubled from 1960 to 1975 and then basically halved from 1975 to 2010. Looking closely, similar relative fluctuations seem to have happened elsewhere – Belgium may have tripled from 1960 to 1990, Denmark’s rate doubled in the same period, Japan’s fell to 1/5th or so? (It’s impossible to give specific ratios, given the size of the graphs, but general patterns are pretty clear).

31

Tom Hurka 07.20.12 at 6:57 pm

Re demographics: is it possible to overlay these graphs on ones of the percentage of the population in, say, the 18-28 age group, assuming that’s the primary one for violent crime? Different countries had different size baby booms, didn’t they? I see the peak in US deaths from assault is around 1978, when babies born in 1957, which I think was the peak baby boom year, were 21.

32

Antoni Jaume 07.20.12 at 7:11 pm

Tom Hurka, I don’t know about these graphics, but in 2000 Scientific american published a special edition on ‘Man’, and there were graphics comparing USA, Canada and UK for homicides for a given population and age. The maximum in the three cases was about 24 years-old for the three countries, what was markedly different was the number for a given population. I think the authors wrote they had studied possible correlation for homicidality, and found that in their data the main factor was life expectancy, the less individuals expected to live, the more they killed.

33

Marc 07.20.12 at 7:25 pm

@26: The gun / no gun information is in the link at post 23. You’re correct: there is a small group of people who collect lots and lots of guns. The median number of guns in a household with them is probably close to 1, and the average is about 3.

34

Steve McLaren 07.20.12 at 8:21 pm

América?… América is a continent not a country!

35

ZeLuiz 07.20.12 at 8:30 pm

@17 Janie, thanks for giving me some matter for thought. In my country, Portugal, it is extremely difficult to purchase any kind of gun and very few people own them. Also, violent crime statistics are very low compared to other countries, so I have always assumed both facts to be correlated, just as I assumed a correlation between gun ownership and violent crime in the U.S.A.

Having lived for some time in Switzerland, where nearly every male up to age 45 keeps a government issue assault rifle at home, and in Sweden, where elk hunting is a national sport, I came to realize the correlation is not so direct as I had thought. Maybe the fact that every round of ammunition must be strictly accounted for in both countries makes a big difference.

Nevertheless, it is possible that your State, Maine, has more in common with elk-hunting Sweden than with some American States. And there certainly is a big difference between a hunting gun and an AK47, which as far as I can see can have no other purpose but to take another life.

I think you hit the core of the matter with your question “Why are Americans so angry?” But their anger may be precisely what leads many of them to buying assault rifles rather than hunting weapons. If so, I should worry about my country and the rest of Europe, where anger has been mounting steadily in the past four years.

36

bert 07.20.12 at 9:05 pm

I assume that Janie cited Switzerland for a reason. But if not, I’ll make the point: if you’re of military age, gun ownership is compulsory there. You’re also required to have a nuclear fallout shelter in your house.

I recently saw the deeply unpleasant “God Bless America” (written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait of Police Academy fame) which presumably started life as a righteous liberal rant and somewhere along the line completely lost its moral compass. One of its featured spree killings took place in a cinema. The teenage victims were talking loudly and fiddling with their mobile phones rather than watching the movie, and so brought it on themselves. I’m aware, by the way, of the self-serving emphasis pro-gun campaigners place on Hollywood violence. But cultural differences – shared ideas about how guns get used in society – may be a factor in explaining this aspect of American exceptionalism. In Switzerland, apparently, the main problem they have with their high gun ownership is an increased suicide rate.

On the news right now they’re running the politicians’ reactions to the shootings. Wall to wall platitude. If they had any self respect they’d come out and say, “A bunch of people died. Never mind. Plenty more where they came from.” It’s obviously what they believe. If they believed anything else, they’d act accordingly.

37

Christopher Stephens 07.20.12 at 9:10 pm

If anyone is interested, Nisbett and Cohen have a wonderful book (Culture of Honor: the psychology of violence in the South) about violence in the southern part of the USA.

38

JP Stormcrow 07.20.12 at 10:13 pm

I’m going to guess that very few places other than the US would you see a concept like “hoplophobia” taken seriously. First became aware of it recently when it was proactively used in an attempt to cut off a potential discussion similar to this one.

39

Katherine 07.20.12 at 10:51 pm

there were graphics comparing USA, Canada and UK for homicides for a given population and age. The maximum in the three cases was about 24 years-old for the three countries,

I’m willing to bet the correlation with “male” was pretty high as well. Which I say not particularly to suggest that younger men are inherently violent (there are vastly more 24 year old men who are not violent after all) but merely to point out that “24 year-olds” misses out probably several other relevant demographic details.

40

faustusnotes 07.20.12 at 11:41 pm

I think these charts could just represent the multiplying effect of guns. Looking at the raw assault numbers, I suspect you’d find much less difference between the UK and the USA.

41

Antoni Jaume 07.20.12 at 11:46 pm

«there were graphics comparing USA, Canada and UK for homicides for a given population and age. The maximum in the three cases was about 24 years-old for the three countries,

I’m willing to bet the correlation with “male” was pretty high as well. »

Well, I thought it would be evident from « but in 2000 Scientific american published a special edition on ‘Man’»

So yes, those are the value for male individuals, to be sure I believe I remember that there was too a line for women, but it was much lower in the three cases

42

Antoni Jaume 07.20.12 at 11:55 pm

faustusnotes, that is what motivate the partisans of gun control. Still, when guns are out of the question, there is usually more equality between the antagonists, so they may refrain to enter a brawl in which they could get out badly. With a gun the outcome may be instantaneous, so maybe you won’t directly confront who you feel has offended you, but you may get out and ambush him almost without possibility of a reprisal

43

Patrick S. O'Donnell 07.21.12 at 12:24 am

I wrote the following earlier on my FB page and thus was glad to see Kieran posted this again.

I think my country, the United States, is a rather militaristic and violent society generally, from the military industrial complex and the national security state, through popular films, video games, television shows, etc. Now of course not all people exposed to such things are affected in the same way, and there’s the rub. The wide variety of personalities or temperaments and character types, combined with genetic inheritance and socialization processes, leaves some individuals more prone to being affected by such things than others: they’re intrinsically vulnerable we might say (and that vulnerability is likely expressed in symptoms of mental illness). Of course it is hard to identify just who are such individuals, but often, especially in intimate social interactions, people have hunches, suspicions, concerns, and so forth, which they may or may not act upon owing to, among other things, not wanting to get involved, uncertainty, or fear, for example. To make matters worse, our mental health system in this country is a mess, in part as a result of “de-institutionalization,” which has had some perverse effects probably not anticipated by those who advocated earlier and in some measure necessary changes in mental health care and treatment. I’m not sure who the government official was speaking at one of the press conferences this morning, but he referred to the suspect as something on the order of a “freak of nature,” while yet another public official spoke of this as an “isolated incident” (which, literally, it appears to be). Both of these descriptions are not at all helpful in our attempts to explain or make some sense of this act of violence. Nor are accounts which speak of this as simply an inexplicable act of evil. Such characterizations permit us to avoid looking at how our society and culture bear some measure of responsibility for the kinds of individuals (and communities) that compose it, and I say that without in any way wanting to diminish the notion of individual moral responsibility. Individual lives are not lived in vacuums, and there are myriad effects on them, some of them identifiable, others hidden or mysterious. I prefer, however painful or inchoate, to see all of us as sharing in the complicity of such acts in a general sense insofar as we’ve done nothing to change a society which is clearly violent and in which an incredibly large number of people display symptoms of mental illness. Erich Fromm got close to the problem in speaking of a “pathology of normalcy” (the particular locution was his but the idea has ancient pedigree). As far back as the 1950s, Fromm wrote that much of our cultural and political life evidence expressions of low-grade, chronic schizoid tendencies. In short, our society is in many respects “sick,” and this latest incident is one of the more visible and terrible symptoms of that sickness.

44

Trevor 07.21.12 at 12:38 am

It would be interesting to “correct” this for population aging. It would be fairly easy, just split up the violent crimes into age groups, then split up population into age groups as a function of time. You may notice the decline in deaths due to violent crime correlates with a decline in the 18-36 year old male.

Removing this aging effect would allow you to see if a countries populace is better behaved over time and we are becoming more “civilized”.

45

Allison Zapata 07.21.12 at 12:42 am

Great info. Great post. And, for once, an unaggressive, rational comment stream..

