25 July 2012

Gun Violence: Reality vs. Perceptions

You would have to be living under a rock to not hear about the tragedy that occurred in Colorado last week when a gunman murdered 12 men and woman (and a child) during the screening of the latest Batman movie. In Toronto, there have also been high profile news stories involving guns in which people have died, including one that occurred at the Eaton's Centre and another at a community block party.

It's natural that people would ask themselves, and aloud, why these terrible events happen. It's also natural to feel for the victims and their families. We want to find solutions that will prevent anyone else from having to feel what must be terrible anguish (this writer lost a loved one as a child and can well understand how the survivors feel). But there is no clear cut solution, no panacea that will make things right. This isn't to say that we shouldn't work to ending violence in our communities, but to warn against the desire for a, "quick fix."

There are individuals, however, who do offer quick fixes.

Here, from our faithful reader Tom Winnicki:

If what Brad Love did is considered illegal and deserving of jail time then multiculturalism and any promotion of if ought to be even more so.
Eaton Centre shooting
Scarborough BBQ shooting

The link between multiculturalism and dozens of murders and hundreds of shootings in the GTA alone is undeniable.

Continuing on this theme, Winnicki posted the following on the VNN forums:

In Winnicki's mind, the link between violence and multiculturalism are undeniable.

And what might surprise Winnicki is that we at ARC completely agree with him. Multiculturalism and violence are inexorably linked.

Though probably not in the way Winnicki believes.

We ask our readers to examine the following charts:

The homicide rate reached it's peak in 1975 at 3.03 per 100,000 (Toronto's homicide rate mirrored the national homicide rate, reaching somewhere north of 3.0 per 100,000 people). However, since this peak, the homicide rate has been in steady decline ever since. And as for Toronto, regarded as one of the most multicultural cities on the planet, the homicide rate decreased by an even greater amount and is below the already low national average:

So what can be the cause of the decline in homicides in Canada during the past 40 years? Well, we can't help but notice the trend seems to mirror the increasing ethnic diversity of Canada itself:

Prior to roughly 1975 the absolute peak of Canada's homicide rate, the majority of immigrants coming to Canada were European, however after 1975, most of Canada's immigrants originated from the developing world, particularly Asia and Africa.

When homicide rates peaked in Toronto during the 1970s, the city was still predominately European. Last year, when Toronto recorded it's lowest homocide rate in 40 years after a fairly steady rate of declining  violence, Torontonians of European heritage were already a minority in the city.

Actually, come to think of it, we could even make the case that Europe has also become less violent as a result of increased diversity:

Now, we don't necessarily think that greater diversity has made Canada a less violent country, or Toronto a less violent city, any more than we think greater diversity has made Canada and Toronto more violent. The decline in homicides and other crimes in both Canada as a whole and Toronto specifically is more likely due to changing demographics, specifically age and affluence, rather than ethnicity. As Canadians grow older and have become better off financially as a population, rates of violence have decreased.

So although we don't necessarily think that ethnicity has an influence on criminality one way or the other, at least we can provide the statistics to back up such a claim. Winnicki doesn't bother to do so.

Then again, Winnicki is being a bit disingenuous since he's actually fine with violence.... so long as it's the right kind of violence:

NOTE: Our readers may also wish to read anther one of our refutations of Tomasz Winnicki's claims regarding violence in  Toronto: "Anyone know the murder rate in, say, Berlin?"

Unbeknownst to us when we began our research, another writer was also making a positive connection between multiculturalism and violence:

Our friends at Free Dominon, however, aren't convinced:

"RedDog" might not be aware that some big city problems have, indeed, started affecting the Amish community (he also might want to look up the spelling of Hutterite). And Faramir might have forgotten about (or not aware of) cases such as Taber, Shell Lake, Mayerthorpe, Shedden, Denis Lortie, and other mass killings and killers, all of which seems to indicate that it's not just the, "ethnics" who commit these kinds of crimes.

Actually, Kennedy didn't forget Lortie, though he seems to imply what Lortie did was justified:

But it's the earlier comment that Kennedy makes that is most relevant. It doesn't matter if the available evidence refutes what he believes. He feels that ethnic Canadians are more violent (though he does give the,  "orientals" a bit of a pass). In fact, he feels that there is more violence in Canada than in the past, as do many who self-identify as conservative (and this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with whether those who hold these beliefs are racist or not). When the statistics indicate that crime rates have been declining for 40 years, many conservatives dismiss the facts and argue the anecdotal. They see more crime being discussed in the media, so they assume that there must be more crime, or they know someone, or they know someone who know's someone, who was victimized in some way. Statistics indicating otherwise are either dismissed as propaganda -- there is really more crime, it's just unreported -- or "liberals" are hiding the "real" facts that clearly prove society is rife with violent criminals.

