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Correction: Amok Time

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After publishing “Amok Time” yesterday, my friend and fellow Democrat Abroad, Sue Burke, pointed out that two of my graphs were showing erroneous data. The graphs on U.S. National and State murder and non-negligent homicides showed total homicides, not just firearm-related homicides. It turns out she was right.

So allow me to apologize for that error and thank Sue for detecting it and letting me know about it.

However, Sue’s second assertion, that firearm-related homicides have not declined in either absolute terms or in proportion to population turn out to be both incorrect. Here is the original data (total homicides) along with the firearm-related homicides:

 firearmhomicides

The FBI’s UCR database only provides data on the “extended homicide tables” back to 1991. Earlier data is available only in pdf format on compact disk, not online. In any case, we can see that the rate of firearm homicides declines by more than 50% from the 1993 peak of 6.3 per 100,000 to 2.9 per 100,000 in 2010. And the absolute number of firearm homicides declined from 14,373 in 1993 to 8,593 in 2011, a decrease of -40%.

Unfortunately, the state-level data is not available for the “extended homicide tables”, which means that I cannot separate out the firearm homicides from the total. However, since firearm homicides as a percentage of total homicides remains very steady for the two decades of data in the national data (averaging 67%) we might perhaps be willing to assume that regional variation in that rate are minimal.

One additional point I would make regarding the efficacy of an assault weapon ban, since I pulled the data anyway. Rifles of any type make up a very small percentage of all firearm homicides, averaging 4.5% over the period. This is similar to the shotgun percentage, which is slightly higher. This makes sense: neither weapon is easily concealed, which severely limits their usefulness to criminals. The vast majority of firearm deaths are caused by handguns, and most of these are caused by previous offenders.

 bytypeoffirearm

So why focus on assault rifles when these are used in an insignificant number of crimes? Furthermore, the assault weapon ban had no appreciable effect on the percentage of rifle deaths: these declined but at the same rate as all other firearm deaths.

I hope the Administration proves me wrong, but the current efforts they are spearheading appear aimed at appeasing the anti-gun collective within the Democratic Party rather than in actually improving firearm safety or identifying and treating people like Adam Lanza or Seung-Hui Cho before they endanger the lives of others.

With the most recent news that President Obama may decide to side-step Congress completely and act on an assault weapons ban through executive fiat[1] bodes extremely ill on many levels: for those of us who want sincere and practical means to improve gun safety, for those of us who are concerned about our already eroded civil liberties and the authority of Congress, and for those of us who believe that an uncompromising Administration is unlikely to address the many and urgent priorities of the country: gun control not being one of them.



Sources and Notes

[1] Nelson, Colleen McCain and Fields, Gary, “Biden Says White House May Bypass Congress Over Guns,” The Wall Street Journal, 9 January 2013

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Discussion

2 Responses to “Correction: Amok Time”

  1. I stand corrected too. However, overall gun deaths in the US have been increasing over the last decade — more guns does seem to mean more deaths. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-19/american-gun-deaths-to-exceed-traffic-fatalities-by-2015.html

    There was a spike in gun violence in the early 1990s, but that had a quite different population of victims and a specific explanation:
    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline

    You are right that limiting handguns would be far wiser in terms of public safety, but like some many things, that doesn’t seem to be politically possible. Still, I think that some of the measures proposed, like better background checks, might be a start.

    No matter how you look at it, though, the US manages to have both a very high rate of gun ownership and a very high rate of gun deaths. I have to believe that those two facts are causally linked. I also think there is a culture of violence that firearm ownership encourages. Lots of gun supporters talk about preserving their right to kill people “who deserve it.” The right to own a gun under that logic automatically gives one the right to be judge, jury, and executioner. Pretty much power for just a few bucks.

    Posted by Sue Burke | January 13, 2013, 15:11
    • Sue,

      I think the Bloomberg article is a bit deceptive: taking all firearm deaths together, including suicides, is not really a valid comparison. If suicides are rising faster than homicides are falling, that points to a totally different problem than gun ownership. It is no surprise that countries with low rates of homicides and suicides also tend to have strong social safety nets: I strongly recommend we prioritize good health care, good pensions and worker’s benefits, and most importantly, good job opportunities for youth, rather than wasting time on cosmetic gun bans of questionable efficacy.

      Just to be clear, my point was that banning hand guns would be more likely to have an impact on firearm-related homicides, but I’m certainly not in favor of it. My preferred solution would involve more rigorous and comprehensive background checks that included private sales, better security measures in the home, and the incorporation of smart gun technologies in all semi-automatic weapons (eventually all firearms period). Then perhaps we gun owners would be left in peace to enjoy our shooting sports 🙂

      And I do agree with you that “stand your ground” laws have gone too far; but the root of it is, as you rightly point out, a culture of violence and death which has grown up in America. Until we are able to change that, we will remain a violent society.

      Posted by fdbetancor | January 13, 2013, 23:11

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