The United States is larger and more diverse than people give it credit for. It’s as large as the European Union, with its 28 member countries, and it contains people with roots from all over the world. Its population density varies greatly with towns that have more cows than people and cities testing the limits of urban capacity.
Even though we all know this, we forget about it when speaking about societal issues. An appropriate law for New York City would likely be absurd and/or draconian when applied to a small city. We are tricked into thinking that we should craft “one size fits all” policies that apply to every square inch of the US just because there is a government body with authority over all of it.
Political discourse inherently boils every issue down to the nuance of an IFLScience article title.
Gun violence in the US is as varied as the people living there. This makes sense considering it is people that commit gun violence and not an inanimate object. Gun violence in the big city is very different then that of the typical city or town. Both the Left and the Right miss the subtleties of how firearm violence, especially deaths, is distributed throughout the US.
Handguns are involved in the majority of firearm deaths. In 2017 there were at least 7,032 murders where a handgun was used and there were at least 667 associated with rifles and shotguns. In comparison, there were 1,591 murders with knives, 696 with hands or feet, and 467 with blunt objects like hammers or clubs.
The majority of firearm deaths in the US are due to suicide. This has been the case in the US for a long time. In 2017 there were around 40,000 deaths involving firearms. Of those deaths, almost 24,000 of them were from suicide. Suicide is a serious matter, but it is not the equivalent of murder. Philosophically speaking, you own yourself and if you want to end your life it is your right to do so. I whole heartily encourage anyone considering it to reconsider and seek help, but it is not an act of criminality and therefore not applicable to the debate. People who use the 40,000 deaths a year statistic are pushing a highly inflated number.
Another important point is that you are more likely to suffer from all forms of firearm violence and death at the hands of other people in densely populated areas like large metros. We all know this. Outside of large metros deaths involving firearms are majority suicides by far. The Washington Post has a very informative article about how gun violence is distributed. Included in the article are several tables that sum up how homicide and suicide are manifested by population density, and control by political party.
As shown in the tables, the demarcation between majority firearm homicide and firearm suicide lines up surprisingly well with the political turf claimed by Democrats and Republicans. Democrats representing population centers and Republicans representing everywhere else.
In a sense, both political parties are pushing for policies backed up by accurate perceptions. Large cities, and the Democrats that live there, do experience more firearm murder. People naturally prioritize their attention to their immediate area, but it does blind them to the bigger picture. The same is true in the reverse for the Republicans.
It is worth scrutinizing the Democrats and their position on gun control a bit further. They are advocating for laws that will apply to every US citizen. Therefore they have the burden of proof in this debate. We already know that everywhere outside of large cities their policies would accomplish nothing but restrict ownership of an inanimate object. Luckily, we have information at hand to judge the validity of their policy preferences in the places they wield political power.
As stated before, the Democrats have had control of the major population centers in the US for a long time and have had time to implement many of their gun control policies. The results do not support their assertion that stricter gun control laws work. I think this quote from the same Washington Post article is devastating to their position:
In almost all cases, guns kill or injure more children, teens and people in Democratic districts. Mass shootings, which vary widely in number depending how restrictive your definition is, occur more often in Democratic districts.The Washington Post
I do not mean to associate lax gun laws to lower rates of violence with firearms. It is much more complicated then that. As I stated earlier, gun violence is a product of human action. The presence of guns does not cause gun violence. There are other factors that at work behind people acting violently. Another quote from the article sums this up:
Harvard University sociologist Robert Sampson, who studies urban violence and the factors that cause it, has found that concentrated poverty, inequality and racial segregation are strongly related to higher rates of violent crime in cities. His research has also shown that gun violence is concentrated in specific areas, down to particular city block.The Washington Post
Historically, Democrats have also placed fighting poverty, inequality, and racism at the core of their political platform. Again, they have had ample time to implement them in areas where they have control of the government, but the results of these policies are at best are ineffective and at worst have created more violence in their cities.
The goals of minimizing poverty, inequality, and racism are noble causes. These things have deep effects on our society and the levels of violence we experience. It appears that the Democrats have identified the ways in which we should not approach these issues.
Ultimately, I think that the gun control issue misses the point. It is a band aid on a gun shot wound. What a fitting analogy. The real debate should be over increased economic opportunity and wealth creation.
Post image via Flickr.