This belief is made clear by another Free Dominion member:

In fact, the reason why mass shootings garner national coverage in Canada is because they are very rare occurrences, not because, as "Red Green" has written, "so many" (in fact, and despite the tragic sensational cases that are covered in the media, the overall rate of gun violence has been declining for years) Consider if the Eaton's Centre incident had occurred in, let's say Tucson, Arizona. It seems likely that it would be a lead story on the city's local news, however it is unlikely that it would be featured on the on the ABC, CBC, NBC, or Fox national news programs (unless a Congressperson was one of the individuals injured in an attack, as in this case from last year). In Canada, the shootings at the Eaton's Centre and in Scarborough had and have been the lead story for days on every national news program.

We don't minimize the severity of the crime -- one shooting and one death is one too many -- but it's so rare to have a mass shooting in Canada, or any shooting, for that matter, that when it does occur the entire country takes notice.

"Red Green" does have a solution though for gun violence. More guns.

Let's consider this for a moment since "Red Green" isn't the only person who believes an armed society results in less violence.

First, regarding the specific case in question, imagine if you will what the situation must have been. A gunman in a dark, crowded theater throws in a smoke bomb and begins shooting. He's wearing body armor, but it's not sure that anyone has noticed this immediately. Mass hysteria ensues as panicked men, women, and children flee from the room. You, fortunately, have a concealed weapon permit and have a pistol with you. You can take this guy out.

Or can you?

Can you see him, or are you firing blindly in the direction where you think the gunman might be? Oh, he's wearing body armor too? Makes it hard to take him out, thought we suppose you could, in that dark, chaotic, smoke-filled theater, go for a head shot. Beacuse that's easy, right?

And if there are more than one of the other, "good guys" in the theater who also have guns, do they know that you aren't the crazy dude who was the cause of the chaos? They see you with a gun, or these see the muzzle fire of the gun in the dark as you shoot. Can you convince us that they will instinctively know that you are also a, "good guy" and not start firing in your direction?

Joe Zamudio was a hero, but had he acted as "Red Green" had wanted him, the tragedy in Tuscon would have been compounded. And this was a shooting that occurred in daylight outside. If Zamudio didn't feel confident enough to open fire in that situation, how can "Red Green" honestly believe that a mass of weapons in the dark, enclosed theater would have helped the situation?

Second, regarding guns as a means of protection, there is information that would dispute that claim as well.

The homicide rate in the United States is still unacceptably high at around 5.0 per 100,000, however it had drastically declined since the early 1980s and early 1990s when it hovered around the 10.0 per 100.000:

Proponents of "concealed carry" laws have claimed that the decline in homicides could be attributed to less stringent gun control regulations, however there are problems with this in that states with strict gun control laws also have a significant decline in homicide rates. Also, it appears that even as there is a decline in homicides over all, those states where gun ownership is the highest still have the highest homicide rates. Alternatively, states with stricter gun control laws tend to have lower incident of gun violence. Finally, although there are as many, if not more, guns in the possession of some Americans, the overall rate of gun ownership by individuals has continued to decline overall:

While there are fewer gun owners, those who are gun owners own more than ever before, but the data still  flies in the face of the claim that the decline in homicides other violent crimes are the result of a more armed population. Again, the decline is more likely the result of an aging population and increased affluence.

As we already noted though, it's not the reality that matters. The facts of the situation are mostly irrelevant. What matters is the perception of gun violence. What matters is the fear that people have about being victimized. What matters is the false sense of security possessing a weapon has on those who think of guns as a panacea:

To most our readers, "Red Green's" statement that he doesn't feel safe in Canada because he can't have a firearm while he's here seems absolutely bizarre given what we know about the homicide rate in the United States, but he's certainly not alone in this perception. Free Dominion member Edward Kennedy routinely complains about the gun laws in Canada and says he feels much safer travelling to the United States than he does almost anywhere in Canada.

Are they right?

Again, we can look at the statistics.

Let's first compare the rate of violent crime between Canada and the United States.

The most recent numbers for Canada that we can find come from 2010. During that year, the homicide rate in Canada was 1.62/100,000. During this same time period, the homicide rate in the United States was 4.8/100,00. Both countries saw significant declines in their respective homicide rates, but the 4.8/100,000 is still significantly higher than the peak homicide rate in Canada in 1975. On the positive side the homicide rate currently in the United States appears to be near historic lows.... and we really do mean historic if this chart is to be believed:

We can't vouch for the accuracy of the information prior to 1900, though
the data after 1900 appears congruent with what we can accurately determine
based on the hard data.

Taking a look at Arizona where "Red Green" resides specifically indicates that state had a homicide rate of 6.4/100,000 which is significantly higher than even the national average, though still much lower than the peak of 10.5/100,000 in 1994. It might also be noted from the chart we linked to that the lowest homicide rate occurred in 1965, but even then the 5.0/100,000 is significantly higher than the highest homicide rate in Canadian history (at least based on the statistics were able to find).