46

Britta 07.21.12 at 2:14 am

@11
I would also like to look at other areas with high crime and homicide rates: Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and elsewhere. What traits do they share with the US but not East Asia and the EU?

High Gini coefficients? One obvious major factor not mentioned here is social/economic inequality.

47

fivethirds 07.21.12 at 2:44 am

America is no country for old men.

48

heckblazer 07.21.12 at 3:08 am

Gene O’Grady @ 24
That towns in the American West generally had extremely strict gun control laws probably helped keep the violence down.

Zeluz @ 35
Machine guns are banned in the US, so a legal AK-47 is functionally no different from any other semi-automatic rifle. I’d agree with the sentiment that wanting use military rifles for hunting is creepy, but I find creepiness an insufficient justification for legislation.

faustusnotes @ 40
I agree that guns are a likely multiplying factor, but that doesn’t explain the shape of the rainbow curve.

Brita @ 46
Inequality in the US has been increasing dramatically over the last 30 years while violence has dropped over the same period.

49

Stevenla 07.21.12 at 3:45 am

In about 6 hours I’ll leave here, Monterrey, to drive through Nuevo Laredo to Laredo Texas. I’ll leave at 4.30 am and hope the bad guys are sleeping. I hope to be crossing the border at 6.30am.
I don’t know anybody who smokes pot or ingests drugs yet here we are in Mexico fighting the USA’s War on drugs. Both sides … no all sides are armed with guns that came from the USA.
60,000 people shot with US sold guns or kidnapped at the point of a gun sold in the USA and then butchered with knives and axes made in China.
Sometimes I feel that there is not enough violence in the USA, then I read about people being shot at the cinema and I regain my rationality.

50

hartal 07.21.12 at 4:01 am

Haven’t read comparison of Europe to US by Peter Baldwin Narcissism of Minor Differences. Believe that he questions whether the US is in fact more gun-toting and violent than Europe.

51

faustusnotes 07.21.12 at 5:34 am

heckblazer, it’s just a cohort effect combined with the large increase in gun ownership since the war. Most of the other curves in that series show a similar rainbow curve, it’s just flatter because they aren’t so dependent on teh vicissitudes of a) guns and b) drug wars.

Also, someone up above raised the usual canard of immigration. That doesn’t fit the curve at all, with murders falling fast since immigration increased.

52

Tom T. 07.21.12 at 5:41 am

Re: 6 and 7. The significant variable is not region but race. The CDC reports (link below) that homicide deaths for non-Hispanic whites are 2.6 per 100k (i.e., not far off from the rest of the OECD), Asian-Americans 2.2, Hispanics 7.2, and African-Americans 19.3. This works out to an overall rate 0f 5.7, as shown in Kieran’s chart.

It’s important to keep this disparity in mind when discussing attitudes toward gun violence in the US. The occasional spree killing notwithstanding, most white Americans will never experience gun violence, and gun control is therefore an issue of low relevance for them. The ultimate problem is narrower in scope than the overall numbers would suggest: How to better protect the lives of America’s minorities? And of course, that’s something this country has consistently failed at in so many ways.

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5904a1.htm
(scroll down to table 11).

53

ponce 07.21.12 at 6:39 am

“gun control is therefore an issue of low relevance for them. “

Though I’m for more gun control I realize that won’t be happening any time soon.

So I’d settle for forcing gun stores that sell weapons used to murder people to display a plaque that reads, “We sold Soandso the weapon he used to kill x innocent people.”

54

Peter Erwin 07.21.12 at 10:29 am

Gene O’Grady @ 24:
I’m quite sure that with a few exceptions (Lincoln County War, maybe some of the cattle drives, Texas) there was less of violence in the 19th century West than in the contemporary big cities in the East.

I suspect you may be managing to substitute the “cities are full of sin and violence” myth for the Wild West myth…

From this web page summarizing work at OSU’s Criminal Justice Research Center on historical violence:

Was the “Old West” violent? Scholars have established that it was not as violent as most movies and novels would suggest…. Still, homicide rates in the West were extraordinarily high by today’s standards and by the standards of the rest of the United States and the Western world in the nineteenth century, except for parts of the American South during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

55

fs 07.21.12 at 10:34 am

The tables in 6 show quite an inverse relationship between suicide and homicide, Rocky Mountain states such as Montana, Idaho topping the scale for suicide and at the bottom for homicide. Widespread hunting gun ownership may be better as explanation for a high suicide rate than for murder.

56

Y. 07.21.12 at 11:22 am

Violent mostly because of it’s history of slavery….

US murder rate 5 /100K
African Americans murder rate: 18.8 /100K (stand alone, 93% of the time other AA’s are responsible)
US murder rate sans AA’s would be 2.7 / 100K

57

heckblazer 07.21.12 at 11:28 am

Matt McIrvin @ 26:
In general I would find exceptionally odd to find a gun laying around in the open when visiting someone’s house. Indeed, I’ve known a number of gun owners and I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever seen one of their guns. However, if I was over at the SF writer Jerry Pournelle’s house and saw a gun laying around I would be both thoroughly unsurprised and unlikely to say anything critical.

Something that I personally found a bit odd was when I was visiting a friend’s house and saw a upscale glossy lifestyle magazine called Garden & Gun on the coffee table. His wife is a subscriber, though mainly for the “garden” part.

faustusnotes @49:
If by cohort you mean the baby boom you’re definitely on to something. The baby boom in the US peaked at around 1957, and lo about 18 years later we get the peak in violence. The second peak would likewise correlate well with the height of the crack epidemic. I would be curious if demographic trends in other countries similarly tracked the trends in violence.

As for gun ownership rates, ownership by household has declined from 54% in 1977 to around 35% in 2006. Unfortunately I haven’t turned up ownership statistics from before 1972, so I don’t know if there is a corresponding increase in ownership in the 1960s.

However, gun ownership by itself doesn’t strike me as the likely answer. Switzerland has an estimated 46 civilian firearms per 100 people and Finland 45 per 100, yet Finland has a bit more violence. England and Wales have dramatically fewer guns at 6 civilian firearms per 100, yet the UK doesn’t have much less violence than Switzerland (I assuming that Scotland and N. Ireland are largely similar here; I’m sure I’ll be soundly corrected if I’m wrong).

58

faustusnotes 07.21.12 at 11:32 am

heckblazer, the numbers you quote for declines in gun ownership precisely track with the curve in the OP.

59

Belle Waring 07.21.12 at 11:33 am

South Carolina! We’re number one! We’re number one!

60

Peter T 07.21.12 at 12:02 pm

Availability of guns certainly has something to do with overall violent death rates – AFAIK stricter gun controls in Australia have led to a drop on suicides (but do not seem to have had much effect on homicides).

On the US, the decline in deaths also coincides with the onset of mass incarceration – which particularly affects young males and blacks. So it may be that the most relevant parts of the US population are not getting more peaceful, but are simply unable to act on their grievances.

61

Peter T 07.21.12 at 12:08 pm

Not time series, but this gives some global perspective on homicides:

http://chartsbin.com/view/1454

62

Matt McIrvin 07.21.12 at 12:26 pm

Are there statistics on mass shootings of the sort that happened in Aurora, as opposed to general homicides? I wonder if they track each other or not. The US seems to be the one place where these things happen often enough that aggregating them might be useful.

63

Matt McIrvin 07.21.12 at 12:31 pm

@heckblazer: Switzerland is a really unusual case, given that its rate of gun ownership derives from universal male military conscription; these aren’t hunting guns, collectors’ guns or pistols bought for self-defense. Still, it is an interesting case for the purpose of teasing out the pure effect of guns from other things.

64

Harold 07.21.12 at 12:38 pm

I once saw a TV program about gun control that mentioned gun ownership in Switzerland, where government keeps strict track of every gun and every bullet. In Switzerland gun inspectors come to your house to keep track of how many guns you have. You also have to account for every bullet you purchase. It is no way comparable to the situation in the US, where people can buy guns more or less anonymously.

65

Matt McIrvin 07.21.12 at 12:41 pm

@Patrick O’Donnell:

There’s no question that we have a major problem with mental health care. Deinstitutionalization was supposed to come with a renewed emphasis on community mental health care for un-institutionalized people, and it hasn’t. I tend to see it as part and parcel of the crisis of American health care in general. And the ready availability of guns means that psychotics have access to means to kill lots of people.

