Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Crunching the NYT's Numbers

Too many people believe that guns cause crime and that if we got rid of guns then American life would be a peaceable kingdom. It’s a naïve yet attractive vision. Naïve because it just ain’t going to happen. Violent criminals will always possess weapons including guns no matter what the laws say. Attractive because it’s so simple. You just remove this one itty-bitty thing and suddenly you'll have peace on earth. It’s what drives gun banners.

Not only is it attractive to them, but these usually urbanite gun banners see no earthly use for guns beyond, perhaps, military and police applications. Therefore banning guns is getting rid of useless objects that they believe cause a lot of harm and are “icky” (a technical term among gun banners). They believe they’re right. So, no matter how many examples of positive uses of guns we cite, how many statistics we accumulate, or show that many rational people do not find guns “icky,” they’ll never believe us.

Given this disjuncture between gunnies and banners, it’s surprising when publications usually associated with gun banners publish information that confirms gunnie viewpoints. So it happened with the New York Times. Their reporter, Jo Craven McGinty, collected three years of basic homicide records, 1662 murders, in New York City and looked for trends.

She found that New York’s homicide numbers are going down. Gunnie and non-gunnie alike can celebrate that fact, although certain non-gunnies might see part of their favorite argument disappear—you know which one, it begins with “Guns kill thousands of people each year.”

Other trends are significant. Men or boys committed 93% of the murders and use guns about 66% of the time. The killer knew his victim more often than not and even more often were of the same race. More than 90% of the killers had criminal records and more than half of their victims also had records.

The latter point is significant because it supports our contention that gun murders are based primarily in criminal activity. Now, a little less than 10% of killers had no criminal records, but we’re not getting the complete picture either. To connect the dots, we would need to know how many murderers were juveniles, how many were “known to police,” and other information.

Because most murderers knew their victims, random crime is lower than we might expect although it is trending up. Still, if you don’t engage in criminal activity and avoid disputes (a primary cause of stranger on stranger murder), you’re fairly safe. That doesn’t mean though that you should go through life in “condition white” with an iPod’s buds stuck in your ears.

Now here’s something that got Charlton Heston in trouble when he said something similar to Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine. McGinty reports, “Whites and Asians, who seldom murdered, were also infrequently killed: Together, they represented 75 or fewer victims each year.” Blacks and Hispanics commit most of the murders. It’s not a function of race, let’s be perfectly clear on that. It stems from lack of opportunity, history, you name it. Also, certain neighborhoods are more affected regardless of their racial makeup.

Gun banners’ arguments really fail on this point. To solve gun violence you must figure out why blacks and Hispanic commit and die in murders more often that whites and Asians. It’s hard to even talk about because it’s not politically correct and someone will shout racism. Solutions will be even more difficult and certainly will take time.

Instead, gun banners want to take guns away from everyone—after all, it’s politically correct to treat everyone equally. They would punish all peaceful people who happen to like shooting for the actions of a few. They want to find an easy fix.

Their fix won’t work and it still doesn’t take into account the 22% of murders committed with knifes and the 12% that’s committed with other means. Thus, about 554 of the 1662 murders would go unanswered in their scheme. No, the answer to violence can’t focus on the guns. It must focus on why some people kill while others don’t.

No comments: