Well, there was some pretty enthusiastic response from the last piece, so I’ll continue my dissection of Harvard Magazine’s recent piece, Death by the Barrel, a review of Harvard PhD. David Hemmenway’s most recent book, Private Guns, Public Health: A Dramatic New Plan for Ending America’s Epidemic of Gun Violence. In the last installment I dissected Dr. Hemenway’s bait-and-switch between a legitimate question, “Why manufacture guns that go off when you drop them?”, and a bogus diversion to the topic of “childproof guns.” Now we’ll continue where I left off.
The next paragraph of the piece is
Hemenway’s work on guns and violence is a natural evolution of his research on injuries of various kinds, which he has pursued for decades. (In fact, it could be traced as far back as the 1960s, when, working for Ralph Nader, LL.B. ’58, he investigated product safety as one of “Nader’s Raiders.”) Hemenway says he doesn’t have a personal issue with guns; he has shot firearms, but found the experience “loud and dirty—and there’s no exercise”—as opposed to the “paintball” survival games he enjoys, which involve not only shooting but “a lot of running.” He also happens to live in a state with strong gun laws. “It’s nice,” he says, “to have raised my son in Massachusetts, where he is so much safer.”
Oh, please. First, we establish Dr. Hemenway’s bona fides by revealing that he’s a Naderite, out for the selfless defense of the little guy against rapacious and irresponsible corporations (like gun manufacturers, natch.) But! Hemenway doesn’t have a “personal issue” with guns, he’s shot them, so he’s shown himself to be an unbiased observer! He even plays paintball!
Ladies and gentlemen, the presidential nominee for the Democrat party shoots trap. That doesn’t make him impartial when it comes to firearms. A rose by any other name…
All of this prelude is predictably ruined by the last two lines: “He also happens to live in a state with strong gun laws. ‘It’s nice,’ he says, ‘to have raised my son in Massachusetts, where he is so much safer.'” Safer than where? He lives in BOSTON. Safer than Chicago, with its even more restrictive gun laws. Safer than D.C. with its near-absolute prohibition on firearms, certainly. But Dr. Hemenway, or at least the article author, seems to credit that safety to Massachussetts’ “strong gun laws.” Well, according to this article, apparently not.
Slayings raise fears that more will follow
Boston officials wary of return of ’90s gang wars
By John McElhenny
and Ron DePasquale, Globe Correspondents, 2/16/2004
The brazen killings of two Boston teenagers in crowded public settings over the last three days have ignited concerns about a return to the street violence that plagued the city a decade ago.
Nine homicides have occurred in Boston in the first six weeks of the year, a rate that far exceeds last year, when three people were killed by mid-February. Boston did not see its ninth homicide last year until mid-April.
Specialists said that violent crime across the country has remained flat in recent years, with a notable exception: Gang-related violence is on the rise.
James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University, said gang-related violence had increased in particular in Chicago and Los Angeles, where gang activity grew in the late 1980s and early 1990s before spreading to other cities.
Many gang leaders in Boston and other cities were imprisoned on federal charges in the late 1980s and early 1990s but have now been released, Fox said.
“They’re coming back to their old neighborhoods, and their old pals, and their old ways,” said Fox. “There’s reason for concern that gang killings could be on the rise.”
Gangs fueled the violence that pushed Boston to a record-high 152 murders in 1990. The violence that year continued into the next year, and by Feb. 15, 1991, the city reported 18 homicides.
In the early 1990s, the city’s public safety officials fought back with a variety of efforts and homicides fell sharply throughout the decade.
Some attributed the drop to law enforcement programs such as the police department’s community policing approach and the “antigang violence unit,” which confiscated guns and sent hundreds of violent young people to prison. Others credited the delivery of more social services and the expansion of programs such as the Safe Neighborhoods Plan, which encouraged people to serve as role models in their neighborhoods.
By 2001 the city’s homicide rate had fallen to 66. It fell to 60 in 2002 and 41 last year.
Philip J. Carver, president of the Pope’s Hill Neighborhood Association in Dorchester, said the “Boston miracle” that saw violent crime plummet in the second half of the 1990s was due to effective cooperation among various law enforcement agencies, from police to parole officers to the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office.
But a few years ago, Carver said, the money that had gone to some neighborhood anticrime efforts dried up and children began filling the vacuum in gang leadership created when the older generation went to prison.
“I’m not saying we got lazy, but we lost focus,” said Carver. “Once we took the higher echelon of gang leaders out, we became lax.”
