Violence & Reason: Latest Gun Murder Facts

A friend recently reminded me of the importance of  reason and facts to civil discourse.  Naturally, I like to believe that I’m rather fond of both, although I’m all too aware of  the extent to which they are subject to abuse.

Before getting to the facts of the matter, I’d first like to revive  a sentiment that is too often ignored by today’s supposed critical thinkers.  That is that all human relationships are governed either by reason or violence.  To those who tend to lend their support to typical “knee-jerk” big government solutions, I submit George Washington’s words on this matter:

“Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. Government is force; like fire it is a dangerous servant — and a fearful master.”

In particular, our nation’s founders expressed grave concerns for the essential violence that inevitably results either from an unconstrained government or the unconstrained democracy that may (or may not) direct that government.  The Bill of Rights, we should remember, was but one among the many protections they devised against this danger.

So, yes, relying upon facts and reason is all well and good.  They should, of course, be given their due consideration.  Nonetheless, it is imperative that we understand that the political debates undertaken of late on the subject of gun control have very little to do with either facts or reason.

Those seeking to further “infringe” on the people’s ability to keep and bear arms, are, themselves, engaging in a form violence.  (On this particular subject, that is a little ironic, don’t you think?)  But, this is a principle we tend to ignore while we so blithely accept the blizzard of new laws and regulations that our government produces each and every year.

End of standard Constitutional Sermon. (aka, my own pitch to reason).

In the interest of non-biased factual reporting, I offer the following compilation of the latest (2011) murder-related data extracted from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics.  Following the tables, I’ll offer a few observations.

 Murder By Weapon & Circumstances

Murder By Circumstance & Relationship

Observations:

  1.  Guns are used in roughly 2/3 of all homicides.
    1. Rifles (the focus of recent attention) are only rarely used, accounting for 2.6% of all homicides.
    2. Also, knives are more than five times more likely to be used than any kind of rifle.
    3. In fact, blunt objects are 20% more likely to be used than any kind rifle.
    4. Hands and feet are nearly twice as likely to be used than any kind of rifle.
  2. The risk of guns being used in the commission of a murder depends to some degree on the circumstances.
    1. For instance, 92% of all gang-related murders involve a gun.
    2. Arguments, on the other hand, involve firearms only 59% of the time.
    3. Felony related murders involve firearms 70% of the time.
  3. A surprisingly large (38%) share of murders occur due to unknown circumstances.  Not so surprising, the vast majority (78%) of these  are committed by strangers or otherwise unknown parties.
  4. Roughly 1/3 of all felony and gang related murders involve family and friends. (Figures that tended to distort the prevalence of murder rates among family and friends.)
  5. A significant majority (or 72%) of argument related murders, on the other hand involve family and friends.

On a side note, according to other studies conducted by the Bureau of Justice appear to indicate that as many as 32% of violent criminals (by their own admission) were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they committed their offenses.  We might safely assume that the real number may be much higher.  By implication, then, it seems likely that perhaps 4,000 (or more) of last year’s murders were likely to have been influenced by drug and alcohol use.

Naturally, murder is but the tip of the proverbial violence iceberg.  They represent a mere 1% or so of the 1.2 million violent crimes that were reported in 2011.  This number, thankfully, has declined from peak levels of more than 1.9 million in 1992.

In regards to the degree to which the presence and/or prevalence of guns in our society may influence our murder rates, I remain fairly skeptical.  Like most behavioral issues, it is virtually impossible to isolate single factors among the many that may also be at work (i.e. drugs & alcohol, cultural values, etc.).  In the end, after all, it’s not the tool (or weapon) that starts the argument, takes the drink, joins the gang, or engages in the drug deal.

Is the US really a violent country? 

All the “experts” say “yes”.  Presenting credible evidence on the matter is a bit more difficult due to differences in statistical reporting.

A quick perusal of data from the U.K., for instance, would appear to suggest that violent crime rates in England and Wales over the past year (594.8 per 100,000) are significantly higher than in the U.S. (386.3 per 100,000), using nominally equivalent categories (murder, nonnegligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault).  And, while their murder rate (at roughly 1.0 per 100,000) is much lower than in the U.S. (at 4.7 per 100,000) their aggravated assault rate is nearly twice as high (439 vs. 241).

