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Posts tagged “Gun Control

To Reduce Gun Violence, We Should…

I was recently asked for my opinion regarding the best way to reduce gun violence in the United States on Quora. I thought I would share my answer here, and see what all of you think.

First, thanks for the A2A. I’m not certain if you’re trolling, or truly interested in hearing the views of an avowed Second Amendment type on this subject, but I’ll treat this as if it’s the latter case.

The problem is not necessarily one of gun violence, per se. The problem is one of perception: the media wants us to think there is an epidemic of gun violence; a sense of murder and mayhem at the hands of deranged individuals toting machine guns through the street.

The reality is much, much different. I grew up in the 1970’s, the era of Fort Apache and Escape From New York. In 1980, when I was getting ready to make my way in the world, the typical American had a 1 in 338 chance of finding themselves involved in a crime with a gun. By 2014 (the most recent year for which FBI statistics are available), that number had dropped to 1 in 422. This is despite the fact that legal gun ownership is at an all-time high.

What is undeniable is that gun crimes in certain cities and states have moved in the opposite trend. For instance, the typical resident of Chicago in 1980 had a 1 in 210 chance of finding themselves at the wrong end of a gun. By 2014, that had increased to 1 in 100. Baltimore has seen a similar rise in gun violence, from 1 in 148 to 1 in 108. So, part of the perception is driven by the fact that while gun crime is down overall, the number of gun crimes in our major cities (which is also where our media is centered) are on the rise.

The other driving factor in the misperception of the degree of gun violence is argeting. While there have always been madmen with a rifle who went on murderous shooting sprees, those of our modern era have chosen spectacular targets that will drive national media coverage for days on end. Schools and churches are not only prominent in our society but emotional by their very nature.

Part of the divide in America over the use of weapons is that so many of those under 45 have almost no exposure to them, except what they see in the movies (which are generally ridiculous depictions) or on the news. Would it surprise you to learn that when I was in school, it was common for students to bring their rifles and pistols to school? Not only that, it was highly encouraged? Gun safety courses were a requirement in those days. This wasn’t all that long ago, either.

So how do we reduce gun violence, and just as importantly, cure the misperception that legal gun possession increases the likelihood of being assaulted with a weapon?

I think the first thing to do is increase exposure to guns so that people understand that a gun is a tool, no different than a hammer or a car. They are no scarier (and actually far less dangerous to you) than that hunk of aluminum and fiberglass in your driveway. I mentioned above that you have a 1 in 422 chance of being involved in a crime committed with a gun. What I failed to mention is that you have a .0045% chance of being murdered by someone with a gun. Conversely, you have a 3.6% of dying this year in a car crash. You are over 800 times more likely to die in your car than by being shot, yet people calling for cars to be banished are generally regarded as crackpots.

As far as actually reducing gun violence, the first thing to realize is that gun violence has steadily declined in all areas except those with strict gun control measures. This sounds counterintuitive to gun control proponents. How can easier access to firearms result in a reduction in gun crime? Yet the proof is in the results: while some states and cities have made it dramatically more difficult to legally possess a gun, those are also the ones that have the greatest spikes in gun crime. A while back, I had done a project that projected the gun violence rate in the nation, presuming the 50 most restrictive cities in the nation followed their country brethren. Based on the numbers alone, the incidence of gun violence would have dropped to 1 in 803!

Now, I’m not silly enough to think removing most restrictions on gun possession alone will suffice to reduce gun violence, especially in our cities. There is a greater propensity for crime in those locations, due to higher rates of impoverishment, population density, and social disorder. Those societal ills peculiar to city life need to be tackled by the cities themselves.

I’m also enough of a student of human nature to realize that you can never get crime rates in general, or gun crime in particular, to zero. It’s a problem that has vexed humanity since our beginning.


Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.