Sunday, May 04, 2008

Human Psychology 101

Bad behavior is deterred by the real threat of consequences. This seems like a pretty obvious statement, yet in the context of gun control this simple truth is viewed by many as a paradox. Especially the British, who can't comprehend how the gun-crazy American society can manage to simultaneously be so civil:


America's 'safety catch'
By Justin Webb
BBC North America editor, Missouri

Despite the fact there are more than 200 million guns in circulation, there is a certain tranquility and civility about American life.

Deepwater, Missouri has a motto: "A great lil' town nestled in the heartland."

Deepwater considers itself to be an exemplar of the best of American life. A place where outsiders - if they ever penetrated this far - would find home-cooked apple pie and friendly, warm, hard-working folk.

Among those folk, I have no doubt, is Ronald Long.

Last month Mr Long decided to install a satellite television system in his Deepwater home. His efforts to make a hole in the outside wall came to nothing because Mr Long did not possess a drill.

But he did have a .22 calibre gun.

He fired two shots from the inside of the bedroom.

The second killed his wife who was standing outside.

He will face no charges. The police accept it was an accident.

Gun control

To many foreigners - and to some Americans - the tolerance of guns in everyday American life is simply inexplicable.

As a New York Times columnist put it recently:

"The nation is saturated with violence. Thousands upon thousands of murders are committed each year. There are more than 200 million guns in circulation."

Someone suggested a few days ago that the Democrats' presidential candidates might like to take up the issue of gun control.

Forget about it.

They were warned off - in colourful style - by a fellow Democrat, the Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer.

"In Montana, we like our guns", he said.

"Most of us own two or three guns. 'Gun control' is hitting what you shoot at. So I'd be a little careful about blowing smoke up our skirts."

Democrats would like to win in the Mountain West this November. Enough said.

Washington weapons ban

On the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting, all this will feel to some like a rather depressing, if predictable, American story. A story of an inability to get to grips with violence.

Students hold candles during a ceremony at Virginia Tech (Photo: AP/Don Petersen)
A ceremony marking the Virginia Tech shootings

At the moment, there is an effort being made to overturn a ban on some types of weapon in Washington DC.

Among those dead against this plan - those who claim it would turn the nation's capital into the Wild West - is a lanky black man (he looks like a basketball player) called Anwan Glover.

Anwan peeled off articles of clothing for our cameras and revealed that he had been shot nine times.

One bullet is still lodged in an elbow.

His younger brother was shot and killed a few months ago.

Anwan was speaking to us in a back alley in north-east Washington. If you heard a gun shot in this neighbourhood you would not feel surprised.

'Gentler environment'

Why is it then that so many Americans - and foreigners who come here - feel that the place is so, well, safe?

I have met incredulous British tourists who have been shocked to the core by the peacefulness of the place

A British man I met in Colorado recently told me he used to live in Kent but he moved to the American state of New Jersey and will not go home because it is, as he put it, "a gentler environment for bringing the kids up."

This is New Jersey. Home of the Sopranos.

Brits arriving in New York, hoping to avoid being slaughtered on day one of their shopping mission to Manhattan are, by day two, beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. By day three they have had had the scales lifted from their eyes.

I have met incredulous British tourists who have been shocked to the core by the peacefulness of the place, the lack of the violent undercurrent so ubiquitous in British cities, even British market towns.

"It seems so nice here," they quaver.

Well, it is!

Violent paradox

Ten or 20 years ago, it was a different story, but things have changed.

And this is Manhattan.

Wait till you get to London Texas, or Glasgow Montana, or Oxford Mississippi or Virgin Utah, for that matter, where every household is required by local ordinance to possess a gun.

Folks will have guns in all of these places and if you break into their homes they will probably kill you.

They will occasionally kill each other in anger or by mistake, but you never feel as unsafe as you can feel in south London.

It is a paradox. Along with the guns there is a tranquillity and civility about American life of which most British people can only dream.

Peace and serenity


What surprises the British tourists is that, in areas of the US that look and feel like suburban Britain, there is simply less crime and much less violent crime.

Doors are left unlocked, public telephones unbroken.

One reason - perhaps the overriding reason - is that there is no public drunkenness in polite America, simply none.

I have never seen a group of drunk young people in the entire six years I have lived here. I travel a lot and not always to the better parts of town.

It is an odd fact that a nation we associate - quite properly - with violence is also so serene, so unscarred by petty crime, so innocent of brawling.

Virginia Tech had the headlines in the last few days and reminded us of the violence for which the US is well known.

But most American lives were as peaceful on this anniversary as they are every day.


I think you can attribute a lot of that tranquility to the fact that when people feel empowered to defend themselves, they feel safer. If I had to totally depend on the police to protect me from harm, even when in almost any situation where my safety could be threatened they could not be expected to arrive in time to defend me, I wouldn't feel so tranquil. Especially if I could expect to be subject to criminal and civil actions for any defensive actions I took on my own behalf. Why is this so hard for so many people to understand? It is basic human psychology.