So, despite being an apparently more violent country, is the U.K.’s lower murder rate is solely attributable to their regulation of firearms?  Many politicians would have us believe so.  And, sure, I have to concede that it is possible.  Just as it is equally possible that their doubling of aggravated assaults may be one rather significant unintended consequence of their gun control.

In other words, is the threat of a defensive use of a firearm a deterrent to violent crime?  As referenced elsewhere, various studies (such as those conducted or reviewed by John Lott or Gary Kleck) appear to suggest so.  Various estimates produced by these studies indicate that guns are used for self-defense (typically unreported to police, btw) at annual rates in the range of 1.3% or more  per the adult population.  Today, that data would imply roughly 3 million such uses per year or a rate of nearly 1,000 per 100,000 population.

So, here’s the question:  Is the U.K. a more violent country with a lower murder rate due to gun control?  Or, is the U.S. a potentially more violent country with a vastly reduced violence and murder rate due to the defensive use of firearms?  Both are fair interpretations of these various data points.

Global Context

We might also stop to ponder the fact that there are actually quite a few countries with significantly higher rates of violent crime, murder, and even gun-related violence, despite vastly lower rates of gun ownership and/or more restrictive gun regulation.  These include countries such as:  Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica, Venezuela, Gautemala, Saint Kitts, Trinidad & Tobago, Columbia, Belize, Pueto Rico, Brazil, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Panama, Bahamas, Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, Philippines, Paraguay, Anguilla, Nicaragua, St. Vincent, Zimbabwe, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Barbados….to name just those for which I was able to find data.

What’s that look like?

Gun Homicides vs Gun Ownership

The above chart plots gun homicide rates (per 100,000 population) on the vertical axis for 107 different nations against the gun ownership rate (per 100 population) on the horizontal axis.  The US, by the way, is that “outlier” way out at the right end of the chart with a gun ownership rate of more than 88 guns per 100 people…far and away the highest in the world.  Does this even remotely look as if gun ownership explains gun homicide rates?  (Note:  A very simple linear regression analysis suggests that, if anything, there is a very weak (only 1%) negative relationship, as indicated by the downward sloping trend line.)

In fact, the rate of gun related homicides in the US (at 2.97 per 100,000 in this particular data set) is well below the average 5.3 per 100,000 rate exhibited by these 107 nations.  Anybody care to explain that?  Are we suprised that agenda driven media and politicians don’t bother?

So, in the interest of taking the very reasonable precaution of considering the rather usual and expected unintended consequences of government policy, we might ponder the very reasonable likelihood that our murder rates could also rise as a result of gun regulations.

But, of course, the opposite has been happening.

According to Gallup, self-reported household gun ownership rates in the US have risen from lows near 42% in 1999 to 47% in 2011.  During this same period, gun homicides in the US have declined from 3.0 per 100,000 to 2.8 per 100,000.  Conceal weapon permits have been rising during this time frame, but exact figures aren’t available.

Perhaps more critrically, according to the BOJ,  the incarceration rate for violent offenders has risen from 209 per 100,000 in 1999 to 232 per 100,000 in 2011.  Call me crazy, but that may well account for the continued decline in violent crimes, including murder, over the same period.

Does any of that even matter?

I opened this article with what might be called the “principle argument”.  That is to say that no one, individually or collectively, has a right to deny me the ability to effectively defend myself or my family.  I framed it in a generally constitutional framework, but our constitution didn’t grant us rights…it merely recognized them (self-evident truths, remember?).

The rather doubtful efficacy of  gun control regulations matter very little to me in this context.  In fact, the more dangerous the society, the greater the need for self-defense.  That said, I am inclined to believe that good principles, such as those reflected in our constitution, do typically tend to produce the best results.

Accordingly, I’m inclined to believe that the data I’ve presented indicates that gun ownership in the US, in all likelihood, reduces the overall incidence of violent crime here.

Enough for now. – HT

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