So despite less stringent gun control laws in the United States, one is still more likely to be victimized in the United States than in Canada. In fact if we include other deaths as a result of guns (suicides and accidents) the United States fares even worse:

These numbers are out of date now, so perhaps things have changed,
though the change would have to be pretty significant.
All this is academic. It's also not at all convincing people who have a fundamental distrust of statistics or science and instead rely on how they feel. So we have no doubt that "Red Green" and Edward Kennedy and a host of others feel that they are safer in a country were gun laws are limited.

We also don't think that an examination of the facts (like, perhaps there should be some sort of bells that go off when a person orders 6000 rounds of ammunition) will be considered relevant when those who feel simply want simple black and white solutions, like shooting back in the crowded theater or engaging in racial profiling.... even though the Aurora, Colorado wouldn't have been fingered by racial profilers:

What might be as dangerous as the weapon itself is the false sense of security it provides. Those individuals assume that, if it came down to it, they would be able to use the weapon to protect themselves without any hesitation.

Perhaps. There are cases of people who have defended themselves. There are also cases where the weapon was taken and used against the owner. And there are cases of mistaken identity; a teen son or daughter coming home late at night and a parent jumping to a tragic conclusion.

More often though the weapon is never used mainly because the owner is of a socio-economic status that they really aren't in danger of being a victim. But the owner feels that he or she could be victimized because of what they see on the news and they feel better and safer as a result.

They also feel there's no need to examine the underlying causes of violence if everyone just owns a gun.


Lucas said...

You're overlooking one very important fact in this article. The homicide rate may be lower today in virtually all western countries but it is in no way due to a reduction in violent crime. It's because in many cases today people are surviving attacks that would have been a death sentence 40 years ago and this is due to advancements in medical treatment and technology over the past several decades.

Look at the statistics for attempted murder and assaults and I think you'll see a completely different trend.

As for gun control, concealed carry and all that jazz...I could bicker all day about that but I've got to get to work. ;)

Nosferatu200 said...

Well, the problem with your argument is that not only have homicides declined, but also other violent crimes have also declined.

Attempted murder.

All have fallen along with homicide rates. These are indicated by the statistics you suggest we examine.

So if your belief is that the only reason why homicide rates have decreased is because of improved medical techniques and innovations, you then need to account for the decline in attempted murders and assaults as well.

Nosferatu200 said...

I should be clear in writing the rate of these incidents have declined.

Anonymous said...

hey nos, what is interesting however, is that the rate of violent crime is currently incereasing in impoverished communities!
something to do with all that inequality stuff !

. A scientific paper, printed in the prestigious publication Social Science and Medicine, and written by Ichiro Kawachi and Bruce P. Kennedy (both of the Harvard School of Public Health) and Richard G. Wilkinson (University of Sussex) shows that several violent crimes have a definite relationship with economic inequality. That means that as the economic inequality grows larger, there is a rise in the incidence of these crimes.

The researchers used crime data from many police organizations (including the FBI) to compare crime rates in states that have a large income inequality to states that have a lesser income inequalty. They found that violent crimes (like robbery, aggravated assault, and homicide) do correlate to the income equality in the states. The only violent crime that did not have a correlation is rape. The only non-violent crime with a fairly strong correlation is burglary. Here are the correlation numbers (note that homicide has the strongest correlation):

aggravated assault...............0.50

Lucas said...

Sorry, been busy....

I took a look into the Canadian statistics and it does definitely seem to show a downward trend in violent crime. My mistake there.

I made the argument I did while thinking back to a book I had read called 'On Combat', written by a US Army Lt. Col. named Dave Grossman. It's basically about the psychology and physiology of humans in combat.

I grabbed the book to find the chapter I was recalling and just to give you a few excerpts from the chapter 'The Evolution of Combat and Domestic Violent Crime'.....

Page 225/226:
"Since 1957, the U.S. per capita aggravated assault rate (which is, essentially, the rate of attempted murder) has gone up nearly fivefold, while the per capita murder rate has less than doubled. The reason for this disparity is the vast progress in medical technology since 1957, to include everything from mouth to mouth resuscitation, to the national 9-1-1 emergency telephone system, to medical technology advances. Otherwise murder would be going up at the same rate as attempted murder."

Page 226:
"In 2002, Anthony Harris and a team of scholars from the University of Massachusetts and Harvard, published a landmark study in the journal Homicide Studies which concluded that medical technology advances since 1970 have prevented approximately three out of four murders. That is, if we had 1970's level medical technology, the murder rate would be three or four times higher than it is today."

There's lots more but I'm not going to post every one of them.

I checked out the FBI statistics and violent crime in the states also seems to be decreasing in recent years. It seems the good Colonel is basing his facts on the bigger picture since 1957 rather than the most recent (and important) decades.

That's all I got. Oh and aside from that little hiccup, that book is phenomenal for the record. It's pretty much a must read for any and every combat arms soldier in my opinion.