39 Comments:

Blogger Peter Burnet said...

There may indeed be some vague link, but I think you are selling the vitality of American political and social culture short here. Whatever happened to American exceptionalism? Are you suggesting that without private gun ownership you would be awash in violence and crime? Russia, South Africa and Brazil on the one hand, and Canada, Scandinavia and Greece on the other all suggest there is a lot more at play than simply guns vs. no guns. In a sense you are just mirroring the simplicity of the other side. And I would urge caution in resting the case for the second amendment entirely on its empirical, statistical efficacy.

I think the more interesting question is the extent to which the prejudices of Europeans and Canadians, etc. on this issue originates with Americans themselves and is fueled to the point of inevitability by your never-ending, domestic high-profile debates. If your exposure to America is mainly the Cohn brothers, Columbine debates and endless violent police movies, is it surprising that you worry about snipers taking you out when you finally visit the Magic Kingdom? The notion that America is inherently a violent place strikes me as a very American one that is repeated daily by many of your pols, academics, media heros, etc.

The other international libel you folks have to suffer which I think is self-generated to a large degree is that you are particularly prone to assassination. I count two since 1968 (John Lennon and the mayor of SF)in a country of 300 million, but every second Ludlum thriller and lots of movies are on this theme. The number of sites dwelling on this threat to Obama, presumably from some apocraphyl racist dude called Jim-Bob who believes in killing nigras for Jesus, is very striking. They are pro-Obama leftists oozing fear and forboding, but a good shrink wouldn't fail to notice how well such a scenario fits into their overall gloomy world view and would confirm their most treasured prejudices.

May 05, 2008 3:35 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'Bad behavior is deterred by the real threat of consequences'

But see 'Is Urban Violence a Virus>' by Alex Kotlowitz in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

This is about CeaseFire, a Chicago program that uses ex-hoodlums to talk shooting victims and their pals into cooling down and not taking revenge.

The threat of consequences is very high, all the time, in these neighborhoods, and everybody is armed.

I think Kotlowitz's analysis is all wrong: he blames the violence itself on poverty, whereas all he is descibing is a code duello, which also thrives (or thrived) among the very well off.

But,as the Hatfields and McCoys should have taught us Americans, the threat of consequences means nothing to some people.

And a sense of proportionality also means nothing.

May 05, 2008 6:56 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

The article is asking the wrong question. The interesting thing is not the false picture we have the USA but the false picture we have of our own society. Why such a fear of crime in the UK when most crime rates (including most violent crime rates) are steadily dropping and homicide rates are a fifth of the USA?

Personal gun ownership strikes me as irrelevant when it comes to crime rates (except for a hew headline incidents). I have other reasons for preferring our strong gun control.

May 05, 2008 7:55 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

By any measure, the South is the most violent and also most heavily armed region of the US.

Has been for centuries.

Gun nut fantasies of plugging desperadoes are just fantasies. The chances they would ever have the opportunity, much less capitalize on it, are about the same a bowling a 300 on an honest alley.

May 05, 2008 8:57 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark Frank:

Why such a fear of crime in the UK when most crime rates (including most violent crime rates) are steadily dropping and homicide rates are a fifth of the USA?

Before citing homicide rates, it is important to carefully consider just what those rates entail.

Should one consider the homicide rates of, say, Europeans vs. Americans of European descent, I'll bet the difference isn't nearly so large.

The homicide rate for White Americans is roughly 2 per 100,000; whereas for Black Americans it is ten times as high.

Unless one is inclined to conclude that Black Americans are constitutionally inclined towards murder, then the murder rate among Blacks is a consequence of factors that disproportionately affect them. In other words, their higher murder rate is a knock-on effect of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and discriminatory housing patterns.

Since those things are germane to racism, but not particularly, if at all, so to how violent US society is in general, then it makes far more sense to make more direct comparisons.

The UK homicide rate appears to be nearly identical to the White American homicide rate, at around 2 per 100,000.

May 06, 2008 12:41 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Hey Skipper

You are right that you need to compare like with like. The UK also has a large urban non-white population and the homicide rate is much higher in these populations. So it is pretty meaningless to compare the UK homicide rate with the white American homicide rate.

However, that is all beside the point. I am just saying that homicide and violence in general should not be a concern in either country unless you happen to belong to some very specific groups such as urban gangs with drugs links. Ironically gun ownership is very high among just these groups in both countries.

It would be really hard to demonstrate that gun ownership has any effect on crime for the vast majority of middle-classes - except for the occasional Virginia Tech or Dunblane. There are just so many other factors.

As I said, I have other reasons for being comfortable with gun control in the UK. Also it would be a real vote loser to reduce gun control so I am sure it will stay that way.

May 06, 2008 2:23 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

The other international libel you folks have to suffer which I think is self-generated to a large degree is that you are particularly prone to assassination.

Yes, we do have a streak of messianism not seen in European society. The assassins that America generates generally have some messiah complex about them.

