How soon we forget the lessons of LeVar Burton
Interest in my previous post (If you never change your mind…) has led me to continue on the subject of firearms crime, a short series in which this entry will be part two of three.
No doubt in the maelstrom of debate surrounding firearms in the United States you have been subject to many statistics and heard numerous and contradictory claims hurled about with equal authority. Do more guns invariably lead to more crime, or is the opposite actually the case? Rarely do media outlets or the persons who they give voice to cite their sources in their claims, and if they do they are usually guilty of picking and choosing the numbers that suit them best. As they say, “figures lie and liars figure.”
Just as the wise sage of Reading Rainbow spake unto us, “…you don’t have to take my word for it,” neither must we take theirs. The bounty of the Internet permits us immediate access to numerous databases from the FBI, CDC, Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System (BFRSS) and numerous others, from which we can derive raw data to draw our own conclusions. From such sources I have created the following graphs, which I will comment on briefly and leave the rest to you.
Firstly, let us set aside comparing the United States to country X, Y, or Z. The United States is not those countries, and in comparing them many factors are invariably ignored or skewed. Let us instead compare the US to itself, as it is composed of many differing cultural and economic regions known – oddly enough – as states. This first graph shows us all fifty of them and the rate of firearms ownership by household, along with the homicide rate per 100,000 and the firearms homicide rate per 100,000.
So, what do we see here? Both the general homicide rate and the firearms homicide rates trend upwards to the right, while oddly enough, firearms ownership trends downwards. That can’t be right! What’s going on here? This is the basic data set that most pro-gun groups are going to use. It shows that the fewer guns there are, the more crime there is. That’s actually true, and if you look at the raw data it sticks right out at you, but it is of course not the whole story. My take? Areas of high crime have enacted stricter gun control measures, decreasing the percentage of guns per household. Obviously it doesn’t seem to decrease homicides, however…
So it’s a chicken or the egg scenario then. If, based on this data we take the view that more guns does not lead to more death, what then is causing the increase in homicide rates? This is something that is heavily ignored by nearly everyone, but the answer(s) should be obvious to anyone who gets around or can look at a map.
Here I’ve taken only firearm homicides and compared them to two other significant factors – population density and poverty levels. Across all fifty states we can see a much clearer link to a rise in population density and poverty with homicide rates.
Let’s get more detailed and break this down and see it it holds up. Here we have the top ten states with the highest rates of firearms homicide, compared to firearms ownership, population density, and poverty level. As we can plainly see, while firearms ownership decreases as the firearms homicide rate goes up (despite there being fewer firearms), population density and poverty levels neatly follow an upward trend along with homicides. You may be wondering why I’ve left out the overall homicide rate, and if I’m hiding something by doing so. It is (un)surprisingly unwavering across the graphs no matter how you plot them, so I left it to make the remaining data more clear.
On the the other end of the spectrum we have the ten states with the lowest firearms homicide rates. You’ll note first of all that several of these states also have the highest rate of firearms ownership – well over 50%. This graph is a little different because two states – Hawaii and Rhode Island are interesting outliers. Were I a bureaucrat or lobbyist I would most likely drop them from the chart but I’ve left them here for you to see. All these states have very low firearms homicide rates, and also generally low population density and poverty. The trend lines are skewed due to Hawaii and Rhode Island’s much higher population density and their much lower firearms ownership. Hawaii makes sense in this case because it’s an island, and therefore easily regulated, but Rhode Island remains a mystery to me. It would seem there is something to be learned from RI, as its immediate neighbour, Massachusetts, has a nearly identical firearms ownership rate but a firearms homicide rate three and a half times as high. Its other bordering state, Connecticut, of recent mass shooting infamy, has a comparable firearms ownership rate but a firearms homicide rate of more than four and a half times as high. Feel free to crunch your own data on that one.
Let’s get back to poverty for a moment. The “gun control” debate will likely continue for some time, but then both sides stand to make huge amounts of money (either through the manufacture and sale of firearms or through the policing and incarceration of offenders), but not many people have have gotten rich helping the poor. Addressing some of the most basic and long-standing problems of society just isn’t as sexy to talk about as “getting rid of guns.” Poverty, crime, and murder have existed for millenia before firearms were even invented, yet we make little effort to combat so obvious and persistent problems. Better to battle the bogeyman of the terrorist, lone gunman, or looming fiscal cliff. These are all distractions to keep us from taking a hard look at what the real problems are and what we can do to remedy them.