-homicide, gun control and the American, or more directly, human experience
In 2012 Chicago had 450 deaths by shooting, Detroit 350, LA over 500, New York City 400, Philly 300, D.C., where our legislators meet on capitol hill, 100.
Chicago’s murder rate matches all of Japan and is higher than Spain, Poland and pre-war Syria. But Chicago isn’t even the worst. New Orleans and Detroit are in competition year to year for the number 1 spot of most murders by firearm per 100,000 people.
Of course where there is a higher population there will be more murders. Let’s break it down by gun murders per 100,000 people. Chicago had 18 murders per 100,000, New Orleans 54, LA 7, Philly 21, NYC 5, D.C. 13, Detroit 57.
Interestingly, New York, California, Illinois and Pennsylvania have the strictest gun control laws yet house these cities with high murder rates by firearm.
Firearm related deaths in the US are 3 per 100,000. This paints a better picture but cannot be considered a relief.
65% of the time males are murdering other males. 22% of the time males are murdering females. 90% of black men kill other black men. 84% of white men kill other white men. Which busts the myth that racial tensions are leading to murder. An FBI statistic says while black Americans constitute less than 14 percent of the population, in more than one out of two homicides, the fatality is a black person.
Murder rates are falling but it could be due to the skill of medical professionals or the lack of proficiency of gunmen than decreased violence. Or could it be more?
Does being an NRA member predispose one to homicide? The NRA has 3 million members, which is a large number but is relatively small compared to the 70 million Americans who own a firearm. Lets say all firearm-related homicides were done with legally licensed firearms. Out of at least 70 million guns owned legally in the US 11,000 would be used to murder someone. This means most people who own a firearm don’t murder and even less people who own a firearm belong to the NRA. About half the NRA members have their firearm for protection and the other half for sport (hunting and target shooting). 74% of those that do belong to the NRA support expanded background checks at stores and gun shows.
What about gang-related homicides? Classification of a crime as gang-related is somewhat elusive much like a hate crime. The LAPD classifies a homicide as gang-related if the victim or the assailant is known to be a gang member but in some cases, a crime can be classified as gang-related if it occurs in a neighborhood where there’s an ongoing rivalry. In LA and Chicago 60% of homicides are gang related. NYC is much lower with 9% gang related homicides, which many accredit to the expansion of the ‘stop and frisk’ program under Rudy Guilliani.
Many homicides by firearm are committed by people with a criminal history. This speaks to recidivism. Recidivism is one of the most fundamental concepts in criminal justice. It refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime. Recidivism is measured by criminal acts that resulted in rearrest, reconviction or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a three-year period following the prisoner’s release. Within 3 years of release 2/3 were rearrested. Within 5 years of release 3/4 were rearrested. 71% of those that relapse are violent offenders. Why do offenders recidivate? Many offenders had an extensive criminal history before prison which means they were quite used to a lifestyle of crime. They had developed bad habits, criminal habits, and probably collaborated in these bad habits within their community making it quite easy to reacclimatize to their criminal lifestyle once immersed in their familiar environment again. Also, while in prison they’re exposed to inmates that have a higher propensity to crime and may increase criminal behavior and reinforce anti-social attitudes. In short, prison hardens many of them emotionally and gives them connections to even more criminal conditioning.
There is also the ‘broken windows theory’. Here are some examples of the theory:
Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars because they’re inconspicuous from litter accumulation.
This describes the deterioration of neighborhoods into the downward spiral of crime. Serious crime such as rape and murder are the final result of a lengthier chain of events. Mild disorder turns into major chaos if left unaddressed. The disorder also strikes fear into the minds of citizens who are convinced the area is unsafe. So the citizens withdraw from the community and it further falls into disrepair. There is physical disorder and social disorder. Physical disorder is run down buildings, abandoned vehicles, vacant lots filled with trash. Social disorder is panhandlers, noisy neighbors, groups of youth congregating on corners. While the broken windows theory may describe that a normally ‘good’ person may be persuaded into bad behavior and then act on it, it doesn’t explain what would tempt a person to see a broken window in an abandoned building and thus smash another one. Why one person would and another person wouldn’t smash the window is a crucial question.
A University of Texas study found that 84% of women and 91% of men have had at least one clear fantasy about committing murder. The idea of murder is not a monstrous deviation that only crazy killers think of. As the stats show many people fantasize about killing and nearly all people express a willingness to kill in some circumstances—to prevent being killed or to defend their children from killers. Interestingly, men indicated an increased willingness to kill when their status or reputation was threatened which are important qualities in attracting a mate. They also expressed a willingness to kill when their mating prospects become dire. Husbands that kill their wives often do so when they’ve discovered their spouse was cheating or after the couple has separated. 85% of these murders happen in the first year of the separation when it becomes clear that she won’t go back to him.