Whatever happened to American exceptionalism? Are you suggesting that without private gun ownership you would be awash in violence and crime?

Possibly. Maybe not "awash", but I think certainly more violent.

But I don't think it is the level of violence per-se. The article is about feeling safe, not about being safer in absolute terms. As I mentioned, gun ownership goes hand in hand with a philosophy that gives legitimacy to the individuals right to stand his ground and defend himself. It puts all the burden, moral and legal, on the person that would break the peace.

I think that the British problem is more involved than just the ban on firearms. They've embraced a legal philosophy which makes the law-abiding citizen responsible for the safety and well-being of the law-breaker. That alone puts a psychological burden on the average citizen which contributes greatly to a feeling of unease and vulnerability to violence.

And its not just deaths and serious violence that matter. Such a legal philosophy, which automatically considers a law abiding citizen 50% responsible for any altercation merely for being out in public, encourages petty, low level misbehavior - drunkenness, rowdiness, thuggery.

I used psychology in the title for a reason. It is the expectation of consequences that deters bad behavior. Some people are immune to the effects of these expectations, or just too stupid or dysfunctional to notice them, but most people aren't. And it is the expectation, among law abiding people, that the law will be on their side in any situation where they are victimized and forced to defend themselves, which contributes to their feeling of safety and security, and makes the enjoyment of civil social interaction in public possible.

May 06, 2008 5:23 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

I think that the British problem is more involved than just the ban on firearms.

They've embraced a legal philosophy which makes the law-abiding citizen responsible for the safety and well-being of the law-breaker. That alone puts a psychological burden on the average citizen which contributes greatly to a feeling of unease and vulnerability to violence.

And its not just deaths and serious violence that matter. Such a legal philosophy, which automatically considers a law abiding citizen 50% responsible for any altercation merely for being out in public, encourages petty, low level misbehavior - drunkenness, rowdiness, thuggery.


This is a total misunderstanding of British law which is almost as common among the US right wing as British left wing views of violence in the USA. It appears to be based on one or two incidents such as Tony Martin which have been blown out of all proportion. The law allows use of reasonable force in self-defence. The 50% figure you use above is absurd.

May 06, 2008 7:39 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

The UK also has a large urban non-white population and the homicide rate is much higher in these populations.

I thought about that, but noted that Scotland's homicide rate is much higher than Britain's (roughly twice, IIRC). But Scotland has, I think, a much lower non-white population percentage than does Britain.

This is a total misunderstanding of British law ...

I think you made Duck's point for him.

Note well: I am not a lawyer.

Now that we are clear on that, your cite is chock-a-block with post hoc quibbling. So far as I know, almost no US jurisdiction has anything like that.

For instance, if I catch someone in my home, I may kill them with practically no fear of judicial retaliation.

Similarly, if I am attacked in any way, I need not worry about the consequences of effectively employing whatever force I can muster.

About the only exception I can think of is if the perpetrator is already fleeing the scene.

And even there, I'll be most juries let you walk before their first cup of deliberation coffee cooled.

Ironically gun ownership is very high among [urban gangs] in both countries.

Gun ownership is pretty high most places in the US.

In Michigan, I lived in one of the most prosperous counties in the US, and crime, except for petty teen age vandalism, was pretty much unknown.

Among my neighbors, I was one of the very few who did not own at least one gun.

Here in Alaska, gun ownership is off the charts.

May 06, 2008 1:17 PM  
Blogger David said...

I swear we've gone 'round on this in the past, but I can't find it.

The upshot was that we have more murder and rape, and all other crimes are more common in Britain. In particular, British burglars are much more likely to work while the family is home. American burglars say that they avoid occupied houses because of they don't want to get shot.

Americans think that the Tony Martin case is crazy. There is no chance he would have been convicted in the states and he probably wouldn't have been charged. The fact that one of the burglars was shot in the back makes no difference at all.

May 06, 2008 7:35 PM  
Blogger David said...

Here it is.

May 06, 2008 7:38 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

I thought about that, but noted that Scotland's homicide rate is much higher than Britain's (roughly twice, IIRC). But Scotland has, I think, a much lower non-white population percentage than does Britain.

So your logic was something like this?

"The Scottish murder rate is different from the rest of the UK therefore I can reasonably compare the US white murder rate with the whole of the UK"

Bizarre!

The Scottish rate is higher because it is dominated by Glasgow and Edinburgh which have high alcoholism and drugs.

As David says this has been debated over the internet a million times. For some reason there is a higher murder rate in the USA. Other crime is higher in the UK - although this was not always the case. In the 70s and 80s crime was higher in the USA at a time when there was a similar difference in gun ownership and control. Which just illustrates my point that gun ownership has little connection to crime.

