Gun Control: Address the Real Problem

Almost 9,000 people were killed in 2010 (2010 is the last official data from the FBI) by guns in America, a staggering number when you compare that number to other first world countries (1). Germany’s fatality rate with firearms was 269 people last year. In Japan, only 47 people were murdered with a firearm. Its not hard to understand why there is such a high disparity when you consider the fact that in the US you can own a gun pretty much anywhere by simply just saying you want one. With this influx of weapons the US leads its news with horrific stories like that of Columbine. Thirteen senselessly murdered, while another 21 were injured. We see these incidents, we see those numbers, and we correlate the two in an attempt to explain a reason as to why these things happen. Note, the question is why, and if you don’t look, or delve deeper into satisfying this question you may simply concede that the “how” is the reason for “why” and its not. Every statistic I listed above is misleading you into believing guns are the reason for such a high homicide rate, but guns simply are the “how” in this equation. People murder with guns, but it’s not the reason WHY.

The massacre at Columbine high school serves as a great commonplace for us as a nation to point to as a reason for why stricter gun control laws are required. At it’s very core, the concept of kids being the victims of lax gun control laws can be a rather powerful tool in the argument. Unfortunately its not even the worst case of gun violence at a school around the world. The worst case belongs to a German high school in 2002 where 18 people were murdered. Three years before Columbine in 1996, 16 kindergartners were shot dead by their teacher in cold blood. Fifteen people were murdered at a German high school in Winnedon, and another 11 were killed in a German high school in Emsdetten to round out the top five (Columbine ranked as the 4th worst school related massacre). Three of the top five worst school related shootings took place in Germany, and if you count Scotland, 4 out of 5 countries with the worst school shootings were places that have strict gun laws envied by many gun reformists in the US (2).

As with the recent incident in Aurora Colorado, we find ourselves trying to explain why these unexplainable incidents happen, when the truth of the matter is they are aberrations. These incidents are not indications for why the homicide rates are so high in the US because they happen as frequently in other countries with stricter gun policies then here in the US. As pointed out in a recent article by Jonah Goldberg for the Chicago Tribune there are almost as many homicides in Chicago per month as there was in the Aurora theater massacre (3). These homicides are not being driven by the same motives, nor were they committed in the same manner as the Aurora case. Two of the top three biggest problem areas in the US in terms of homicide happen to be Washington D.C., and Maryland (both rank 1 and 3 for most murders respectively per capita). Chicago, Baltimore, and the D.C. notoriously wield extremely high homicide rates and all three have a big common distinction belonging to those areas: They have gun laws that are as strict as our European counterpart countries.

There are a total of five states that have a No Issue gun permitting law that is comparable to the laws in most European countries regarding the ability to obtain a gun. You must have a valid reason outside of self defense (hunting/sport) and the kind of weapons that are you are allowed to have are heavily restricted. There are also 5 states within the US that have unrestricted gun permitting laws. These laws make it relatively easy to obtain a firearm of any kind, and you may carry it in the open (4). Four of the five states Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, and Montana have some of the lowest homicide rates in the country. Alaska ranks 29th, Vermont 38th, Montana 42nd, and Wyoming 47th respectively in terms of murders per capita in relation to the other 51 states/districts within the US (5).

The FBI keeps very detailed accounts, and records of homicides around the country. In the last tracked year an overwhelming 53% of all perpetrators were African American. This is a wild number considering African Americans make up only 16% of the population (6). Most of these perpetrators come from poor backgrounds and upbringings. As detailed as the FBI reports on homicide are, they fail to paint a clear picture on the murder rate by ethnicity. Latinos are grouped with whites, but this detailed map paints an interesting picture for us:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/44/Homicide-world.png

The darker areas on the map indicate a higher incidents of murder. What we instantly get from this is that states with high immigration or areas of high diversity, have higher instances of homicides. This evidence backs up what we have already known for years, that when you mix people of different religions, ethnicities, and certainly different class structures, your instance of violence increase dramatically.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently that their countries attempts to create a multi cultural society has “utterly failed” (7). Japan’s immigration policy is by far the most tight in the world, and like most other first world countries is almost completely homogenous.

The United States has been compared to other first world countries, but when you compare the US to other countries of similar diversity we get a picture that looks rather familiar. Countries like Brazil, and South Africa have big diversity among their population in terms of both ethnicity and class structure. Brazil has the 7th highest GDP while South Africa’s economy is 28th ranked around the world, yet there are big social differences within their societies. The difference between the “have”, and “have nots” are evident not only in the images we see of war torn favelas, but in the numbers. Brazil has a homicide rate of 26 people per every 100,000 while South Africa has a rate of 32 per every 100,000. The US number of 5.9 does not appear so horrible when you compare it to even a religiously diverse and culturally heated country like India. Their rate is 4 per 100,000 people (8).

Wyoming which ranks 47th in terms of most homicides also happens to have a population in which 93.5% of the people are white according to the United States Census Bureau (9). Less then 10% of the population is below poverty level which is also below the national average of about 13%. Compare that to the District of Columbia which has a population that consists of 50.7% black, 35.3% white, and 9.5% hispanic. They also have nearly 20% of their population under the poverty line, a number that is severely over the national average (10). Again, firearms are almost unregulated in Wyoming, while the District of Columbia has a ban on firearms.

A report from the US Department of justice revealed that 79% of all criminals in jail for crimes involving a firearm obtained their firearm from an illegal source (11). That means with stricter gun laws, most of the crimes committed with firearms will be unaffected. For those who believe a ban on semi-automatic weapons will make a difference, only 8% of criminals detained were carrying a weapon of this caliber. A ban on these types of weapons would be more troublesome and less cost effective for police to pinpoint then it would actually worth. So what’s the answer?

Our at risk youth, our diversity, and our poverty line are much bigger factors in not only homicide rates, but in overall crime rate. To dedicate money to massive cut backs and restrictions on weapons would be a pointless endeavor when those same resources should be going toward the real issues regarding crime. What if we dedicated more resources toward education, and after school programs in the D.C. area instead of placing ban guns? What if instead of targeting guns, we target the at risk youth who are being sorely effected by the poverty line?

In the wake of the Aurora shootings, gun sales have risen not only in Colorado, but in other states like Ohio (12). People should have the right to feel safe, and should certainly have the right to protect their families. For opponents who say the 2nd amendment is an old, and outdated idea, you miss the basic principle and spirit of the law: you have a right to protect yourself. President Obama spoke from a highly educated place when he said law enforcement must crack down on loopholes that are allowing criminals to obtain weapons, but that we can not infringe on 2nd amendment rights (13). The statistics clearly tell us that people who are exercising their 2nd amendment right within the governing laws of their state and country are not contributing to the high homicide rate in this country. Guns are the how, our lack of empathy for our at risk youth is the why. Address the real problem.

  1. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded/expandhomicidemain
  2. http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/06/10/john-lott-america-gun-ban-murders-multiple-victim-public-shootings-europe/
  3. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/ct-oped-0727goldberg-20120727,0,5074992.column
  4. http://www.nraila.org/gun-laws/state-laws.aspx
  5. http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/wycrime.htm *NOTE all other state statistics can be found by clicking the appropriate links at the bottom of the page. This link is for Wyoming only.
  6. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded/expandhomicidemain
  7. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130772450
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate
  9. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/56000.html
  10. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/56000.html
  11. http://www.mensnewsdaily.com/archive/k/kouri/2004/kouri112904.htm
  12. http://www.examiner.com/article/the-sale-of-guns-ohio-has-risen-since-the-colorado-movie-massacre
  13. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57480290/obama-opens-up-about-gun-violence/
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