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Violent Thoughts

Ironically, while gun violence in the US has dropped significantly, most Americans think gun violence has gone up.

In under 20 years, since its peak in the 1990s, gun violence has nearly been cut in half. The number of killings due to guns dropped 39% between 1993 and 2011, while gun crimes that weren’t fatal dropped 69%. Even so, guns are still the most popular way to kill someone in the US – two out of three murders in the US used guns (in the same time period). The US still has a higher murder rate than most developed countries and has more guns per capita than any other country.

But when surveyed, only 12% of Americans think gun violence has gone down in the last two decades. 26% said it has stayed the same, and 56% thought it had increased.

There are many explanations of why gun violence has gone down. Some researchers think it is due to the declining popularity of crack cocaine. Others link it to the reduction of lead in gasoline, which is known to increase aggression and impulsive behavior. Others point to surging incarceration rates.

So why do only 12% of Americans think gun crime has gone down, when it has dropped significantly? Who benefits from us being scared?



  1. Marcin Mazurek wrote:

    And here we can witness the power of the media – I don’t particularity know how you’d go about it, but what would the result be if we looked into the propensity to report gun related stories now as opposed to before Sandy Hook?

    Just a hypothetical.

    Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 4:28 am | Permalink
  2. Dave TN wrote:

    What would be interesting to see is a different study of the trend of gun deaths that are unintentional. While crime/gun deaths are down, accidental gun deaths I suspect are on the rise. While Americans love affair with the gun is on the rise, its knowledge of gun safety and its proper use seem to be fading. It could be my media perception on this or the bygone days policy of not making a big deal of accidental gun shootings. If anyone knows of studies on this I would be interested in reading such.

    Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink
  3. Zed wrote:

    Two things.

    Crime is down. Way down. I don’t know if there has been any change in the proportion of gun crime to all crime, but with crime down overall one would expect gun violence to be down, too.

    I saw an interesting graph over on Vox. While gun sales are up, the percentage of Americans who own guns is down. This means fewer people own more guns. I doubt this relates to gun violence directly, but it is an interesting trend.

    Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Permalink
  4. ThatGuy wrote:

    As Marcin said, the media’s role in making the world seem like a terrifying place is certainly at work here. Of course people are scared if everything they see on the news is telling them that people are getting shot, cute little white kids are getting abducted, their kids are huffing cat pee, and something in their milk is killing them (more at 11). It’s a scary world, but FOX/MSNBC/CNN will tell you all you need to know and look out for.

    I also think that Zed’s second point is huge here. That contingent of our society stockpiling guns has bought the NRA propaganda hook line and sinker. Bad people have guns, so they need more guns. People will punch them for no reason, so they need more guns. Terrorists will unleash biological weapons, so they need to shoot the gas clouds away with all the guns.

    Lastly, Dave’s point about gun safety got me thinking. The NRA used to actually be about responsible gun ownership. Now that it’s the refuge of nutters (at least the leadership), their focus is on stockpiling guns to combat criminals/terrorists/the government/boogeymen. I don’t know if their numbers are large enough to impact the number of accidental shootings, but it might be an interesting study.

    Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 8:47 pm | Permalink
  5. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    The media definitely has the most to do with idea that gun violence is high. The next group that contributes are anti gun advocates who often fuel the first group.
    Another point that deserves consideration is that most gun related violence happens from people who don’t legally own the gun. Criminals and particularly in my town, street gangs, are responsible for most of the gun violence. But, there is also another possibility and that is deterrent. There are many places where legal gun owners are allowed to carry weapons both concealed and open. Criminals, particularly burglars, don’t want to encounter a gun.
    I live in a affluent tiny community (17 homes). It’s a microcosm of upper middle class America. We have several Jewish, Black, SW Asian and WASP type families. My neighbor’s house although he has camera’s everywhere was cased by burglars. They ended up following him to work and broke into his offices to steal TV’s and computers, etc. He asked himself and me why. He told me it’s common belief that Jews don’t carry guns, but that WASPs do. One could look at my house or car and know that I am military and it’s a common belief that we carry guns. But, I don’t completely buy that explanation. I think it had more to do with the fact that he used to drive a Maserati, while I drove a Ford. Simple higher value target selection, a business decision. I also have a grumpy large dog and he’s got 2 small children.
    The last thing to consider is the stiffer penalties for gun related crimes. Criminals know the difference between robbing someone with and without a gun. Gang violence on the other hand is about small scale war and they tend to disregard all rules when targeting rivals.

    My vote politically motivated hysteria. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it was motivated by big money gun manufacturers.

    I’m also not too sure about lack of training and safety going down for registered gun owners. I know in my state as in others gun owners are required to pass a gun safety course, and in my state they are required to renew that certification every few years. I know many gun owners, but I don’t know any that are not safety minded.

    Monday, May 19, 2014 at 6:23 am | Permalink
  6. ebdoug wrote:

    Statistically the two biggest deterrents to home invasions are 1) a loud burglar alarm, 2) a grumpy large dog. I think over and over of the family in Connecticut. One very friendly Labrador (part?) would have been a deterrent. Friendly until the owner or house is threatened. That’s all it takes.
    I read that so long ago, I forget the source.

    Monday, May 19, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink
  7. Austin 3:16 wrote:

    It’s not just guns as I understand it there’s been a well commentated on phenomena of crime rates dropping while fear of crime has been rising.

    The authors of Freakonomics attribute the falling crime rate to the impact of the legalisation of abortion.

    Monday, May 19, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    Yeah, I read that (about crime rates dropping because of the legalization of abortion, so more children were “wanted”). I like that theory, but it hasn’t really been studied or verified as far as I know.

    Monday, May 19, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Permalink
  9. Zed wrote:

    The abortion thing was studied by Levitt, the economist half of the Freakonomics. The correlation is rock solid. The theory as to why the correlation exists is open to debate, but I buy the notion that people who don’t want kids should be allowed to not have kids.

    As for “NRA nutters” – that is a well observed evolution of groups. People who are most passionate will be most involved and will eventually concentrate in the group’s leadership. NRA, Boy Scouts, local youth soccer leagues, left, right, it doesn’t matter. So that NRA members favor things like background checks and wait times at rates comparable to Americans at large, the leadership opposes such measures.

    Monday, May 19, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Permalink
  10. capierso wrote:

    I am confused about this piece. Several stories have come out about how there are actually no reliable stats regarding lethal and non-lethal gun violence due to vast differences in reporting in the states. In fact there have been several articles about a group of ER docs who are saying that they are experiencing huge increases in gun violence cases. They say that the only fairly reliable numbers are those of deaths, but since they have gotten better at “fixing” people, the increase in non-lethal events are not often reported and accurate numbers are not collated or reported. These ER docs, and the national Fraternal order of police guys are telling a vastly different story. I
    really enjoy reading iron-knee, but I think he needs to look at this issue a bit more.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink