In my last essay, I argued that a lot of false assumptions have been made about the political shooting in Tucson, yet several attributing factors have been ignored, including the inability of the public and of public officials to recognize severe mental illness. 

An entertainment culture that glorifies and justifies deviant behavior and violent acts is another cause.

Another easy to blame target, gun violence and gun control, has not been cited a lot, but expect this to be the meme for the next wave of criticism.

The template goes like this: Americans are a violent culture, and they love guns (or as one politician said: they cling to their religion and their guns). Hence the high murder rate by gun violence. Usually at this point, the writer then points to every American and says: Repent ye sinners and quit the NRA, or just Repent and feel guilty because you too are bad bad BAD.

Here is a typical essay, from RealClear Politics.

Experts agree, regardless, that guns don’t solely explain the American homicide rate. But they disagree over what else does. Some experts note that this nation was born in revolution. Yet France’s revolution was far more violent. America’s violent past is surpassed by the history of other developed nations (see Germany). The cowboy psyche is uniquely American, but Argentina and Australia have similar history and lore. We have a vast wealth gap. But destitution is not destiny. Poverty has increased with the recession, even as crime has declined.

What we do have is a Second Amendment. Guns represented the last recourse of American democracy. Many Americans hold tightly to that original belief. Democrats have learned the hard way that gun control is a losing issue in American politics.

So if a country has gun control, they have fewer gun murders. That makes sense.
Gun violence is blamed on American culture, but this ignores that most murders are limited to certain ethnic minorities, (not racial minorities) and places. The minorities change (as the movie “Gangs of New York” starkly showed) and “political correctness” makes it impossible to point this out…
From the Brady Campaign:

African-American children and teens are almost five times as likely as their white peers to be killed by firearms (11.30 per 100,000 African-American kids vs. 2.31 per 100,000 white kids) (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC)).

Kids means people under 18, so many of these are gang members, or the victims of gang violence. Of course, these statistics are a few years old, and they probably don’t include crimes by some of the more vicious Hispanic gangs that in the last few years have infiltrated even smaller cities and  rural areas.

The dirty little secret is not that “American” culture is violent, but that there are some segments in American society that are violent.

An older CDC report from 2001 points out the real problem:

A minority of serious violent youths are responsible for the overwhelming majority of serious violent crime, a finding supported by numerous self-report and arrest studies (Tolan & Gorman-Smith, 1998; Tracy & Kempf-Leonard, 1996). In the city surveys, chronic offenders, though representing less than 20 percent of all serious violent offenders, accounted for 75 to 80 percent of self-reported violent crimes (Huizinga et al., 1995). NYS data yield similar findings: Chronic offenders (youths with three or more violent offenses) accounted for 76 percent of all felony assaults and 89 percent of all robberies reported by offenders in 1980 (Elliott et al., 1989)….

Research has found a powerful relationship between membership in a gang and chronic involvement in serious violence (see review in Thornberry, 1998). As noted earlier (see Chapter 2), gang members, a relatively small proportion of the adolescent population, commit the majority of serious youth violence (see Spergel, 1990, and Thornberry, 1998, for reviews).

Translation: it’s a societal problem in controlling criminals.

A lot of these criminals “plea bargain”. After all, the witnesses often fail to appear (or are too afraid to testify) but you can usually get them jailed on a lesser charge of “drug possession” or carrying an unlicensed firearm. But these “Crimes” are not serious, so they quickly are released, to commit more crimes.

Another problem with the loud cry against gun violence: you can kill without a gun…

compare with this table:

Crime Statistics > Murders (per capita) (most recent) by country

Showing latest available data.
Rank       Countries      Amount
# 1       Colombia:     0.617847 per 1,000 people
# 2       South Africa:     0.496008 per 1,000 people
# 3       Jamaica:     0.324196 per 1,000 people
# 4       Venezuela:     0.316138 per 1,000 people
# 5       Russia:     0.201534 per 1,000 people
# 6       Mexico:     0.130213 per 1,000 people
# 7       Estonia:     0.107277 per 1,000 people
# 8       Latvia:     0.10393 per 1,000 people
# 9       Lithuania:     0.102863 per 1,000 people
# 10       Belarus:     0.0983495 per 1,000 people
Uh, where is the USA?

# 24 United States: 0.042802 per 1,000 people

That translates to 4.2 murders per hundred thousand people per year.

So how about the overall crime rate in the US:

2009 population:307,006,550

crime rate per 100 thousand:3,465.5

violent crime: 429.4

property crime:3,036.1

Murder rate:5.0

So for the “average” American, gun violence is rare, and guns are used for hunting or self defense against the above.

Get rid of the crime, and fewer Americans will run out to buy guns to protect their families.

Yet gun control laws are needed. Remember when I mentioned above that some criminals are jailed for carrying weapons? If you increase the penalty for such crimes, the criminals will stop carrying them.

But forbid the public from owning guns, and you essentially disarm the public and let the criminals own all the weapons.

Indeed, the real danger of ordinary nice folks owning guns is that they might accidentally shoot themselves or someone else, use them while intoxicated or in an argument, or they are used in suicides.

Yes, the US needs (and in many areas has) gun control, and gun safety courses need to be mandated to own guns.

Limit handguns, enforce the gun laws, and give stiff sentences to discourage criminals from carrying weapons, and encourage non violence initiatives on the community level.

But stop spouting the “violent American and their evil guns” nonsense. It’s simply not true.

Like other “public health” problems, first you identify the problem, then attempt a solution. Gun control is only a partial solution to the problem.


The NYTimes has a good article on breaking this cycle of gang related violence in the inner city HERE.

other programs are found on the CDC webpage here.

Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Makaipablog.

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