Still, I am always a bit suspicious of claims that the modern world or modern America is unusually prone to psychosis, or is somehow generally schizotypal in ways that other places and times are not. It’s entirely possible, but how would one even begin to measure that, with changes in diagnostic criteria and changes in the way people deal with mental illness?

Aside from the former tendency to lock up anyone remotely “crazy” in an institution, one thing that strikes me is that consumption of alcohol in the US has been gradually declining for a very long time, and people used to drink extraordinarily large amounts of it. I wonder if many people who would now be classified as mentally ill used to just self-medicate and come under the general heading of violent drunks.

66

Peter Erwin 07.21.12 at 12:46 pm

Peter T @ 57:
On the US, the decline in deaths also coincides with the onset of mass incarceration

The problem with this argument is that Canadian homicide rates have behaved in a strikingly similar fashion to US rates (except for the important difference of the Canadian rate being several times lower).[*] Since Canada did not massively boost its incarceration rates the way the US did, it’s less plausible that incarceration is a significant factor in the US decrease.

[*] See this figure, from this study.

67

novakant 07.21.12 at 12:48 pm

It is no way comparable to the situation in the US

Indeed:

Dan Oates, the chief of police in Aurora, Colorado, where Holmes killed 12 people and injured 58 others, said: ’He purchased four guns at local gun shops and through the internet he purchased over 6,000 rounds of ammunition, more than 3,000 rounds of 0.223 ammunition for the assault rifle, 3,000 rounds of 0.40 calibre ammunition for the two Glocks in his possession, and 300 rounds for the 12 gauge shotgun.

“Also through the internet he purchased multiple magazines for the 0.223 calibre assault rifle including one 100-round drum magazine which was recovered from the scene.

“Even if it was semi-automatic I’m told by experts that with that drum magazine he could have got off 50 to 60 rounds within a minute.

68

Fred 07.21.12 at 1:29 pm

45% of US households own guns, thats roughly 52,000,000 households. How many went out on Thursday night and shot people in a movie theatre: 1

Obviously those 52,000,000 households should have their constitutional rights restricted due to the actions of 1 individual.

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_gun_owners_are_there_in_the_United_States_of_America#ixzz21DQSKcrG

69

bert 07.21.12 at 1:49 pm

This from yesterday’s paper:
bq. London is fairly safe. Like New York, it has about eight million inhabitants, but London had 125 murders in 2010, whereas New York – supposedly the safest big American city – had 536.

I remember gun control came up as a subject on CT last summer, when there were three days of rioting across England. Several Americans turned up in comments to suggest that Britain would benefit from US gun laws. The widespread availability of guns would alter incentives and cause rioters to think twice before they went out looting, they said. What was striking was their utter bafflement when asked to consider whether these guns might be used offensively. It seems to me the best way to explain this bafflement is with a cultural argument.

The other day while waiting for the season opener of Breaking Bad to illegally download, I looked to see what the reaction had been from American viewers. There was a discussion about why the series had failed to find an audience when it aired in the UK, and one commenter suggested that, because it was a story of an individual who had chosen to reject the compromises of his society and take a stand in defiance of restrictive drug laws and the repression of the state, that it was uniquely American in a way that didn’t resonate elsewhere. I thought this was an odd reading, given that the main character had finished the previous season poisoning a child. And watching the episode it was obvious that the issue of whether Walter White is a bad man will be a key theme in the show’s final season. But clearly there’s an archetype of a strongly self-reliant loner applying his own morality, and not afraid to use violence to do it, that this commenter was responding to. The perversion of this archetype into the nutcase mass murderer isn’t exclusively American, of course. Anders Breivik, from euroweenie Scandinavia, would be a perfectly stereotypical example. But it does seem more prevalent in the States.
Someone upthread mentioned Erich Fromm, and the notion that while madness exists, the form in which it expresses itself is culturally determined. That’s something worth remembering the next time you hear someone describe the shooter as a lunatic.

Part of the problem with cultural arguments is that they can easily become an excuse for inaction. Which is exactly the reason why the NRA takes such a stern line on Hollywood violence. Yet it would seem obvious that you’re making progress if you narrow the opportunities available to the deranged individual to act out the full extent of their fantasies. Which brings us back to gun control.

70

Roger Gathman 07.21.12 at 2:01 pm

I don’t know about constitutional rights. I think, however, restricting semi-automatic weaponry should be easier than restricting lower grade weapons, and I wish that happened. Unless there are strong cultural norms in place, consumer objects that are easy to make and trade, and that have a strong market of consumers that will take risks to acquire them, are very hard to regulate. Saturday night specials, for instance, are much harder to regulate than semi-automatic rifles. When seeking to ban a substance in industry, regulators look at its function and possible substitutes. We could have guns and still have semi automatic weapon control. In fact, this meets the criticism of the nra types who claim that hey, if the citizenry had come armed to watch batman, they could have taken the guy out. Not really, not with a semi-automatic rifle of the type he wielded. But they could have with the kind of guns they had in 1789. Let’s go for rounds parity.

71

Patrick S. O'Donnell 07.21.12 at 2:07 pm

Re: (Matt @ 62) “Still, I am always a bit suspicious of claims that the modern world or modern America is unusually prone to psychosis, or is somehow generally schizotypal in ways that other places and times are not. It’s entirely possible, but how would one even begin to measure that, with changes in diagnostic criteria and changes in the way people deal with mental illness?”

On the question of why and how entire societies might be “sick,” I would recommend the chapter, “Consensus, Conformity, and False Consciousness: ‘The Pathology of Normalcy,’” in Daniel Burston, The Legacy of Erich Fromm (1991). As to questions of “measurement,” I’m not confident that such claims are amenable to measurement, at least not in any definitive sense in a way that my satisfy current epidemiological standards (which themselves are contestable), although I do believe we can assemble evidence and reasons of various kinds on behalf of such a claim. At least one reason for epidemiological skepticism is provided by Burston: “When it comes to questions of fundamental sanity, laypeople and clinicians alike are accustomed to gauging the sanity of thought processes in terms of the degree of consensual validation that attaches to their content, and terms of the adequacy or intelligibility of their underlying process (so far as we can apprehend it). Many of the diagnostic instruments and protocols used by mental health professionals are merely refined and systematic extensions of these commonsense assumptions.”

In addition, the very idea of the pathology of normalcy is found in ancient Greece before, with, and after Plato (e.g., Hellenistic ethical philosophies like Epicureanism and Stoicism), as well as among Hindu and Buddhist philosophers, Daoist sages, and rabbinical traditions.

Leaving that aside, and conceding the increasing psychological “medicalization” of certain otherwise normal mental attitudes, moods, dispositions, or emotional states like sadness or shyness (see works by Allan Horowitz and Jermoe Wakefield, and Christopher Lane, respectively),

“It seems that Americans are in the midst of a raging epidemic of mental illness, at least as judged by the increase in the numbers treated for it. The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from one in 184 Americans to one in seventy-six. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. Mental illness is now the leading cause of disability in children, well ahead of physical disabilities like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, for which the federal programs were created.

A large survey of randomly selected adults, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and conducted between 2001 and 2003, found that an astonishing 46 percent met criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for having had at least one mental illness within four broad categories at some time in their lives. The categories were ‘anxiety disorders,’ including, among other subcategories, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); ‘mood disorders,’ including major depression and bipolar disorders; ‘impulse-control disorders,’ including various behavioral problems and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and ‘substance use disorders,’ including alcohol and drug abuse. Most met criteria for more than one diagnosis. Of a subgroup affected within the previous year, a third were under treatment—up from a fifth in a similar survey ten years earlier.” (Marcia Angell in the NYRB)

Of course this raises all sorts of questions, the most important of which Angell asks:

“What is going on here? Is the prevalence of mental illness really that high and still climbing? Particularly if these disorders are biologically determined and not a result of environmental influences, is it plausible to suppose that such an increase is real? Or are we learning to recognize and diagnose mental disorders that were always there? On the other hand, are we simply expanding the criteria for mental illness so that nearly everyone has one? And what about the drugs that are now the mainstay of treatment? Do they work? If they do, shouldn’t we expect the prevalence of mental illness to be declining, not rising?”