I do not dispute that you are allowed even more leeway in self-defence in the USA. But in general we can, and on occasion do, defend ourselves. It is absurd to suppose that our laws on self-defence are in some way responsible for fear of crime. If I am ever confronted with a violent criminal (very unlikely since I moved out of inner London) the possibility of my being charged for injuring the criminal will not be a consideration. The police may be late or inefficient but they will be on my side not the criminal's.

I haven't the time to find the figures to support all this - but if you don't believe me come and live here or find the figures (not the one-off stories) to prove your case.

I haven't done any research on why there is such a high fear of crime but a mundane explanation is that the media and politicians, for different reasons, find it convenient to give the impression it is rising. Most people are amazed when they are told that virtually all crime has dropped significantly since the 90s.

May 06, 2008 10:36 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Mark,
This is what I'm talking about:
Section 3 applies to the prevention of crime and effecting, or assisting in, the lawful arrest of offenders and suspected offenders. There is an obvious overlap between self-defence and section 3. However, section 3 only applies to crime and not to civil matters so, for instance, it cannot afford a defence in repelling trespassers by force, unless the trespassers are involved in some form of criminal conduct.

The act of trespass itself is criminal conduct. If you find an uninvited person in your home, why is the burden of proof on you to ascertain whether they are there to commit a crime or not? They have already committed a crime by entering your home without your consent.

And I'm sure you will find similar language in many US statutes, but the crux of it all is this sentence:

To that extent it is a subjective test. There is, however, an objective element to the test. The jury must then go on to ask themselves whether, on the basis of the facts as the accused believed them to be, a reasonable person would regard the force used as reasonable or excessive.

It boils down to cultural norms of reasonableness. Americans, and American juries, are willing to see reasonableness in much more drastic action in defense of self and property then are the English, it seems.

The householders and use of force FAQ seems to back up your statements, but if it is true then it was obviously not just right wing Americans who were confused about British law. I seem to remember reading of a requirement that a householder's first obligation was to flee from the home if possible in order to avoid a violent confrontation. Was that just a myth?

But that still ignores the big white elephant in the living room; how many people will feel empowered to confront an intruder without the benefit of a firearm? Is that a scenario that inspires confidence in the mind of the homeowner? Especially if he is a she, or is old and out of fighting trim? Or inexperienced in knife or fireplace poker combat techniques? No. That is pretty thin gruel for a right to self-defense.

Ironically gun ownership is very high among [urban gangs] in both countries.

Which just shows how useless gun control laws are at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.

May 06, 2008 10:59 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Another aspect of this debate that I find fascinating is what it says about the psychology of the gun lovers vs gun haters, and how they internally calculate the affect of public gun ownership on their own safety and security.

The gun haters, it seems, look at potential gun owners as potential victimizers of themselves. They spin theoretical scenarios of the gun owner next door: he'll get drunk one day and, enraged by my noisy after-hours party, will walk into my flat and shoot me. Or I'll knock on his door to tell him I'm going to be out of town and would he watch my place, and he'll confuse me for a burglar and shoot me. Etc, etc.

I also think that there is some stereotyping about people who would want to own a gun to begin with. If the cultural norm is not to own guns, then the gun owner is seen as a suspicious fellow. "What could motivate him", one thinks. He must be paranoid, or unbalanced, or.. a criminal.

For Americans (or most of us, at least) gun ownership is seen as natural and perfectly understandable. It isn't some demon instrument that possesses your soul and commands you to commit heinous deeds. When I bought my revolver, it wasn't after some tortuous consideration of plusses and minuses. It really wasn't driven by self defense considerations, not primarily. As with Skipper, I had lived decades without one without feeling particularly unsafe. Getting a gun for self defense was one of those things I told myself I should do someday, like buying life insurance, but with no feeling of urgency.

The main reason I bought it is because I could. I needed a hobby, and plinking targets at the pistol range seemed like a fun thing to do. There's was nothing abnormal about it, in my mind. Normal people buy guns. Everyone in my neighborhood owned a hunting rifle or shotgun, at least. They aren't scary folk, and neither was I.

May 06, 2008 11:36 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The Martin case in England is far outnumbered in the US by cases of grumpy old men shooting children out of their trees.

I, for one, am uneasy around anyone with a firearm, including cops in uniform, because I know firearms and seldom see them being treated with the respect they deserve.

The one time I served on a jury, the evidence included a Safeway cart of rifles, shotguns and one pistol (one behind every door of the crack house).

In deliberations, the question came up, were these weapons loaded (yes) and, if so, what weight did we give that?

There were two other men on the jury -- good men and true and completely typical -- and they both said that, of course, the firearms in their houses were always kept loaded.

While I am not campaigning for gun control, I am agitating for a view that gun nuts are, indeed, nutty and more dangerous than if they were unarmed.

May 07, 2008 6:25 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Harry, there would be grocery carts of guns in the hands of criminals no matter how draconian we make gun control laws. In the past 50 of so years, I remember less than a handful, if that many, of stories about grumpy old men shooting children out of the trees. Do you have any citations of more?

May 07, 2008 7:54 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

How barbaric of you, Harry. In much more civilized Britain and Canada, our grumpy old men use bows and arrows.

