Home » Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America

Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America

In some cases, gun control may be favored even if the price is more death. Consider, for example, H. Laurence Ross’s review of Gary Kleck’s book Point Blank in the American Journal of Sociology. Kleck’s book was awarded the Hindelang Prize, as the most significant contribution to criminology in the last three years; Ross praises Kleck’s meticulous research and analysis, and Kleck’s debunking of many of the myths surrounding the gun issue.

And Ross does not deny Kleck’s conclusion that, because handguns are frequently used by law-abiding citizens for lawful defensive purposes, the availability of handguns to law-abiding citizens results in a large net saving of innocent lives every year, even after accounting for the large number of handgun murders and suicides. Yet saving lives, according to Ross, is not the most important goal: “But despite the masses of data and the cleverness of his analysis and argument, Kleck has missed the point … [To accept Kleck’s viewpoint is to] embrace a society based on an internal as well as an external balance of terror.

The social order is seen to rest adequately on masses of potential victims using the threat of gun violence against masses of potential armed criminals…. [The] spectacle is one that ought to disgust rather than cheer the civilized observer. ” Not only is Ross willing to sacrifice the protection of innocent life in order that “civilized” persons will no longer need to feel “disgust” at crime victims using force for protection, Ross actually looks forward to more criminal gun violence as a spur to further controls.

After noting the “fate of James Brady” (confined to a wheelchair after being struck by a bullet intended for President Reagan), Ross notes approvingly that Brady’s tragedy provided “impetus for attempts at broader control. ” Ross looks forward to the spur of “more incidents, more heinous ones with more tragic or important victims, to develop the necessary determination” for society to progress beyond “narrow controls” to the confiscation of all firearms (Ross, 1992). (p. 13) [13] Alan Lizotte and Jo Dixon, “Gun Ownership and the ‘Southern Subculture of Violence,'” American Journal of Sociology 93 (1987): 383.

This approval of “defensive force” must be distinguished from generally “violent attitudes” (as defined by approval of violence against social deviants or dissenters). Gun owners are no more likely to have generally violent attitudes than are nonowners. Indeed, the holders of violent attitudes were less likely than the average gun owner to approve of defensive force (perhaps perceiving it would be directed against violent people like themselves). More guns more crime More guns less crime Without the entire picture, one could play all sorts of statistical games with the above data.

Depending on the starting year and time frame, we could find “evidence” to support either position. However taking the long view it appears that the gun supply does not have a significant impact on total homicides or suicides. (Since 1945 the handgun per capita rate has risen by over 350% and over 260% for all firearms. ) Kleck in Targeting Guns commenting on the gun stock relationship: “About half of the time gun stock increases have been accompanied by violence decreases, and about half the time accompanied by violence increases, just what one would expect if gun levels had no net impact on violence rates.

The rate of gun suicide is correlated with trends in the size of the gun or handgun stock, but the rate of total suicide is not, supporting a substitution argument–when guns are scarce, suicide attempters substitute other methods, with no effect on the total number who die. Trends in the size of the cumulated gun or handgun stock have no consistent correlation with crime rates. ” Incidentally regarding non-lethal violent crime: Offenders were armed with a firearm in 10% of all violent crimes; a knife in 6% and some other object used as a weapon in 5%.

Offenders used or possessed a weapon in an estimated 27% of overall violent incidents, 8% of rapes/sexual assaults, 52% of robberies, and 25% of assaults. Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization in the United States, 1993, May 1996. The FBI lists many major contributing factors to violent crime in their 1997 FBI Uniform Crime Report. As for the declining violent crime rate over the last several years: “There is, at present, little consensus among criminologists, legal analysts and law enforcement officials about the explanation or causes of the decrease.

Possible explanations include: increase in the incarceration rate; community based policing; changes in drug markets; aging of the criminal population; and cyclical trends in the homicide rate. ” (Conference announcement: Why is Crime Decreasing, Northwestern University School of Law). Reporting a record 7-year plunge in crime rates a Los Angeles Times news article stated: “Law enforcement experts credited a variety of factors, including a booming economy and declining unemployment, greater attention to community-based policing, more prison beds and tougher sentencing in some areas through measures such as California’s ‘three strikes’ law.

But they stressed that no one factor can explain the downward spiral” (May 17, 1999, p. A6) Excerpted from the abstract of the Koch Crime Institute’s paper, The Falling Crime Rate (April 1998): “The consensus on the falling crime rate is that there is no singular event, policy implementation, or social action that can account for the decrease during the last six years. Individuals and organizations assessing the cause and implications of this decline are arriving at a unified theory attributing collective efforts and change as the reason or reasons. ”

The Chicago Tribune reported a surprising finding: “Two widely respected scholars studying the causes of the declining U. S. crime rate, one of the intriguing social puzzles of the decade, have reached a provacative conclusion: Legalizing abortion in early 1970s eliminated many of the potential criminals of the 1990s… ” “Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, and John Donohue III, a Stanford University Law professor, conclude that legalized abortion may explain as much as half of the overall crime reduction the nation experienced from 1991 to 1997… T]he authors conclude that the women who chose abortion were those at greatest risk for bearing children who would have been most likely to commit crimes as young adults.

These women are teen-agers, minorites and the poor–all groups of women who have abortions at higher rates than the overall population of women of childbearing age… ” [I]t is not simply who has the abortion that leads to the lower crime rate… but the ability of the woman to choose better timing for childrearing that lowers criminality. ” (Los Angeles Daily News, August 8, 1999, pp. 8)

What about the Brady Bill and other gun control measures Didn’t the Brady Bill play a big part in reducing gun crime See GunCite’s analysis of that claim. Four scholars discuss “Does Gun Control Work ” in PBS’s moderated panel discussion, Think Tank (aired June 3, 1995). What can be done about violent crime To read where enforcement of the numerous, already existing laws is working and achieving dramatic results in reducing gun related violence and homicide, without additional gun control laws, see enforcing the laws we already have.

Violence no matter where it occurs is usually a traumatic, tragic event, but when it happens in our schools to our children, it is an extraordinarily shocking occurrence. An emotional reaction would be to blindly demand a ban on all firearms or wish they never existed in the first place. Some may feel motivated to push for legislation that makes us feel like we are “doing something”, but this may not accomplish anything, or worse, it could do more harm. (This does not imply legislation of any kind is useless. )

We should harness our emotions and intellect to analyze what the problems are, their extent, and then weigh the advantages and disadvantages of various policy options. The passages cited here discuss the extent of the school violence problem. Other sections of GunCite discuss the apparent benefits of firearms in civilian hands and the possible ramifications of certain policy decisions. GunCite does not delve into the social problems that give rise to these horrible events. Unfortunately the problems are legion.

Moreover, sadly, no matter how optimal the economic and political policies we adopt, or how enlightened a society we become, evil will always exist. Gary Kleck in Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, (Walter de Gruyter, Inc. , New York 1997) comments on the carrying of guns to school: Perhaps the most emotionally charged type of weapon carrying is that occurring in schools, because of both the youth of those involved and the perception of schools as safe havens. In the early and mid-1990s it was widely reported that each school day 100,000, 135,000, or even 186,000, children carry guns to school [three citations omitted by GunCite].

Those making the claims often did not cite sources, or cited sources that did not in fact support the claims. For example, Keith Geiger, president of the National Education Association, claimed in 1993 that “some 100,000 students bring guns to school each day,” citing unspecified “statistics provided by the United States Justice Department” for support (NEA News-National Education Association Communications, Jan. 14, 1993). To my knowledge, there are no such statistics, and repeated inquiries to NEA staff have failed to turn any up.

After surveying the literature and studies on this topic, Dr. Kleck concludes, in Targeting Guns, “Both gun carrying and gun violence are thus phenomena almost entirely confined to the world outside schools. ” “Less that 1% of all homicides among school-aged children (5-19 years of age) occur in or around school grounds or on the way to and from school. ” (CDC, Facts About Violence Among Youth and Violence in Schools. May 21, 1998) Who’s Really Killing Our Schoolkids The following is excerpted from a Los Angeles Times Opinion column (May 31, 1998, where emphasis appears, it has been added): Of 20 million middle-school and high-school students, fewer than a dozen have killed at school this year.

Of 20,000 secondary schools nationwide, only about 10 have reported a murder on campus… The school shootings by students over the last eight months killed 11 youths and six adults. That is fewer kids than are murdered by parents , and fewer adults than are killed by partners, in just two days of household violence in the United States. The president struggles to “make sense of the senseless” student shootings.

His struggle should expand beyond “youth violence”– which comprises 13% of violent crime and 8% of murder… On the day of the Jonesboro, Ark, school killings, a Daly City, Calif. her was arrested for suffocating her three children with duct tape. A few days after the West Paducah, Ky. , student shootings, three West Virginia parents were arrested for burning down their house, deliberately immolating five children.

The day after the Springfield, Ore. school cafeteria massacre, an Arleta [Calif. ] mother was arrested for murdering her two young children and burying them in the national forest. Recent studies estimate that gunplay at school kills 20 to 30 youths a year, though there is no evidence the toll is higher today than in the past. By contrast studies… w that 2,000-3,000 children and youths are murdered each year by parents or caretakers, a toll that clearly is rising.

Annual surveys… report that weapons-related violence in schools is no higher today than in the 1970s. But the rate of children being murdered by their parents doubled during that time. In response to the school shootings, the president wants to enhance children’s safety. But his own agencies’ figures show that the best way to do that would be to target the American family. Three of four young murder victims- 90% of them under age 12 and 70% of them aged 12-17 are killed by adults, not by juveniles.

Odds and statistics are of no comfort to those victimized by violence, to be sure. But larger policy, resource allocation and academic analysis should focus on the biggest dangers to kids. The Clinton administration’s own agencies have assembled reams of ignored statistics showing that today’s teens are being raised by a parent generation displaying exploding rates of domestic violence, property crime, drug offenses, addiction and family instability… This column was excerpted from the Los Angeles Daily News (June 5, 1998): Advocates of gun control have been thrown into a tizzy.

Instead of going after guns sold out of automobile trunks in the inner city, they are forced politically to deal with the hunting guns used by kids in the rural shootings In 1992, 55 killings occurred in America’s schools. In 1997 it was down to 25. By contrast, 88 people were killed by lightning in 1997. Schiraldi [Director of the Center for Justice Policy Institute] says he hates to see rural schools start spending money on metal detectors and security guards instead of books. “It’s the functional equivalent of everyone buying lightning rods,” he says.

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