I do think American society is “sick” generally, and I think there are in fact a lot of people who are quite unhappy, miserable, anxious, fearful, and to such an extent that we cannot understand them to be in any way flourishing, mentally speaking. Does this amount to mental illness as defined by psychiatrists and psychologists? Sometimes, and of course the boundaries between unhappiness, everyday depression, and generalized anxiety and the exhibition of pathological symptoms is not always clear. In short, there is precious little evidence of eudemonia among the populace and a sufficient evidence of widespread mental illness of various kinds and degrees of severity. The main problem with the former is that it may be a breeding ground for the latter. People are in fact, at least in the first instance and as a matter of speaking, self-diagnosing (and then they proceed to the clinic, hoping for a prescription for a psychoactive drug), as well as self-medicating (is drug use declining?).

72

JJ 07.21.12 at 2:07 pm

Gun ownership is the social safety net provided for the more indigent members of American society, instead of healthcare and the other social welfare programs provided for the more affluent members of the same society.

73

heckblazer 07.21.12 at 2:11 pm

Harold @61:
You are absolutely correct that Switzerland has a radically different regulation regime supported by a radically different gun culture. That difference in culture is precisely why lots of guns don’t necessarily correlate with lots of violence.

As to what the heck is the source of the crazy American gun culture, I have a suspicion that the states with some of the most liberal gun laws also being the ones that spent two centuries or so under constant threat of slave rebellions is not a coincidence.

Novakant @64:
Magazines that big fortunately are not legal in every state. Heck, the magazine size limits were about the only thing in the lapsed federal assault weapons ban that did anything.

74

faustusnotes 07.21.12 at 2:14 pm

also body armour and tear gas. Why does any citizen need that shit?

75

GiT 07.21.12 at 2:22 pm

Young black males might benefit from the body armor.

76

bianca steele 07.21.12 at 3:00 pm

Breaking Bad was too gory for me, but the idea of the hero/villain being a (white) teacher who just gets fed up with the ineptitude of his students and with the industry as it is (with lots of nonwhite actors) was interesting. Maybe it’s a parable about the need to distinguish theory from practice.

I really somehow doubt the same solutions are going to work for Colorado and the South Bronx. The rise in violence coincides with, among other things, Vietnam, and a mass migration from rural to urban areas, and predates violent media. There are lots of people in violent communities working to help people there, and this discussion hasn’t engaged with that in any way. Instead, we seem to be interested, not surprisingly, in keeping suburban kids from torturing puppies.

77

Chris Bertram 07.21.12 at 3:22 pm

Just had a little exchange with Kieran on twitter, that might be worth sharing. The murder rate might have declined in the US since the mid-70s, but spree killing seems to have taken off in the 1980s and not to have happened much before then.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spree_killer

78

ponce 07.21.12 at 3:43 pm

“Police leaders blame ‘prevalence of guns’ for recent Seattle violence”

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Police-leaders-blame–155518185.html

79

Watson Ladd 07.21.12 at 3:58 pm

Chris, there is still one spree killing every 2 years or so, at maximum. Even the tight Finnish gun control laws had no impact on their spree killers. Better mental health care resources would probably make things better.

ponce, police love gun control because it makes the citizens dependent on them. Are you going to hear them say “it’s because we don’t devote the time to arrest gang leaders who commit these murders?”

80

Alison P 07.21.12 at 4:01 pm

Breaking Bad was shown on some obscure subchannel of Five. I just think it hasn’t had its chance yet with the British audience.

I have an idea, or a daft theory, that British fiction is about the decay of the home community, or revelation of the horror that is within in, and American fiction is about a person losing his link to the community and losing himself, becoming inhuman.

There was an article in the Guardian a couple of days ago linking the decline in homicide to the decline in domestic violence, attributed to women having more economic power and the police taking it more seriously. Or perhaps simply that its easier nowadays to Get Away from a bad marriage.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jul/19/falling-murder-rate-domestic-violence

81

Chris Bertram 07.21.12 at 4:05 pm

_Chris, there is still one spree killing every 2 years or so_

Yes Watson, and there were 6 in the first 8 decades on the 20th century in the US. So I’d say there’s been something of a change!

82

lurker 07.21.12 at 4:17 pm

‘That difference in culture is precisely why lots of guns don’t necessarily correlate with lots of violence.’ (heckblazer, 70)
The controls keep the obviously unfit from having guns, which is something.
In Finland we have about as many guns as in Switzerland but a lot more violence.
However, the violence typically does not involve guns, as the usual perpetrators would not get a license for a gun. They have to stick to drunken knifings and kicking people’s heads in.

83

Adam Roberts 07.21.12 at 4:22 pm

Putting hunting/rural pest control and so on to one side for a moment. Why do people want guns? Or to put it another way: what do guns do for people? I ask because it seems to me that guns can only do three things: they can kill, injure or intimidate. Now, only psychopaths actively want to kill or injure other people, and the 52 million US households with guns aren’t all psychopaths. So those people want guns in order to intimidate other people. They may, for instance, wish to intimidate notional burglars and assailants and the like; or they may wish to intimidate ‘the government’, so that ‘the government’ think twice about oppressing the people. Of course, people may describe this in terms of ‘protection’, but that’s a non-starter — these graphs show pretty comprehensively that if protection is what you want, you’re better off living in a place with lower levels of gun ownership, not higher. More, the problem with an entire culture predicated upon ‘intimidation’ is too manifest to need spelling out, I’d say. You can’t start intimidating other people without becoming intimidated yourself. The more you use threat to define your social relations, the less secure and confident you can be, socially speaking.

84

James Wimberley 07.21.12 at 4:53 pm

Finland and Switzerland do combine low overall gun crime with widespread gun ownership. But their generally orderly culture has not protected them from spree killers using guns.

85

bianca steele 07.21.12 at 4:59 pm

The St. Valentine’s Day massacre is missing from the Wikipedia page linked @74, so presumably mass killings that would be grouped under “gangland” or “juvenile gang” are all excluded from the category “spree killings.” (And if a person gets drunk and drives a Humvee down the wrong side of the Interstate and kills eight people, that’s not included either, I guess.) They seem to happen mostly where there is apparently little organized violent crime.

86

bianca steele 07.21.12 at 5:05 pm

At least in the US–I’m not aware of similar organized violent crime in Western Europe for the most part–there’s the Russian/Ukrainian mob, of course, and the Italian mob, and political groups and occasional jewel-theft rings, but my impression (apparently partly from movies) is that with the exception of the first, the level and prevalence of violence are largely less than the equivalents in the relevant sections of the US.

87

PJW 07.21.12 at 5:42 pm

Mass shootings in the United States since 2005 (found this in Roger Ebert’s Journal essay on the Aurora, Colo., massacre):
http://www.bradycampaign.org/studies/view/141/

88

Paul 07.21.12 at 5:54 pm

I was struck by a rough correlation between economic boom/bust cycles and the graph’s peaks and valleys. The 8 year terms of both Reagan and Clinton were marked by lower violence with a spike during the interposed reign of Bush pére I know Reagan’s term wasn’t all positive economically. Maybe it’s tax rates? Reagan, Clinton, Bush fils all cut them and look at the results.

89

wayne 07.21.12 at 7:05 pm

I don’t think it was mentioned above, but the disappearance of leaded gasoline in the 70s may also play a role in the more recent decrease in violent crimes in the US (http://tinyurl.com/7fbhgo6). However, it’s not clear to me whether environmental lead levels in the US have been consistently higher than in other countries (to help explain the generally high rates).

90

JJ 07.21.12 at 7:14 pm

Well, tax cuts are great, and all that. But someone has to pay for all the lawyers, guns and money we employ to intimidate the less affluent who must support the less indigent.

91

Peter Erwin 07.21.12 at 7:46 pm

Matt Stevens @ 11:
I’d like to see a comparison of non-lethal crime rates. Does the US have more crime, or just more homicides, than other industrialized nations, and if so how big are the differences?

This paper [PDF] from 2010 says that overall European crime rates are now higher than US crime rates (where “European” really means Austria, Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and UK):

In 1970 the aggregate crime rate in the seven European countries we consider was 63% the corresponding US figure, but by 2007 it was 85% higher than in the US. This striking reversal results from the steady increase of the total crime rate in Europe during the last 40 years, and the decline of the US rate after 1990. The reversal of misfortunes is also observed for property and violent crimes.

Their plots show that “property crime” has started to decline since the early 1990s, but still remains higher than the US (though there’s a lot of variation by country, so a couple of countries do have lower rates than the US). “Violent crime” rates (“homicide, serious or aggravated assault, robbery and sexual offenses”) have generally crept upwards in the 7 European countries since the 1970s (except for Italy, where it went down until ~ 1990, and then started going up), and have been higher than the US since ~ 2000.