May 07, 2008 8:11 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark Frank:

"The Scottish murder rate is different from the rest of the UK therefore I can reasonably compare the US white murder rate with the whole of the UK"

Bizarre!


Umm, no, it isn't.

People who claim the US requires gun control because of its murder rate have absolutely no qualms combining the murder rates of California and New York, despite their failing to share a common border by roughly 2500 miles.

Those same people add not so much as a milli-qualm to that vanishingly small qualm pile when they conspicuously fail to distinguish between effect and cause. That the US murder rate is at all different from the UK murder rate is due solely to the extremely high rate among the slave descended population. Failing to note that distinction is indeed a step into bizarro world, unless it is a complete abandoning of intellectual integrity.

So, it makes a great deal more sense to compare the non-African US murder rate against the UK murder rate (noting, in fact, that Britain, despite having far more non-European residents, has the lower murder rate), then it does to compare the US against just Britain. Insisting upon the latter has a whiff of sifting the numbers until finding one that rhymes with gun control theory.

What should really cause entire cart loads of qualms, though, is the existence of counter factuals. Washington, D.C. has very stringent gun control laws, and is in the running for the highest crime and murder rate in the US. I think the one measure that would quickly and dramatically reduce those rates in DC is to allow concealed carry.

As Duck says, it is rather facile to claim that individuals may defend themselves, while insisting they face armed attackers with nothing more than a fireplace poker. Never mind the inescapable conclusion that criminalizing weapons possession means only criminals will possess weapons.

Duck:

As with Skipper, I had lived decades without one without feeling particularly unsafe.

Which makes me a free rider. The reason I feel safe is that so many of my neighbors have guns that I can afford foregoing one.

Harry:

The Martin case in England is far outnumbered in the US by cases of grumpy old men shooting children out of their trees.

I am curious as to the balance between grumpy old men shooting children out of trees (and whatever else may fit under that spiky rendition) and the number of crime victims turning the tables on their attackers.

While I am not campaigning for gun control, I am agitating for a view that gun nuts are, indeed, nutty and more dangerous than if they were unarmed.

I don't see any conflict between limiting the number of weapons an individual may possess -- so long as it is a number comfortably greater than zero and doesn't exclude handguns -- and the Second Amendment.

May 07, 2008 8:23 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

There are so many different questions getting muddled up in this debate. Here is a list, with my best guess at the answer based on the data I know about. The answers make for a mixed picture which doesn’t fit into anyone’s political prejudices – but hey that’s real life.

1. Is the USA more violent than the UK? Yes, as measured by homicide, many times higher. If you remove the “highest scoring” section of the USA population then the rates look much closer. But if you then removed the “highest scoring” section of the UK population the UK rate would also drop even further (I don’t know where you would get these figures but there is little doubt that most homicide is among specific urban communities). For, some reason, Hey Skipper thinks the relatively high murder rate in Scotland means that it is reasonable to remove the highest scoring rate from the USA and compare to the whole of the UK. I am sorry. I am utterly unable to grasp the logic of that argument.

2. Is the US more lenient in its attitude to self-defence than the UK? Yes.

3. Are UK citizens not allowed to defend themselves from criminals (as Duck puts it “a legal philosophy, which automatically considers a law abiding citizen 50% responsible for any altercation merely for being out in public”)? Absolute rubbish, as Duck, I think, admits in a later post. Various right wing commentators (e.g. John Lott) have been highly misleading about this.

4. Does gun ownership reduce or increase crime in the USA? Unproven. There are so many factors. I suspect it has little influence either way.

5. Does gun control reduce or increase crime in the UK? Unproven. There are so many factors. I suspect it has little influence either way.

6. Is violent crime a major problem in either country? No unless you live in specific high risk communities.

7. Is fear of violent crime a major problem in either country? Definitely in the UK and I think it is in the USA as well – although perhaps not so severely.

8. What causes fear of violent crime in the UK? Hard to say, but totally implausible that it should be anything to do with self-defence laws. A good candidate is lurid coverage from the media.

9. What causes fear of violent crime in the USA? I have no idea – but emphasising the need to defend yourself with lethal weapons can’t help.

10. Are UK citizens exposed through lack of means to defend themselves? Not an issue because of 6 above. In those communities where violent crime is an issue illegal, lethal weapons are readily available – see below.

11. Can criminals readily get access to guns in either country? Yes.

A final point of interest. Gun control a real political issue in the USA. It is just not on the political radar here. The only time I ever see Brits getting excited about gun control is when talking about the USA. To reduce gun control significantly in the UK would be a real vote loser.

May 07, 2008 9:05 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The descendants of slave owners (and renters) also are notably more violent than average in the US.

David Hackett Fischer attributes the violence of the South to the emigration of the most violent segment of the UK population, the border reivers.

How that tradition transferred over to bondsmen, if that is what happened, is a mystery.