If a desire for a mate is not the impetus, it could be a desire for a drug or a desire for a piece of property or desire for a status.
The leading manifestations of homicide are ‘competition killing’ and ‘revenge killing’. Of course, there’s also random killing and disturbed mental health killings. But most homicides have motive. Most people don’t act on it but why not?
The why has to do with human nature and its conflict between right and wrong or good and evil. This manifests mentally as values and physically as the skill of restraint people have over their actions. This, in my opinion, is the most foundational point that needs to be addressed when confronting gun violence.
Something indeed needs to happen and that something is cultural. Change the values of the culture, equip people with better conflict managing skills, and everything else will fall in place the most it can. Of course, in this life because of our fallen nature there will never be utopia but reduction can happen.
Let’s start with the history of American culture, it sure has been rich hasn’t it? In the frontier days you had order but few laws, now you have laws but little order in many metropolises. We had the first pious Puritans, then the survival of the fittest vagabonds of the wild west, then the tragic era of enslavement, the turbulent toughness of new life experienced by the early tide of immigrants (mine were fleeing the potato famine in Ireland), the early gangs of New York, later the mafias, the depression of the 1920’s, women’s suffrage, the civil rights era, a revolution of ideas from the 1960’s, the rise of recreational drug use, several major wars, the ‘death of God’, the rise of popular culture and technology making our experiences and exposure ever so instant and global. America became a unique mosaic of different cultures and attitudes. Where does this leave us? Now. How does it leave us? Right where we started. With the problem of good, evil, brain chemistry, and social skills. It is a problem inherent in our nature.
As John Locke stated, self-defense is the first law of nature. Each human being owns his or her own life and no other person has a right to take that life. Those who would attempt to stop you from defending yourself, are attacking the very right from which all other rights are derived, protection of one’s own life.
Life is our only inalienable right and all other rights emanate from this. It’s no surprise then that our 2nd constitutional right is a right to bear arms. Defense of one’s life from death and tyranny is the substance of this right. It’s not mandatory for anyone else to save your life, though one does have a moral obligation to act on behalf of life, you are responsible for your life. A society that doesn’t value, or undervalues human life is one that breeds corruption.
Of course, you value your own life. A will to live is inherent to our nature. But what would compel us to value another’s life? If it’s your own opinion of right and wrong then what if you change your mind? Your opinion would be subject to the waxing and waning of your own heart or mind, right? Why would your definition have any more legitimacy or authority than another person’s definition? In other words, where does the all encompassing, inalienable right to life for human beings come from? It is no surprise that the value of life has deteriorated since the deterioration of an objective authority. Luckily, the value of the inalienable right to life still impresses on our laws and society even though many of us have discredited the authority from which this value comes. Most of us just accept that my neighbor’s life is valuable and that he has a right to live regardless of where this right comes from. Most, but not all. To many this right to live means little or worse yet, nothing.
Just like the broken window example. You start with their property and end up taking their life. If you don’t value the ownership someone has of their property then why would you value their person?
It could start very subtly. On the micro scale: eliminate the influence of the father, the absence of the father creates a poverty and dependency on the state, it creates a pressure on the mother to solely provide morals and care of basic needs and often the state shapes the child’s idea of right and wrong. On the macro scale: eliminate an objective authority, beef up state authority to take its place, undermine inalienable rights on behalf of popular opinion, undermine objective ideas of right and wrong. Over time, this perpetual cycle creates a hostile culture that is missing the influence of good morals and restraint on acts of evil. If accountability to fixed truths outside yourself are missing, then a domino effect takes place in which the citizen isn’t accountable to the family, to the community, to the human race. People that fantasize about murder but don’t become criminals have a respect for the value of life or at least a fear of the embarrassment or consequences if they were to commit crime. Interestingly, in the study I mentioned above most people who had a fantasy about murder but never acted on it said the reason was that they were afraid they would get caught. But I have an optimism that many also don’t act on it because they know it’s wrong.
If the values are missing then any object will do to get what one wants. A fist, a knife, a gun. These are all just instruments. While there is evil, an apathy for authority, a breakdown of family and community, there is crime. Take away the guns. They’ll be replaced by some other instrument. Instill values, instill (dare I say) a fear of authority, cultivate social skills and you will see a reduction in the use of a gun, or any instrument, to take another’s life. How is this done? Familially, locally, spiritually, culturally. Capitol Hill is an abstraction. Capitol Hill won’t change one’s mind and it won’t prevent the act. It will only define the consequences.
*I believe there’s room for revelation too and I thank God for that