92

Omega Centauri 07.21.12 at 11:03 pm

I’ve heard that the effort to eliminate environmental lead exposure (mainly old paint, plus lead based gasoline additives), has a lot to do with the recent reduction in violent crime rates. This at least seems plausible, better brain chemistry ought to be better in general.

The US south is big on Honour culture, where an insult to one’s (male) honour is supposed to be met with violence or the threat to violence. I suspect that because of that, when the occasion arises, the unthinkable is less unthinkable than would otherwise be the case.

How do we measure spree violence? Do random shootings on the interstate count? I suspect that low level or relatively ineffective instances just don’t make it into that once every two years statistic. Seems we have a number of thwarted school attacks, as well as instances of disgruntled -or fired employees going postal, do any of these make the statistic?

93

Salient 07.21.12 at 11:46 pm

Why do people want guns? Or to put it another way: what do guns do for people?

For one category of American men, it reinforces their authority by providing threat credibility, and reinforces their gender identity by emphasizing their role as protector of the innocent. You’ll pretty much never see a guy who’s a gun rights advocate complain that he feels unsafe–it’s always about them providing for the safety of their family–and such types pretty much never say something like “if someone there had been concealed carrying, he or she could’ve taken out James Eagan Holmes before he got a round off.” They’re the ones who provide some sort of narrative description of how easily they could have disposed of the threat if empowered to do so, pretty clearly with a vivid image in their head of the act of heroism they would commit. (And they’re perfectly okay with a teammate acting in their stead. Heroes are guys on a team. That’s why the protestation “but what if ten people all draw their guns and start firing” doesn’t faze them.) In this conception, men subcategorize into potential villains and potential heroes (or neither), but womenandchildren don’t. A tragedy like this is Villains 1, Heroes 0. Gun control handicaps the would-be heroes who are upstanding lawful citizens, and has less of an effect on the would-be villains, because villains don’t follow laws. The herofolk’s longing feeling, of wanting to have been there so that they could have put down the villain, overtakes their sense of shock and concern; from the start they’ll say it was a “needless tragedy” and emphasize the needless part (after all, villains cause tragedies; it’s what they do; be strong enough to not feel mournful about it; and y’know if you would just let the would-be heroes be heroes, maybe the villains wouldn’t be so damn successful).

Women seem to get folded into the potential heroes category by some kind of ad hoc Madonna of the Trail clause (tough and tireless frontier woman, protecting kids and self and property with a shotgun while the man’s away) that folks like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin have glommed onto.

It’s only one subsegment though; probably the most vocal after a tragedy, but they’re notably different from the more common hunter mentality and rural life utility mentality (lots of completely sane and reasonable folks around where I used to teach would always carry a pistol and knife in their vehicle’s glove compartment, as tools rather than weapons, because e.g. you literally never know when you’ll need to put a deer down) and extension-of-self mentality (e.g. folks who shoot guns almost exclusively at target ranges, and have the same sort of identity connection to their guns that others might feel with, I dunno, their car or truck or collection of D&D books–these folks used to scare me with their disturbingly expansive and intricate knowledge of weaponry capabilities and usage, ’til someone kindly compared it to having the entire 2E Wizards’ Spell Compendium memorized). The overlap with some kind of military mentality is really fuzzy to me; lots of former soldiers do talk the same way about how they could have neutralized the threat, but tend to have the opposite preconception of ‘heroes and villains’, they’re a soldier acting matter-of-factly out of a sense of social duty, with less of a heroic self-conception as protector of the weak and innocent.

94

Omega Centauri 07.22.12 at 1:33 am

Most of the folks I know who have a gun for home protection (as opposed to hunting, or collectorship) have a heightened (I would say overblown) sense of the odds of home invasion. I suspect this has a lot to do with our media’s fascination with violence.

95

Matt 07.22.12 at 2:49 am

Why do people want guns? Or to put it another way: what do guns do for people? I ask because it seems to me that guns can only do three things: they can kill, injure or intimidate.

Well, I haven’t physically possessed a guy for a long time (15 years or so) but I suppose there’s still a sense in which I’m a gun owner (the gun, an ex-police revolver .357, is at my parent’s house) and I was never the least bit interested in any of those things. What I did enjoy, and still enjoy at times, is target shooting, or even shooting at old cans and the like. Shoot clay pigeons is also fun, though I’ve only done it a couple of times and have never owned (or wanted to own) a shotgun. Target shooting is also kind of expensive (you can shoot a lot of rounds pretty quickly) and in many areas not super easy to do, so I haven’t kept up with it. (Plus, I didn’t want to bother with the necessary safety measures for keeping a gun, nor deal with getting it registered and licensed in a state where I would have had to do that.) But, in the right circumstances I’d enjoy having a guy for target shooting, since I enjoy target shooting from time to time. When I visit my family I often enjoy going target shooting, and pretty much none of the guns my family members have are for anything else.

I should add that I wouldn’t feel aggrieved if laws where changed with the side-effect that target shooting was made much harder. That would seem to be a legitimate thing for a democratic government to do. But I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in enjoying shooting and having a gun for reasons other than those listed above.

96

faustusnotes 07.22.12 at 3:40 am

Watson:

police love gun control because it makes the citizens dependent on them

Perhaps you are unaware that in the Port Arthur massacre, Martin Bryant killed 12 people in the first 15 seconds of the incident. How do you think those 12 people would have survived had they all been armed?

In this case a man in body armour threw tear gas into a darkened cinema, in the middle of a gunfight scene, before firing into a seated crowd. Bullets from the incident went into the next cinema.

I do not understand why people continue to maintain that arming the population makes them less dependent on the police. This slaying and the Port Arthur massacre make it extremely clear that you can’t stop these incidents by arming other citizens, only by disarming criminals.

97

Watson Ladd 07.22.12 at 4:27 am

faustnotes, the Port Arthur Massacare isn’t the question. Home invasions, robberies, murders, and rape are. No gun control measure that would pass constitutional scrutiny would ever prevent a person without prior criminal history or mental disorder from buying a shotgun, and indeed in much of Europe that is quite possible today.

As for dependence on the police, you may want to ask Jessica Gonzales how that worked out for her. The police protect public order: they do not fight crime, or protect people, or punish lawbreakers, except incidentally to preserving the functioning of society. If the Upper West Side hade a crime rate comparable to the Bronx, heads would roll, more police would be hired, etc, etc.

98

faustusnotes 07.22.12 at 4:43 am

Maybe in America they don’t, Watson, but you should consider the possibility that their contribution to public order in other countries is part of the reason those countries have less crime.

How do you think allowing people with no criminal record to get access to tear gas and body armour is going to stop home invasions, murder and rape?

99

Watson Ladd 07.22.12 at 5:24 am

faustnotes, the body armor and tear gas aren’t the weapons that let him kill that many people that quickly: it was the rifle and the shotgun. As for the police actually effectively fighting crime in other countries, the slums of Paris contend with the housing projects of Chicago as areas most neglected by law enforcement. So long as the London riots targeted only immigrant shopkeepers and the homes of the poor, the riot police stood by, guarding the mansions of the rich. Like all rights in a capitalist society, law enforcement is conditioned upon having money.

100

faustusnotes 07.22.12 at 5:41 am

No watson, the police did not stand by guarding the mansions of the rich in the London riots. They fought the rioters where they were able, and attempted to protect the property and people under threat, not just the homes of the rich.

In your last comment you said Port Arthur and Aurora are not the issue. I asked how body armour and tear gas would protect the innocent form “home invasions, murder and rape” and now you want to talk about Aurora. Is that slippery, or what?

101

Bernard 07.22.12 at 5:59 am

when it comes to the AK-47 guns or the like. the only purpose is to kill many people quickly. that alone justifies banning it completely from the lock, stock and barrel. piece by piece. the right to own guns has become such a good Madison Avenue Ad and propaganda exercise. solve your problems with guns, defend yourself from the “other” who is coming for your wife, you money, your children. Defend your castle. Sell power in the form of a gun. Don’t get mad, get even! show who’s boss, have the last word. save face!

the idea of caring about minorities/the “Other” is so far fetched. Americans are raised to believe in that American Ideal/struggle. the Rugged Individual.vs. the Wilderness. Lord of the Flies struggle. Each on their own in the Naked Jungle, though nowadays it’s called the Urban Jungle. Society is just an after-thought, created when many of these “Rugged Individuals” wanted to “settle down.” Just look at the type of America in the Westerns and other movies. Holly wood tells our histories, or what they define as American.

Americans are very scared of crime/”other”/terrorists, what with the Global War on Terror indoctrinated since 9-11 upon the American public/baby. of course, we have always had own home grown terrorists, like McVeigh, Kaczynzski, Eric Randolph, Dr. Tiller’s killer, Holocaust Museum shooter, Disgruntled Post Office Workers, Abortion doctors/clinic bombings and many more . the list is long and too many to remember. even before Fox took charge of using fear of the “other” as the focus of communicating, the news has always been a focus on the “spectacle”. Guns are a great “spectacle” creator. News for Days and Days. Blood and Guts sells and keeps our attention. that’s just common interest, human nature, lest it be us lying there in a pool of blood.

giving up the right to buy an AK-47 or the like is not too much to ask. i’m really picky about whether i’d like some lunatic to have access to things like AK-47s. even if i can’t get some “type” of gun because some lunatic wouldn’t either, that’s okay with me. i would gather some types of guns/weapons need not be easily accessible to the general public. unless you want to have someone use these super efficient killing machines anytime they like, cause guns are guns, right? We see these mass killing on a regular basis now. and well, no they are not all guns in the “killing” sense, some guns are just better/super efficient at killing multitudes of people in one setting than others. Those “kind” of guns need to be extremely rare and hard to obtain. Keep the power/killing level down to a basic low number “clip”, so angry young men, mostly, can not do what the Tuscon, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the Texas Clock Tower shooter did.

America is special, anyway. just like our mass slayings in our high schools, our colleges. and now movie theatres. Coming to a location near you, eventually.

Despite all these senseless deaths, i can’t imagine anything changing about guns in America. there’s a fortune to be made in selling guns and ammunition. and America is all about selling things and making money. with this type of mindset, i would never imagine the “value” of society or of its’ members ever being on a par with making a fortune off of selling guns.

102

mijnheer 07.22.12 at 7:28 am

@18: “Or—they have guns for deer hunting, contra ChadW’s ‘the purpose of such is to take another’s life’, which is as silly a bit of sensationalism as the media sensationalism he deplores.”

What is deer hunting if not taking another’s life? While obviously not every hunter of animals is a likely hunter of humans, the perverse notion of masculinity that commonly plays a role in the hunting of animals (see Brian Luke’s Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals) undoubtedly rears its ugly head again in much of the gun violence directed against fellow humans.

103

Peter T 07.22.12 at 7:58 am

40 odd comments late – re Peter Erwin at 66, my point is that there are a lot of things going on, in a polity that is markedly different in many ways from most other OECD countries (size, the race factor, political and cultural evolution..). Over the last 30 years the US population has had a lot to get angry about, and one of its traditional ways of expressing social/political anger is to shoot each other. But the elements most likely to shoot each other have been locked up. I don’t know what the trajectory of deadly assault would be in the absence of either guns or mass jailing in the US, but I doubt that simple comparisons with other, very different countries shed much light.

104

Data Tutashkhia 07.22.12 at 8:26 am

Yes, what Matt said, target shooting. It’s good fun, including AK47, although, of course, you don’t need to own it and keep it at home.

Other things people don’t need: sports cars, motorcycles. Toyota Corolla would do. And it could be made to never exceed 120 km/hour. Or, even, with gps these days, any given road’s speed limit.

105

sanbikinoraion 07.22.12 at 1:01 pm

I wonder if the US’s large army and multiple foreign wars have something to do with the increase in mental health issues. I imagine everyone in the US knows at least 1 vet by now. War is hell.

106

bert 07.22.12 at 3:00 pm

#95:

bq. I haven’t physically possessed a guy for a long time… But, in the right circumstances I’d enjoy having a guy for target shooting

This may be one of the cultural differences we were discussing.

And views on the appropriate context for jokes may be another.
Commenters continue on Kieran’s followup thread.

107

Chris Johnson 07.22.12 at 7:22 pm

His books are a couple of decades old, but Roger Lane (emeritus history professor at Haverford College) spent much of his career studying the history of violence in America. Several of his books are worth looking at, particularly Murder in America (1997). His Roots of Violence in Black Philadelphia won the 1987 Bancroft Prize.

108

Bruce Boyden 07.22.12 at 7:50 pm

I’m curious about #2 and 3 in that graph — what’s up with Finland and Hungary? Is there something in common with the U.S.? Non-Indo-European languages?

109

Marc 07.22.12 at 11:25 pm

@99: It’s certainly useful to see the gun nut logic in its full flower. A semi-automatic weapon is not the same as a shotgun. There are plenty of ways that you can restrict the availability of weapons that are capable of killing a lot of people quickly – if you actually want to do so, as opposed to wanting to find excuses.

A kid in my neighborhood just died because he and his friends were fooling around with a loaded weapon that they found, presumably to guard against those “home invasions”. Somehow the answer is always more guns; always bigger guns; never any ground given. And I don’t know what will change things – we may well need a new Supreme Court that can return the second amendment to the way it was interpreted for a couple of centuries, and then a reaction against the lunatic fanaticism of the NRA.

110

JP Stormcrow 07.22.12 at 11:30 pm

It’s a bit of a cheap shot, of course, but this tweet from a mister_limey (via Roger Ebert) sums it up well: It says a lot about the US that when a man in a costume with a gun kills people, they ban costumes.

111

ChrisTS 07.23.12 at 12:31 am

@Watson:

I do not know if you are using ‘spree killing’ as it is officialy defined (2 or more sites with little time lapse between) or just as ‘mass killing.’

In July, 2012, alone, there were two other mass killings before the one in Aurora: Tuscaloosa, AL., on July 17 and Dover, DE, on July 9. There have also been ‘multiple death’ homicides that might or might not be categorized along with these three.

112

Patrick Cummins 07.23.12 at 1:34 am

If you subtract the smoothed curve from the US yearly data, you will see bumps in the residual. The timing of these bumps, actually temporary surges in the rate of assault deaths, coincides rather closely with the occurence of recessions in the US, with peaks in 1975, 1981, 1991-92, etc.

113

Salgood Sam 07.23.12 at 3:34 am

Notably almost all the charts illustrate the trend Steven Pinker pointed to in his last book, the decline of violence in general everywhere. The dramatic arc of the US chart not withstanding, they mostly point down at the end.

114

Alfa 07.23.12 at 3:56 am

@KimK 17: “I own more than one gun. I have no intent of murdering anyone, for any cause.”

Really? Can you prove it? Because I don’t know you, and I don’t have any reason to trust you.

I want my government to make you prove that you have no intent of murdering anyone, for any cause, before it allows you the means to kill me.

115

Joe Bloggs 07.23.12 at 4:34 am

#62.
“Are there statistics on mass shootings of the sort that happened in Aurora, as opposed to general homicides?

good question. Per Fallows. at the Atlantic:
“The Brady Campaign’s list of mass shootings in America
just since 2005 is 62 pages long..”

My look at this, I would say, a good number of these ‘mass” shootings
are the proverbial ex-boyfriend/ex-husband gone berserk; followed closely
by night-club/late-night bar shoot-em ups, and workplace violence (“gone Postal”)

But yet, there are plenty of horrifying stranger on stranger attacks in the
past years.. What’re the average numbers? I’d like to know too.

116

drs 07.23.12 at 5:56 am

“Putting hunting/rural pest control and so on to one side for a moment”

Uh, that’s a rather major aside.

Also, I don’t think your “mutual intimidation can’t work” argument works. The fearful but peacefully inclined gun owner doesn’t want to attack others, so others owning guns isn’t intrinsically a threat.

Attempts to appeal to increasing mental health problems run afoul of the murder rates doing down. And even the peak US rate was low by historical or worldwide standards. Attempts to appeal to Vietnam or incarceration as factors run somewhat afoul of, as the graphs show, *every* OECD country — okay, except New Zealand — becoming more violent. The US started high and soared even higher, but the rest have a bulge, or sometimes a sharper peak, in the 1975-1995 range.

OTOH the US obviously has a sharper curve, and one with three peaks (going by the dots, not the overly smoothed curve), so probably something, or somethings, special happened.

But, violence can be a result of mental illness or poor impulse control. But it can also be a rational response to a violent milieu. That might head into Prisoner’s Dilemma territory, but it’s still individually rational; if others are violent and there’s no one to appeal to, being credibly threatening yourself is necessary for defense.

