As the image at the top of the post demonstrates, the U.S. murder rate is now lower than it has been in half a century. According to some measures, the current murder rate approaches the lowest levels seen in more than 100 years. Or maybe even ever.
As for mass shootings in the U.S.? James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist and co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder, has shown that the number of incidents—defined as any shooting in which four or more people died—has remained steady over recent decades, despite the doubling of the U.S. population since 1960.
Regarding gun deaths as a whole, the data just about exactly parallels the overall U.S. homicide rate.
Let’s look at some more data: violence in schools has dropped dramatically in the past two decades, as have the overall rates of physical and sexual abuse of children.
The rates of rape/sexual assault and violence against intimate partners now stand at one-fourth the peak levels reached only a couple
of decades ago—and this is based on victimization surveys, so the question of whether such crimes are underreported to law enforcement is not a factor. Furthermore, there’s no logical explanation why victims would have been more willing to report such crimes 25 years ago versus today. We were certainly not more enlightened on gender matters then.
This data may well directly contradict the impression many of us have. In fact, the following graph from Gallup demonstrates that, starting in 2001, we saw an increase in the number of Americans who thought violent crime was rising (the dark green line), even though the actual violent crime rate (the light green line) continued to fall, and remains roughly three-quarters lower than it had been at its early 1990s peak. Additionally, Pew
recently asked Americans whether the number of gun crimes has gone down, gone up, or stayed the same over the past 20 years. Bear in mind that the gun murder rate is half what it was, and the rate of non-fatal gun crimes is about a quarter of what it was 20 years ago. Only 12 percent said gun crimes were down, 26 percent said they were the same, and 56 percent said they’ve gone up.
The last thing I want to do is put people down for being afraid, or, even worse, to belittle the pain and hurt people are feeling. Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge that even as murder rates in the U.S. appear to have dropped equally across racial lines, black Americans remain about eight times as likely as whites and four times as likely as Latinos to be victims of murder. Furthermore, although we don’t have the data to compare the rate over time, we know that killings by U.S. law enforcement officers is a serious problem, even as the rate of felonious killings of officers stands, thankfully, as low as it has been in many decades.
Separate from the question of whether fear about gun crime and mass shootings is productive or destructive is the fact that knowing the truth is always better than being misinformed. That should go double for us progressives, given that we are supposed to be a “reality-based community.”
Armed—with the truth—we can still fight to improve our laws. Despite the fact that we are safer from crime now than we’ve been for many decades, we can make ourselves safer still. We know that where there are more guns, there is more homicide—both across state lines and national borders, when comparing economically similar countries. We also know that the NRA—funded by gun manufacturers whose only interest is selling more guns and ammunition—stands in the way of progress when it comes to reforming gun laws.
As Igor Volsky has demonstrated, we need to make clear that the politicians who oppose even the most common sense restrictions on gun accessibility do so because they are in the pocket of the NRA, and thus the gun manufacturers. They don’t care that a recent Harvard survey of more than 2,000 gun owners discovered that 40 percent of them acquired their guns without going through a background check. The lap dogs for the NRA won’t consider a law that would ban people on the federal terrorist watch list from purchasing a gun, and I’m not optimistic about the chances of a proposal for a similar ban on those convicted of committing acts of violence or harassment at abortion clinics.
It’s not about gun rights for them, but about dollars—pure and simple. Whether crime is going up or down, it is that corruption we must expose in order to convince voters to finally punish—rather than reward—those who would make us less safe than we otherwise could be.
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