The Real Gun Violence Problem

Piers Morgan has been in the news a lot lately with his interviews on gun control. He’s made it his cause of late. He interviewed my friend Larry Pratt a couple of weeks ago and really attacked Larry. The other night he interviewed that conspiracy crank Alex Jones and many conservatives and gun owners have lamented a perception that Alex Jones will become the face of gun owners.The conversations have actually been fascinating. Piers Morgan isn’t the only one to engage in these, but he’s been one of the most prominent. Unfortunately, the incident that set off all these discussions — the Newtown, CT tragedy — is causing policy makers and news figures to fixate on all the wrong things, or at least the things with the least amount of meaning.The fact is the tragedy in Connecticut was terrible. But it is also not a common act. It is called a “random act of violence” because it is random. After the shooting over the summer in Aurora, CO, the President and his team could have picked up the gun issue, but they chose not too because it is a political hot potato and hurts the Democrats. They are compensating in light of this new tragedy, but the discussed policy proposals thus far probably would do no good. Increasing gun free school zones and punishment for violating those zones will not stop a mass shooter.Nonetheless, the policy makers want to focus on mass shooters and not every day shooters. They want to focus on rifles and not handguns. Rifles, interestingly enough, contribute to far fewer murders than knives, hands, feet, clubs, or hammers.But the discussion will not move to handguns because handguns are pretty popular in this country. Many people own them — far more own them than own semi-automatic rifles. More so, handguns are used in vastly more crimes.It is not, however, just handguns that must be discussed when discussing gun violence. This gets to why we cannot have a meaningful conversation in this country and never will. To do so will get you branded a racist.”Blacks were disproportionately represented as both homicide victims and offenders. The victimization rate for blacks (27.8 per 100,000) was 6 times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100,000). The offending rate for blacks (34.4 per 100,000) was almost 8 times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100,000).”"Males represented 77% of homicide victims and nearly 90% of offenders. The victimization rate for males (11.6 per 100,000) was 3 times higher than the rate for females (3.4 per 100,000). The offending rate for males (15.1 per 100,000) was almost 9 times higher than the rate for females (1.7 per 100,000).”"Approximately a third (34%) of murder victims and almost half (49%) of the offenders were under age 25. For both victims and offenders, the rate per 100,000 peaked in the 18 to 24 year-old age group at 17.1 victims per 100,000 and 29.3 offenders per 100,000.”These are all direct quotes from a United States Department of Justice report released by the Obama Administration in November of 2011.Don Lemon on CNN had a discussion with left-wing commentator David Sirota on whether we should profile young white males because pretty much every mass shooting incident has involved young white males with mental health issues. But, again, these are far less likely to happen than a gang related drive by shooting. Just because acts of mass violence grab the spotlight and media attention does not mean we should set policy on these events, which are not rather common.The profile of the typical murderer with a gun is a black male in a city under the age of 25. This is not to suggest we should profile young black men. We should not. But we should, if we really want to curb gun violence in the United States, start our conversation looking at this phenomenon. Interestingly enough, the DOJ report notes of murders by poison, 80.6% were by white offenders and just 16.8% were by black offenders. Murders by gun were 41.2% by white offenders and 56.9% by black offenders.Gun violence in the United States is, over all, on a steady decline, something the chattering class and policy makers tend to ignore. Again, from the Department of Justice:

In 2008, black males age 18 to 24 years-old had the highest homicide victimization rate (91.1 homicides per 100,000). That rate was more than double the rate for black males age 25 or older (38.4 homicides per 100,000) and almost triple the rate for black males age 14 to 17 (31.4 homicides per 100,000).Among black males age 18 to 24, the homicide victimization rate was much lower in 2008 (91.1 homicides per 100,000) than in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it reached a high of 195.9 homicides per 100,000 in 1993.Between 1980 and 2008, young adult black males had the highest homicide offending rate compared to offenders in other racial and sex categories.The offending rate for black male teens peaked in 1993 at 246.9 offenders per 100,000 before declining. In recent years, the black male teen offending rate has increased from 54.3 offenders per 100,000 in 2002 to 64.8 offenders per 100,000 in 2008.

These are terrible statistics. In our urban areas — and gun violence happens much more in urban areas than anywhere else — young black men, often in broken families, are joining gangs and committing acts of violence against each other. There have been 24 people murdered with guns in Chicago since the Newtown tragedy (see here and here). Just look at the most violent neighborhood in Chicago with 202 murders since 2007. Look at the ages.Banning guns tomorrow will not stop this. Focusing on handguns instead of rifles or with rifles will not stop this. A renewed assault weapons ban will not stop this. Until we figure out how to fix the family instability and educational problems within the inner-city (because the problem is ultimately about poverty more than anything else), any solution proposed in Washington will be a Potemkin village solution masking the real gun conversation we should be having. But, because the issue is tinged with race and often viewed as lacking a solution, policy makers and the media often don’t want to make eye contact with the problem. Instead, they’ll be consumed by the headline tragedy urge to “just do something”.

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