117

iyer 07.23.12 at 6:28 am

118

Chris Bertram 07.23.12 at 7:32 am

_Notably almost all the charts illustrate the trend Steven Pinker pointed to in his last book_

Since Pinker claimed a general tendency in human history, and human history goes on a long time, I rather doubt that a trend in one country over a forty-year period has any relevance whatsoever.

119

Scott Martens 07.23.12 at 9:15 am

When Pinker, in a non-peer reviewed book, takes a stance that is at the same time contrarian, Whiggish and unambiguously supportive of cops, courts and state power, the correct response is to make sure no one has nicked your wallet. Even if, against all odds, he should turn out to be right, do not take it to be so until fully digested by at least two generations of anthropologists.

I haven’t read his new book, but I’ve read some of his others. Singer’s review in the NYT makes me strongly cynical since the arguments he picks out in support of Pinker are exactly the kind almost certain to be hopelessly wrong.

And as for the short term trends, a comparison with Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean would show people getting a lot more violent a lot more quickly over the last two decades, at least according the data on Wikipedia.

120

moron 07.23.12 at 11:24 am

I would be very interested to see the US statistics broken down into states of the former Confederacy vs. the others.

121

Matt McIrvin 07.23.12 at 11:46 am

Yeah, Pinker sounds like he was talking about a global multi-century trend. In the US, IIRC, the trend over the past century was that violent crime declined dramatically around and after World War II, then increased greatly and peaked from the late 1960s through sometime in the mid-90s (and it looks on that chart like a double peak, with the first apex in the 1970s and the second in the early-90s crack epidemic), then decreased after that for reasons that are still not entirely understood.

And a lot of current American folk notions about crime and violence come from people who are still reacting to that peak and aren’t even entirely aware of the subsequent downslope. Ask a random American and you will almost certainly find that they think violence has been monotonically increasing for decades.

Part of it is that Aurora-style mass killings that get a lot of attention may well be increasing in frequency, or at the very least getting individually worse. I’m still thinking it might be illuminating to separate those out from overall trends in US violence.

(Also, serial killers. This is entirely a gut thing, I have no data, but I have a vague impression that real-life serial killers aren’t as common as they used to be in the Seventies and Eighties, though TV shows and movies are still obsessed with them because they’re so well-suited to thriller and horror stories. Maybe it’s just easier to catch them now before the chain drags on for very long. Whereas spree killers can flourish even in an environment where the cops are very good at catching people, because the killing happens so fast without a lot of warning.)

122

Peter Erwin 07.23.12 at 12:07 pm

Scott Martens @ 117:
The general decrease in violence — in particular, homicide rates — over the past several hundred years in (at least) Europe and North America is fairly well documented. (See, for example, this [PDF] review article by Manual Eisner, or the references mentioned in the introduction to this article on homicide in Scandinavia). Pinker, as far as I can tell, is relying on a significant body of peer-reviewed research. (What anthropologists would have to do with this — as opposed to, say, historians, sociologists, and criminologists — rather escapes me.)

I do agree with Chris Bertram that changes on timescales of a decade or so are not that likely to involve the same factors as are involved in multi-century timescales (though it’s not a priori impossible).

And as for the short term trends, a comparison with Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean would show people getting a lot more violent a lot more quickly over the last two decades…

In the specific case of Mexico, I don’t think that’s correct (I’m not disputing the other cases). The increase in violence there is only in the last five years or so — and mostly in the northern states affected by drug cartel violence. From what I can tell (e.g., combining Figure 4b of this article with the Wikipedia page on “List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate”), Mexican homicide rates were roughly constant from 1980 to the early 1990s, and then started declining, reaching a minimum around 2007 (at which point they were almost half what they were in the 1980s).

123

Peter Erwin 07.23.12 at 12:22 pm

… In the US, IIRC, the trend over the past century was that violent crime declined dramatically around and after World War II…

To be a bit more precise (e.g., using the figure from this blog post, or the figure I linked to in my post @ 66), crime — or at least homicides — started declining in the mid-1930s, before WW2.

Just after WW2 there was a brief increase in the homicide rate, both in the US and in Canada[*]; I’d guess this is an example of the (apparently) quite common phenomenon of increased crime rates immediately after a war.

[*] It’s kind of striking how well the very broad, general trends in homicide rate agree between the US and Canada over the last century.

124

Salgood Sam 07.23.12 at 12:32 pm

” I rather doubt that a trend in one country over a forty-year period has any relevance whatsoever.”

You did not read me closely, i said “Notably almost all the charts”, not one chart.
Not looking at one country, and in his book he talked about a short term rise in the recent past followed by a continuation of the historical trends, downward. In almost all the graphs here, not just the USA one, it turns down at the end. That’s all i was talking about, regardless of what you think of his theories, the data does show the trend. Both here and over the long view.

125

Matt McIrvin 07.23.12 at 3:57 pm

Another thing to notice is that the recent drop in US violent crime seems to have stopped sometime in the early 2000s, and has been more or less flat since then at a level somewhat higher than the mid-century norm. Whether that’s a harbinger of an impending rise I leave to others to argue about, though many people seem surprised that there hasn’t been a huge jump after the 2008 financial crisis.

126

brum Joe 07.23.12 at 4:22 pm

There are probably a bunch of reasons for the decline from 1970 which in any case leveled off about 12 years ago. This also ignores the issue of relativity. There are probably fewer auto fatalities, smoking related or infant deaths per hundred thousand than in 1970. The public tolerance for deaths that can be prevented isn’t immutable.

127

nick 07.23.12 at 4:58 pm

I notice the peak in violence in the 70s is right about the same time as Roe v Wade….

Re: Matt McIrvin: in my town (You may have heard about Stockton, CA in the news recently) there has been an uptick in crime and violence since the 2008 crash. I think it’s a matter of demographics and locale as to the jump or lack thereof. To misquote William Gibson, the uptick is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

128

Nameless 07.23.12 at 6:25 pm

Paradoxically, death rates due to assault are a poor indicator of how violent the country is, when we’re comparing the United States, the country with an incredibly high rate of gun ownership, and countries where handguns are nonexistent.

According to OECD http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/safety/ , USA has the third _lowest_ assault rate of all developed countries, only ahead of Japan and Canada. However, U.S. assaults are significantly more likely to be lethal, primarily because of a large number of firearms, more specifically handguns, in the hands of the population.

A lot of the debate above misses the point. People are rarely murdered with shotguns, hunting rifles or semi-automatic weapons. Among cases where the murder weapon is known, around 90% of weapons are handguns. Banning AK-47’s would have a negligible effect on the number of homicides. If you want to make a dent in homicide rates, you can start by banning concealed carry nationwide (current patchwork system does not work), instituting and enforcing tough penalties for individuals found carrying concealed handguns in public, and working towards reducing the number of handguns in circulation per capita at least to Canadian levels (which are about 6 times lower than what we have in the States).

129

Nameless 07.23.12 at 8:25 pm

Oh, and I should add to the comment above that, personally, I am in favor of legal open carry and minimal restrictions on ownership of long guns, including semi-automatic and automatic weapons. These are protected by the Second Amendment, and, unlike in the case of handguns, there’s no evidence that their widespread presence leads to higher homicide rates. A classic example is Switzerland (lots of semi-automatics in private hands, relatively few handguns, low homicide rate).

130

Substance McGravitas 07.23.12 at 8:36 pm

Banning AK-47’s would have a negligible effect on the number of homicides.

If it would have an effect, even a negligible one, why isn’t that a good thing?

131

Nameless 07.23.12 at 8:55 pm

“If it would have an effect, even a negligible one, why isn’t that a good thing?”

Because there’s a line between doing the right thing and playing the Big Brother.

If Switzerland is any example, in terms of lives saved & homicides prevented per each affected person, a ban on assault rifles would probably be less effective than mandatory installation of breathalyzers in all passenger vehicles.

132

Substance McGravitas 07.23.12 at 8:59 pm

ban on assault rifles would probably be less effective than

But the “less effective than” we’re talking about involves death. So okay, mandatory breathalyzers AND an assault rifle ban. I’m not seeing the downside except “Big Brother” which is handwaving.

133

Cian 07.23.12 at 9:06 pm

If Switzerland is any example, in terms of lives saved & homicides prevented

then the US would benefit enormously from tighter controls, and connecting gun ownership to some form of compulsory national service. Thanks for playing – the door is over there.

134

chrismealy 07.23.12 at 9:26 pm

The Wikipedia page on Switzerland’s gun policies is pretty informative:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_Switzerland

short version: it’s not a gun nut utopia.