That’s interesting. Note that they didn’t give credit for the low rate of homicide to Massachussetts’ gun laws, but to aggressive prosecution of gang leaders. And after “losing focus” that problem has reasserted itself as an increase in homicide.
Personally, I’d rather live in Tucson, where according to this National Institute of Justice report (PDF) we had a a mean homicide rate of 8.31/100,000 population over the period from 1985 to 1994, and an average population of a bit over 405,000. Boston during that same period had a mean homicide rate of 17.0 and a mean population of 571,000. Hell, Phoenix had a mean rate of 13.57 and a mean population of almost 974,000. Arizona is a border state and a major thoroughfare for drug traffic.
In case you weren’t aware, Arizona also allows unlicensed open carry of firearms, no waiting period, and private transfers are perfectly legal. It’s also a Class III state (full-auto and suppressors are legal here.) We got licensed concealed carry in 1994.
But Massachussetts’ gun laws are responsible for it being safe. Check.
Statistically, the United States is not a particularly violent society. Although gun proponents like to compare this country with hot spots like Colombia, Mexico, and Estonia (making America appear a truly peaceable kingdom), a more relevant comparison is against other high-income, industrialized nations. The percentage of the U.S. population victimized in 2000 by crimes like assault, car theft, burglary, robbery, and sexual incidents is about average for 17 industrialized countries, and lower on many indices than Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.
This is that “just enough accuracy” part I spoke of in the first piece. However, this paragraph fails to note that the U.S. has far, FAR less “crimes like assault, car theft, burglary, robbery” than the UK – the industrialized European country with by far the most restrictive firearms laws. Why that particular omission, I wonder?
“The only thing that jumps out is lethal violence,” Hemenway says. Violence, pace H. Rap Brown, is not “as American as cherry pie,” but American violence does tend to end in death. The reason, plain and simple, is guns. We own more guns per capita than any other high-income country—maybe even more than one gun for every man, woman, and child in the country. A 1994 survey numbered the U.S. gun supply at more than 200 million in a population then numbered at 262 million, and currently about 35 percent of American households have guns. (These figures count only civilian guns; Switzerland, for example, has plenty of military weapons per capita.)
Wait a minute…
What difference does it make if Switzerland has “plenty of military weapons per capita?” The bulk of those guns are kept in Swiss homes. All males of military age are required to keep an honest-to-jeebus assault rifle at home, and ammunition for it. Finland has a lot of guns and its lethal violence rate is quite low, too. According to Ryerson University of Ontario, about 36% of households in Switzerland contain a firearm, about 50% of households in Finland, and about 35% of households in the U.S. (which agrees with the Harvard article). What this means is that gun ownership is more widespread in Finland (a higher percentage own firearms) but American gun owners tend to own a lot more firearms per person. If there are more households containing guns, and the reason, “plain and simple” for America’s higher level of lethal violence is gun availability, shouldn’t Switzerland and Finland have higher or at least equivalent levels of lethal violence compared to the United States? That’s what the next paragraph says:
“It’s not as if a 19-year-old in the United States is more evil than a 19-year-old in Australia—there’s no evidence for that,” Hemenway explains. “But a 19-year-old in America can very easily get a pistol. That’s very hard to do in Australia. So when there’s a bar fight in Australia, somebody gets punched out or hit with a beer bottle. Here, they get shot.”
Ah! Now it’s not guns, but handguns that are the cause. Or are they?
In general, guns don’t induce people to commit crimes. “What guns do is make crimes lethal,” says Hemenway. They also make suicide attempts lethal: about 60 percent of suicides in America involve guns. “If you try to kill yourself with drugs, there’s a 2 to 3 percent chance of dying,” he explains. “With guns, the chance is 90 percent.”
Hold your horses. You’re doing another bait-and-switch. We were talking about criminal assaults, and now you’ve jumped to suicide. Apples and oranges, as I’ve illustrated before.
I’m quite willing to concede that firearms are more lethal than beer bottles or even knives. The level of violence among young males is also quite high. But I believe it really is culture that determines whether youth violence results in death or not. I covered part of this in the three Dangerous Victims essays (see the last three links under Best Posts in the left column of the blog). I covered it in more detail in a much older post, Racist!™
Homicide in the United States is tremendously concentrated in a very small portion of the population. If that portion of the population suffered homicide at the same rate as the rest of society, America’s homicide rate would be near middle of the pack for industrialized Europe. Read the piece, at least the first half. It’s not something you’re likely to see in the mainstream media.
In the next piece, I’ll deconstruct the “guns cause suicide” meme. Again.