The US is not especially murderous. There is one city in Colombia (forget its name) that has 10K homicides a year, and it isn't in the drug trade. Unregulated gold mining is the motivator.

++++

I pay no attention to 'murder rates,' because it isn't murder until a coroner, jury or -- sometimes a prosecutor -- says it is. Until then it's a homicide.

Also, it's very noticeable, to me at least, that gunplay is more often fatal than it was 40 years ago. I attribute this to the increased reliability of handguns.

Aim hasn't improved any, and if you were really going to compare violence rates, you'd have to count the misses, too, and evaluate the serious of each one. (I've been shot at more than once, but I don't believe the intent was to hit. At any rate, never been hit.)

++++

I also see no reason to believe the self-reports of gun nuts who 'deterred' burglars with their fancy weaponry.

In 43 years as a reporter, no such incident has ever happened in my circulation zone.

When you read the reports, it's usually a brave response to a mysterious noise in the night. Most of the buglars are probably raccoons.

May 07, 2008 9:31 AM  
Blogger erp said...

The violence and murder in our inner cities have nothing to do with many of the residents being descendants of slaves and everything to do with the very long story of social engineering practices of the past 50 years.

Moonbats are the culprits, not slavery or melanin.

May 07, 2008 10:39 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

That's antihistorical.

The violence is no greater now than before and no greater in the cities than in the country.

Go to you local library and get out the microfilms of some newspapers in your area from the '30s or '40s.

May 07, 2008 3:14 PM  
Blogger David said...

Harry:

I keep trying to parse your comment so that it doesn't say "violence is ... no greater in the cities than in the country" without much success.

As shown on page 2 of this report (warning, pdf), in 1988 there were 29 violent crimes for every 1000 people in the cities and 19 for every 1000 people in the country. This is after a period in which the crime rate fell in all areas and more steeply in urban areas.

May 08, 2008 2:29 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Heh heh, poor old Mark, going through some very familiar motions.

The gun-totin' libertarians need the Tony Martin myth to prop up their image that the lily-livered Brits are required by EU law to invite burglars into their homes for a cup of tea and a sandwich before packing up their valuables into handy carry-out boxes and paying the criminal a cash compensation for any back injuries he might sustain lifting a heavy television set.

Of course it's a myth, but like all good myths it has tremendous staying power. As far as I can tell, there is virtually no difference between the US and UK legal attitudes to defending one's property.

There are more homicides in the US than the UK because yankee scumbags have guns with which to kill each other, and limey scumbags have to bludgeon each other with stolen cricket bats.

Admittedly you can throw a few high school shoot-ups into the mix, but take out the scumbags and most murders are just ordinary people who know one another getting sick of one another - a universal constant - and if they haven't got a gun to do it they'll use the lead piping or whatever.

The only cultural divide is that Americans think guns are sexy and Britons think they're for geeks who also collect stamps and model trains.

May 09, 2008 11:07 AM  
Blogger David said...

First Lonbud and now Brit (Hey, how ya doin'). Pretty soon Bart's going to come around.

I think Brit pretty much nails it, except:

1. Americans have a little bit more legal leeway to use deadly force against a home intrusion. Generally speaking, we don't have to retreat and we can assume that someone breaking into our house means to do us harm. Here in deep blue Massachusetts, there's a pistol range half a mile from our house, across the street from the elementary school.

2. The above and the prevalence of guns (and I think you folks from other countries can't really conceive of how common gun ownership is here) does result in fewer home invasions during the night.

3. Culturally, you can get away with almost anything if you can frame it as protecting your home and depending on what part of the country you live in. That has its good points and its bad points.

4. Based on all of the above, and my understanding of what Tony Martin said happened, he would probably not have been charged and almost certainly not convicted in the states and even Americans who aren't gun nuts think that what happened to him was bizarre.

May 09, 2008 1:27 PM  
Blogger David said...

The last sentence of 1 should be the last sentence of 2.

May 09, 2008 1:29 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

For, some reason, Hey Skipper thinks the relatively high murder rate in Scotland means that it is reasonable to remove the highest scoring rate from the USA and compare to the whole of the UK. I am sorry. I am utterly unable to grasp the logic of that argument.

Perhaps I didn't explain clearly enough.

People are using the respective aggregate homicide rates to justify imposing a gun control regime upon the US that is similar to the UK's.

In order for that justification to have any coherence, the ready availability of guns must be a cause, with the higher homicide rate in the US as the effect.

The logic of my argument goes directly to coherence: since gun availability is independent of race, then, for that argument to carry even a tea saucer of water, the homicide rate in the US has to be higher across the board.

Conspicuously, it is not. Because one distinct group is -- with a homicide rate 10 times the rest of the population -- an outlier, applying a common mode conclusion is simply wrong: the very existence of such a distinct outlier group directly threatens the point the gun control advocates are trying to make.

That leaves only two intellectually honest options:

1. African-Americans are constitutionally violence prone. We should impose strict gun control on them, but no one else.

2. African-Americans have a unique, collective, experience which is, itself, the cause of more violence (and imprisonment, hypertension, sharply lower high school graduation rates, sharply higher teen pregnancy rates, etc ...)

I don't know about you, but I will go with option two. I'll bet you do, too.

African-Americans do, in fact, share a collective experience sufficiently familiar that it needs no detailing here. Insisting upon including African-Americans in the US homicide rate when comparing it the the UK leaves you in the very unfortunate position of having to blame the whole sorry litany of imprisonment, hypertension, et al on lax gun control.

Doesn't work, does it?

Instead, in looking for the common mode cause, one would march straight past gun control and focus on chattel slavery and all its knock on effects. Not the least, but perhaps among the most destructive, are the Great Society welfare policies, which -- as erp noted -- nearly single-handedly destroyed the African American family.

Or, look at it this way. Perform the same operation on the data sets from both countries -- subtract those homicides attributable to descendants of chattel slavery.

The US rate plummets; the UK rate changes not at all.

That means a pure aggregate comparison is including a factor that is not related to the point at hand.

For those who insist upon aggregate comparisons, I am charitable enough to assume numeracy issues. However, I strongly suspect the statistically challenged are outnumbered by those who will never allow the facts to get in the way of their pet theories.


Brit:

The Tony Martin affair amounts to the operational definition of "myth." Within it, there is a grain (much more than a grain, actually) of truth.

The link Mark provided is precisely that much more than a grain.

An American homeowner will -- I hesitate to use the word, but I will anyway -- never face any sort of legal retribution regardless of any injuries an intruder may suffer. The fact of the intrusion is, on its face, sufficient justification.

I have read, from many sources, that the UK is suffering from no small amount of hooliganism that goes beyond mere vandalism.

Because that is a good way to get shot in the US, one hardly ever hears of that sort of thing here.

Harry:

Also, it's very noticeable, to me at least, that gunplay is more often fatal than it was 40 years ago. I attribute this to the increased reliability of handguns.

I attribute it to much more widespread magazine loaded pistols.

When it comes to stupid gun tricks, it is far easier to see whether a revolver is loaded.

May 09, 2008 2:07 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Are UK citizens not allowed to defend themselves from criminals (as Duck puts it “a legal philosophy, which automatically considers a law abiding citizen 50% responsible for any altercation merely for being out in public”)? Absolute rubbish, as Duck, I think, admits in a later post

Mark,
I didn't intend for my comment to be taken literally, but figuratively. I certainly didn't expect that the 50% responsibility standard was written as such in the statutes. But from a practical standpoint I'm not sure that it is rubbish. I've yet to be convinced.

The only cultural divide is that Americans think guns are sexy and Britons think they're for geeks who also collect stamps and model trains.

Real men fight with poetry, right Brit?

Also it would be a real vote loser to reduce gun control so I am sure it will stay that way.

Is that still the case, with the ascendancy of the conservatives in the last election?

May 09, 2008 3:37 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Hey Skipper

Your argument relies on the premise:

The US homicide rate is not higher than the UK rate across the board.

That is precisely the issue uner debate. You are assuming your conclusion. Of course both nations have communities that have exceptionally high murder rates. The murder rate is very skewed. Hence the need to compare the rates of those communities in each nation which are exceptionally violent and those communities that are less violent. You want to exclude the exceptionally violent from the USA and then compare it with the whole of the UK.

And where does Scotland come into it? It seems to have totally dropped out of your argument.

May 09, 2008 11:06 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Is that still the case, with the ascendancy of the conservatives in the last election?

Absolutely. I doubt guns will get a mention when it comes to the general election. There might possibly be a very small concession to the hunting community - but guns as self-defence will not feature.

May 09, 2008 11:08 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

Your argument relies on the premise:

The US homicide rate is not higher than the UK rate across the board.


No, it does not. It relies upon the observation that US homicide rates are, with the exception of one unique group, similar to the UK's.

That is indisputable.

I am not assuming a conclusion, I am accounting for an observation. The argument is that the cause of the higher homicide rate in that one community is not guns, but rather something else entirely. In other words, if African-Americans had immigrated to the US like other groups, their homicide rate would be indistinguishable from other groups. They didn't, which is why it isn't, and precisely why focussing on the aggregate number is dead wrong.

Hence the need to compare the rates of those communities in each nation which are exceptionally violent and those communities that are less violent. You want to exclude the exceptionally violent from the USA and then compare it with the whole of the UK.

You have made a category mistake here. Scotland is not a community, it is a region.

In excluding African-Americans, I am excluding a community.

In contrast, I did not exclude the Southern US which, as Harry Eagar correctly noted, has a significantly higher homicide rate than the rest of the US.

Why? Because, like Scotland, the southern US is a region, not a community.

Scotland did not disappear from my argument, for the specific reason that it never belonged there in the first place.

May 10, 2008 3:40 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Hey skipper

I don't actually think it matters much. I have never argued that the difference in homicide rate between our countries is due to gun legislation. But I find your logic intriguing.