135

Nameless 07.23.12 at 9:48 pm

“So okay, mandatory breathalyzers AND an assault rifle ban. I’m not seeing the downside except “Big Brother” which is handwaving.”

It’s not handwaving, it’s a fundamental principle that we don’t go around banning things without having a very good reason.

But this is an idealistic perspective. To get more pragmatic and back on the ground, the issue with assault rifles is that they are a red herring. We live in a world with limited resources and limited short-term potential for change. Time spent debating assault rifles and machine guns is time not spent on the elephant in the room, viz. handguns. We had a nice example of that in 1994. We are never going to ban all private firearms (Second Amendment!), but we can get a limited form of gun controls and we should try to define them based on real rather than imaginary problems.

“it’s not a gun nut utopia.”

No, it’s not, did anyone say that it is? But it does have lots more assault rifles per capita than the U.S..

136

Substance McGravitas 07.23.12 at 9:51 pm

It’s not handwaving, it’s a fundamental principle that we don’t go around banning things without having a very good reason.

Reason one: dead people.

137

rf 07.23.12 at 9:52 pm

“I am in favor of legal open carry and minimal restrictions on ownership of long guns, including semi-automatic and automatic weapons. These are protected by the Second Amendment”

“We are never going to ban all private firearms (Second Amendment!)”

I didn’t think the Second Amendment was so cut and dried, or as Professor James A. Arieti put it:

…. the Second Amendment (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) is “maddeningly ambiguous.”
Our Founding Fathers used a common Latin and Greek grammatical structure—the absolute—in writing this amendment, and this construction is responsible for the ambiguities. The first part of the sentence, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” is the absolute, and hence stands syntactically apart from the main clause.
The difficulty lies in the participle being, whose exact relation to the main clause must grammatically and logically express either (a) cause: because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; (b) time: when a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; (c) condition: if a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; (d) concession: although a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; or (e) attendant circumstance: this is not a possibility here, since a militia is not something that might occur as a circumstance of nature (as in “the weather being cold”).
Possibility (d) makes no sense in the sentence; (e) is excluded because an abstract necessity can’t be the kind of contingent circumstance the construction requires. So it appears that interpretations (a), (b), and (c) would grant a right to bear arms only when there is a need connected causally, temporally, or conditionally to a militia. In the absence of actual militias, a strict interpretation of the amendment would favor the right of the state to control arms.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/11/the-conversation/8703/

138

Watson Ladd 07.23.12 at 10:00 pm

rf, that was before Heller v. D.C. Also, even (a) (b) and (c) grant the right: a militia does not need to exist to be necessary.

139

Nameless 07.23.12 at 10:01 pm

“Reason one: dead people.”

Not enough. There are numerous things in the world which can result in dead people, and we don’t and can’t ban them all.

140

Substance McGravitas 07.23.12 at 10:05 pm

Not enough. There are numerous things in the world which can result in dead people, and we don’t and can’t ban them all.

But we do try to ban an awful lot of them for the very good reason that they produce dead people. So again: this thing produces dead people, why not ban it?

141

Matt McIrvin 07.23.12 at 10:05 pm

The Swiss situation actually strikes me as a fair definition of a “well-regulated militia”.

142

rf 07.23.12 at 10:26 pm

Watson
Ah Okay. So before Heller vs DC what was the lay of the land?

143

Jamey 07.23.12 at 11:30 pm

American propensity towards violence in general is a topic for sociologists and criminologists. Our nutty gun culture though seems like a more field for psychoanalysis. I understand people who have a firearm for hunting and those who might have a reasonable belief that they need one for self defense in some cases. I classify such folks as gun owners. However, what seems to me peculiar to America that sets us apart from the rest of the world is the vast number of what I would classify as gun nuts. Such folks seem to regard firearms as some sort of religious icon. Your basic Barney Fife personality who thinks possession of a gun makes them a very important person.

144

Harold 07.24.12 at 12:19 am

They have been/are being bamboozled by the deep-pocketed salesmanship of the armaments industry.

145

Freeport56 07.24.12 at 5:06 am

I am surprised that Switzerland was included. Every able bodied male 18 and above does military service and maintains a weapon at home. Some homes have 3 generations of weapons at home.

146

Nameless 07.24.12 at 7:20 am

“But we do try to ban an awful lot of them for the very good reason that they produce dead people. So again: this thing produces dead people, why not ban it?”

We weigh the number of dead people vs. the intrusion on individual freedom that would be involved in preventing these deaths, and try to err on the side of freedom. By that measure, assault weapons would rank quite low on the list. I already mentioned breathalyzers. Off the top of my head, I can suggest a ban on tobacco (close to 200,000 deaths/year due to lung cancer); a ban on distilled alcohol (1000 deaths/year just because of acute alcohol poisoning, not counting DUI, cirrhosis, etc); speed limiters that prevent passenger cars from going faster than 65 mph; a ban on sales of opioid analgesics direct to customers via pharmacies (12,000 deaths annually due to unintentional overdoses of opioid analgesics; we can mandate that those are manufactured in slow-release formulations and administered directly by a qualified nurse once a day); the list goes on and on. Once this all is done, we can talk about the relative risk of semi-automatic guns. In 2010, 358 homicides nationwide were committed with rifles (this includes assault weapons such as AR-15 / M-16 as well as hunting rifles.)

Since we’re talking about things that produce dead people, let’s take the argument to the extreme. It is uncommon, but sometimes people are murdered with compound bows. A 70# compound bow and a broadhead arrow will kill you quite effectively from 30 yards or more (personally, I’d be more worried about being shot with that than about a handgun.) Using the same logic that is applied to assault rifles, one could say that there’s no convincing reason why people should be allowed to own heavy compound bows (just like with assault rifles, the idea that one could use them for hunting and target practice is not convincing enough), and there were at least two dead bodies attributed to them in the US in the last few years, ergo they should be banned too?

147

Alex 07.24.12 at 9:13 am

Interesting note from here: Tunisia is literally the least armed population in the world. Further, who knew Saudis were so tooled-up?

148

Katherine 07.24.12 at 10:15 am

Nameless, I don’t disagree with your general point (ie balancing risk of death against freedom), for the record, although I do have some issue with the particulars. A couple of things jump out at me:

-the deaths due to smoking and drinking are mostly people doing things to themselves. There is a significant difference in principle between being allowed to do something to oneself and being allowed to do it to other people. Where damage is directly caused to other people, that does tend to be disallowed, does it not? Eg recent bans on smoking in public places.

- relative utility to risk. Yes, deaths due to over-the-counter opiates may be higher than deaths due to guns (although again, the issue of damage to oneself rather than others comes into play), but the general utility of being able to get effective pain relief quickly is, I would venture to suggest, greater than the general utility of owning an AK47.

- damage proportional to numbers. How do the deaths caused by something stack up against the number of people using/abusing that thing? Yes, perhaps there are ten times the number of deaths caused by X than by Y, but if X is used a hundred times more than Y, then Y carries a higher risk of death, yes? How would, say, the risk presenting by a compound bow stack up against the risk presenting by a handgun, by this measure?

- driving faster than Z miles per hour is already banned. Enforcement of a ban is a different issue to the existence of it.

149

Owe Jessen 07.24.12 at 11:34 am

I think, the averaging is a bit too strong, giving the impression of still declining rates, whereas the raw data show a steep decline in the 1990s and a stable rate in the 2000’s.

150

Cian 07.24.12 at 12:25 pm

People, please. Nameless is concern trolling. Learn to recognize the signs.

151

Mike From CT 07.24.12 at 12:32 pm

@Kieran:

If anyone knows of a similar time series for homicides specifically, let me know.

Wonder contains that information in it’s database – select the injury intent and mechanism, instead of ICD-10 codes.

152

Katherine 07.24.12 at 1:58 pm

I know I know. Sorry.

153

Substance McGravitas 07.24.12 at 4:15 pm

People, please. Nameless is concern trolling. Learn to recognize the signs.

It goes both ways. Nameless has done a whole lot of typing – much more than I have – in the service of boneheaded arguments like this:

Once this all is done, we can talk about the relative risk of semi-automatic guns.

Indeed, no city installs a yield sign before they install a crucial stop sign.

154

pssguy 07.25.12 at 12:11 am

May have been mentioned before, but one reason for the dip in the USA may be that more of the potential culprits are inside. Incarcerations have practically quintupled since 1980

Comments on this entry are closed.