Sunday, January 29, 2012

More Guns, Less Crime? Homicide No Longer a Leading Cause of Death

The Center for Disease Control’s latest list of the 15 leading causes of death shows that homicide has dropped off the list entirely, for the first time in over 50 years.  This is coincident with the decrease in the crime rate in general, which has been dropping since the early 1990s.

The accompanying report explains how some causes have shifted on the list, with some decreasing and others increasing.  This has always contributed to many stories about public concern about mortal threats, such as “heart disease is an increasing risk of death”, with accompanying appeals for further funding, in keeping with today’s penchant to push any cause as a ‘crisis’.  I am all in favor of progress in the areas of prevention of heart disease or cancer or the like, but typically these stories – and those reading them – fail to take into account the simple fact that the death rate for all people is 100%.  If we show marked improvement in handling cancer, then naturally more people will begin to die of heart disease or some other malady.

The cause for the general decrease in the crime rate, including the drop in homicides, has been a contentious issue since it was first detected in the mid-1990s.  At first, the Left was glad to point out that this must confirm one of their favourite claims – that crime is caused by poverty – since the decrease in crime was matched by an increase in prosperity in the general economy.  Yet the crime rate continued to drop after the ‘dot-com’ bubble burst, the recession began to set in toward the end of the Clinton administration, the attacks of 11 September 2001, and the housing bubble collapse in 2008, which still continues.  For that matter, the poverty-crime link is further disparaged by looking at what is likely a relatively low crime rate during the Great Depression.

Allow me to risk pushing what some could consider another logical fallacy of the same sort – post hoc ergo propter hoc, the supposition that one coincident event causes another (‘The cock crowed, which caused the sun to rise.’)  While there are undoubtedly a number of factors that contribute to the decline in crime, I would like to toss out one that should be particularly germane: gun sales and gun ownership have increased over that same time, with a strong upsurge beginning in 2009.  (I highly recommend John R Lott’s classic More Guns, Less Crime on this topic, now in its third edition of 2010.)

There are a number of advocates both for and against this proposition, and most studies try to dissect the question along statistical lines involving gun sales.  Since there is no federal requirement for a firearms registry in the US thanks to the Second Amendment to the Constitution, it is practically the only method for tracking trends in firearms acquisition, but it cannot really account for firearms ownership.  Attempts by the Left to curtail the Second Amendment (usually the same people who call for completely unfettered freedom of speech, for example) have enjoyed some limited success up until District of Columbia vs Heller (2008) and the resultant McDonald vs Chicago (2010).

For example, I was raised in South Texas, son of a veteran of World War II.  My father had a number of firearms as he was an avid hunter (my brothers and I were practically raised on venison and wild turkey) and he maintained a collection that included a number of military firearms from World War I and II.  When he traveled throughout South Texas (an area larger than the state of Maine or South Carolina), he always carried – legally – his service M-1911 .45 handgun.  (Practically every pickup truck that I could recollect from my youth had a gun rack with at least one rifle or shotgun, for the primary – but not exclusive – purpose of varmint targets of opportunity.)  My father passed away many years ago, but all those weapons still exist in safe places I know of around the country, and are unregistered since they have never been sold.  How many untold thousands of unregistered firearms such as these are in the possession of private citizens?

Yet there are those who are still perplexed about this inverse correlation between increasing gun sales and decreasing crime rates, summed up by the classic perplexed headline in the New York Times in 1997: “Crime Rates are Falling, but Prisons Keep on Filling”.  This blithering conundrum among the Left has been dubbed the ‘Fox Butterfield Fallacy’ by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, to describe those (journalists in particular) who cling to liberal notions against all contrary evidence.

Again, the post hoc argument can be made, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.  As Robert Heinlein said, “An armed society is a polite society.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome and discussion is open and encouraged. I expect that there will be some occasional disagreement (heaven knows why) or welcome clarification and embellishment, and such are freely solicited.

Consider that all such comments are in the public domain and are expected to be polite, even while contentious. I will delete comments which are ad hominem, as well as those needlessly profane beyond the realm of sputtering incredulity in reaction to some inanity, unless attributed to a quote.

Links to other sources are fine so long as they further the argument or expand on the discussion. All such comments and links are the responsibility of the commenter, and the mere presence herein does not necessarily constitute my agreement.

I will also delete all comments that link to a commercial site.