Friday, August 10, 2012

American Violence Is In A League Of Its Own

Map of violent crime per 100,000 people in the USA by state in 2004.
"Violent crime" includes Homicide, rape, robbery and serious assault.

lightest pink < 100
darkest pink >800 (W)

In her wonderful article in The New Yorker, Harvard Professor J. Lepore ties together bullet points of the powerful pro-gun political lobby, and presents them in a neat package while lamenting the loss of "civil society." She sprays her article with fascinating statistics which have inspired me to repeat and supplement them to advance my goal of better gun control in America.

The argument against weapons is old, and often ignored. Benjamin Franklin's sister Jane wrote to him in 1787 some advice for "such a number of wise men as you are connected with in the Convention" have no more weapons, no more war. "I had Rather hear of the Swords being beat into Plow-shares...if by that means we may be brought to live Peaceably with won a nother (sic)." Not all citizens at that time were in favor of guns and firearms even if they did not have the vote.

Even Texas, that bastion of individual self-righteous freedom, had a governor who explained in 1893 that "the mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man."

America has had eleven Presidential assassination attempts. Four Presidents have died. Yet the modern gun debate may have begun with the shooting of President Kennedy in 1963. On one side, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, founded in 1966, encouraged Americans, especially blacks, in the writings of Huey Newton, to defend and arm "themselves from house to house, block to block, community to community throughout the nation." On the other, the government passed a revised Gun Control Act in 1968 that banned mail-order sales and restricted the purchase of guns by certain high-risk people and military-surplus firearms, intended to fight crime and control riots actually incarcerated many people and was effective.

The argument in favor of firearms and guns for the individual is new and powerful. The article states that the National Rifle Association (NRA) was founded in 1871 by two men, a lawyer and a former reporter from the New York Times (all male) is supposed to be about safety education, marksmanship training, and shooting for recreation rather than self-defense.

It was in the 1970s that that NRA pushed for the individual's right to carry guns.
Behind it was the larger anti-regulation, anti-government conservative agenda.But countering gun control advocates, between 1970 and 1989, twenty-seven (27) law-review articles invoked the citizen's right "to keep and bear arms" under the Second Amendment, and were published by lawyers employed by the NRA and similar organizations. Even Justice Scalia wrote that "the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia." I personally call that "notably unhelpful" in the war against "weapons of "individual" destruction". Chief Justice Warren Burger ultimately called the articles fraudulent and rejected them.

Yet the President of the NRA irresponsibly denies knowing what the NRA has wrought with its policies, despite the fact his own son shot someone else in a road rage incident. He also flat-out denied the NRA had anything to do with weakening the faith of Americans in their own government, despite the fact, as this article says, the NRA is more responsible for it than another other organization.

President Reagan was shot in 1981 - not lethally fortunately - and so was his Assistant, White House Press Secretary James Brady. Both survived, and Brady became an active champion of the gun control movement and created the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to help pass common sense gun laws.

The concealed-carry movement, one that encourages more guns, doesn't benefit civilians in everyday life. As The New Yorker article says, "When carrying a concealed weapon for self-defense is understood not as a failure of civil society, to be mourned, but as an act of citizenship, to be vaunted, there is little civilian life left."

It's a serious problem. The article says that one in three Americans knows someone who has been shot. Forty percent (40%) of guns purchased in the U.S. are bought from private sellers at gun shows or online, and are thus unregulated, so do not require completion of firearms-safety training according to this article. A Department of Justice website said in a prison survey in 1997, prisoners admitted eighty percent (80%!) were acquired from an illegal source.

In case I have not adequately provided my readers with enough gun control statistics, here are more. Only those who haven't been victims of crime in America or haven't traveled to compare American safety/violence with other countries would be skeptical of the need for more gun control. Fareed Zakaria even went so far as to call Americans in favor of guns "un-American" and "unintelligent" in Time Magazine here, and now he's the victim of a witch hunt. Please. It's Americans who have a problem with the truth.

The gun-homicide rate in America is thirty (30!) times that of Britain and Australia, 20 times that of India, and 4 times that of Switzerland (which has the second highest rate of gun ownership.)

There are 88.8 firearms per 100 people in the U.S. Yemen, in second place, has 54.8
Switzerland, third, has 45.7. Finland, fourth, has 45.3. All other countries have below 40 firearms per 100 people.

Homicide rates are over-represented among those aged 18-24. Guns are used in more than 50% in suicides and most often by those with prior criminal records. In Virginia, for example, the rate is 22 times higher for males involved with crime. (W).

Fatalities occurred three times as often in America in robberies and family violence incidents where guns were present. Yet robbery and assault rates in general are comparable to Australia and Finland.

A significant number of homicides were unintended and escalated when other crimes happened and weapon(s) present.

While statistics on the distribution of gun ownership are flawed, it has been found that initiatives such as Operation Ceasefire in Boston and Operation Exile in Virginia have lowered youth violence rates, while educational programs to distract and occupy youth have been found most effective. Victims in America are most likely financially disadvantaged, younger than 25, and non-white. Location is one of the most significant factors, as crime varies from locale to locale.

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