By Mike Males
The odds of good-old White folks dying by gunfire are a whopping 1.7 times higher in an overwhelmingly White, small town or rural area lionized in singer Jason Aldean’s chart-topping “Try That in a Small Town” video than in a big city full of people of color.
Like his predecessor Hank Williams Jr. (“Country Boy Can Survive”) 40 years ago, Aldean idolizes whisky, metrophobia, and kapow. Maybe that’s the problem.
The dirty rural secret shown in the latest Centers for Disease Control death tabulations for 2022-23: White people in small towns are 1.3 times more likely to be murdered, 1.3 times more likely to commit suicide, and 1.2 times more likely to die by violent causes than White people living in a big metro like Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, or Houston.
It gets worse. Deadly dangers to White people soar still more if they live in a solid Republican rural area compared to Whites in a solidly Democratic urban one. (Republican and Democrat areas are defined as ones in which one party dominates the governorship and both houses of the legislature and by how counties voted in 2020; “White” refers to non-Hispanic White.)
It’s not the city, dark-skinned, and liberal that menace Williams’, Aldean’s, and Guns’n’Roses’ small-town Whiteboy.
Rural White people in Red counties in Red states (no blaming liberals allowed; Republicans run everything) are 1.9 times more likely to be murdered, 2.4 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement (why aren’t rural Whites banding with Black Lives Matter against trigger-happy cops?), and 2.6 times more likely to die by guns than White people living in big-city Blue counties in Blue states run by Democrats at all levels.
Aldean could refute charges that his song/video incites racist vigilantism (and lend a whole new meaning to “’round here, we take care of our own”) by adding a couple of truthful lines:
Small town good ‘ol boys raised up right ain’t bigots like the woke crowd wails
Why, we shoot White folks and ourselves ‘way more than anyone ailse!
In a larger campaign, conservatives incessantly blame crime on Democrats, which, if true, would mean that violence rates should be lower where Republicans dictate state crime, gun regulation, law enforcement, and economic policies than where Democrats govern. However, the latest FBI data for the first quarter of 2023 covering 214 cities with an aggregate population of 60 million demolish the daily right-wing crusade blaming violence on liberals.
Of the 15 cities with the highest rates of violent crime, eight are in Republican states. California, a constant target of conservative-media “soft on crime” vitriol, has only one city in the top-violence category, the same as Republican-run Texas and fewer than Republican Tennessee.
More damning, nine of the 15 cities with the highest murder rates are in Republican states; just three are in Democratic states, and three are in states with mixed party governance. No California city was in the top 15 for homicide rate. New York, also a regular Republican target, had no city in the top 15 either for homicide or violence.
For gun deaths overall, seven of the 15 worst cities are in Republican states, two are in Democratic states, and six are in mixed-party states. None of the most murderous or deadliest firearms cities are in California or New York.
Conversely, of the 15 cities with the lowest homicide rates, just three are in Republican states, 10 are in Democratic states, and two in mixed-government states. This is a big deal. The most dangerous cities suffer homicide rates 13 times higher than the safest cities. Four of the 15 safest urban counties are in California; two are in Texas (Denton and Collin, if anyone wants to study how that could happen).
For gun death rates, seven of the most dangerous cities are in Republican states, two in Democratic states, and six in mixed-party states. All of the 15 safest cities from gun killings are in Democratic states, with shooting death levels less than one-fifth those of the most dangerous cities.
These patterns show why conservatives abruptly switched their “soft on crime” accusations away from homicide, violence, and gun killings that used to be their obsessions and toward outrage at shoplifting, car break-ins, and visible homelessness. Unfortunately – inexplicably aided by the liberal and mainstream Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, and MSNBC – the daily right-wing barrage is succeeding in peddling the false Aldeanean narrative that cities are lawless and small towns idyllic. That greater diversity and progressive governance augur greater safety seems a reality liberals seem afraid to affirm.
Mike Males is senior researcher for YouthFacts.org and the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.