The thing that really confused me was why you introduced Scotland into the argument. Now you accuse me of making a category error in treating Scotland as a community!

I have some trouble with your broader argument as well. I have little doubt that most nations can identify one or more communities that account for a disproportionate amount of the homicides. In the case of the USA you say it is the black community. In the case of the UK I think it is mostly drugs related - which is disproportionately black but not overwhelmingly so.

If you want to compare overall levels of violence in the two nations and see if there is some national factor then it is necessary to compare like with like. Either include all communities. Or remove high homicide rate communities from both nations. Just because you have a theory as to why the US black community has a high homicide rate does not remove the need to compare like with like.

May 10, 2008 5:41 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

It matters, because if one is making a cause - effect argument, then one bloody well better have identified the correct cause.

The discussion started when you said Why such a fear of crime in the UK when most crime rates (including most violent crime rates) are steadily dropping and homicide rates are a fifth of the USA?. Well, you are right, they are.

But.

Taking that at face value, one would never get the impression (nor, I suspect, did you) that for almost all groups, the US homicide rate is close to the UK's. That statement, variants which appear so often, hides much more than it reveals.

This is how Scotland got introduced:

You said: The UK also has a large urban non-white population and the homicide rate is much higher in these populations.

Yes, it does. However, despite your assumption, the homicide rate is not much higher among non-white populations.

I brought up Scotland only as a matter of citational honesty: the UK rate is higher than the British rate because the region of Scotland has a much higher homicide rate than does the region of Britain. I didn't want anyone thinking I was massaging numbers to get a pretty result.

Either include all communities. Or remove high homicide rate communities from both nations. Just because you have a theory as to why the US black community has a high homicide rate does not remove the need to compare like with like.

Sorry, no. If the UK had a chattel slavery descended population comparable in size to the US's, then the comparison would be like-like.

It doesn't. Removing high homicide rate communities from both nations merely on account of because is also a non-starter. Besides, I'd be willing to bet that if I gave you any community (not region) you desired to lop off the UK numbers -- so long as that community was not defined by pathology -- the numbers would not budge.

The statement you made at the top, that homicide rates in the US are five times the UKs leads to cognitive dissonance when Europeans come to the US. Such blanket statements lead to one impression, but their experience, so long as they stay out of inner city ghettos, is entirely different.

I am not OK with that dissonance, particularly when it is used so often by those hoping to seriously constrain private gun ownership: unless out of ignorance, it is the use of statistics to lie.

May 10, 2008 10:30 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I am far from convinced that American blacks are especially murderous because they had great-great-great-great grandparents who were slaves.

I don't know why they are the way they are.

My first impression is that they learned it from the very violent white culture they were embedded in.

On the other hand, maybe not.

Not all the slaves were peaceful farmers in Africa. Some were very violent warrior-aristocrats. Honor societies have high murder rates, whether in Iraq, Africa or Sicily. I wonder whether the numerous assaults and murders justified as 'he disrespected me' go back to African roots.

May 10, 2008 12:42 PM  
Blogger Ali said...

I don't know if the lingering effects of slavery are really that influential in influencing black behaviour now.

The biggest factor underlying the behaviour of the black underclass is weak family structure and illegitimacy. But that's something that slaves brought over from West Africa. There polygamy and illegitimacy are still common. Families tended to be matrilineal with mothers shouldering most of the workload in providing for a household. The men viewed agriculture as being womanly work and spent their time leaning on their spears. Black family structure was stronger in the slavery years. Welfare helped reset it to the West African norm and then some. In West Africa, it was common for young women to have one or two illegitimate births before the cost of providing for the children incentivised them to get married, usually in a polygamous relationship. Welfare meant they could secure an independent existence without needing to consider marriage.

This is a good read on the subject, explaining it better than I could.

May 10, 2008 2:15 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Besides, I'd be willing to bet that if I gave you any community (not region) you desired to lop off the UK numbers -- so long as that community was not defined by pathology -- the numbers would not budge.

Well that's key isn't it? It amounts to saying that there are no high homicide rate groups in the UK. You base that on a bet. I want to see the data. I have searched for about an hour but cannot find any. There are strong regional differences. The rate per million in Wales (between 6 and 9) is about a quarter of the rate per million in London (23.5) - see http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs07/hosb0207.pdf tble 1.13. You can argue that it is a region not a community, but there has to be an explanation for such a big difference.

Meanwhile I did some browsing on rsearch into the black/white differential in the US. The "slavery culture" angle is not proven is it? There seem to be many different theories all of which explain some but not all of the difference.

e.g. Southern culture (a regional explanation!)
Socioeconomic
Social disorganisation
Urban versus suburban/rural
Marital practices - a lot of murder is "in the family"
etc.

The honest answer would be "explanation not known".

May 11, 2008 2:56 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'West Africa' will not serve as a general explanation, because slaves came from Angola and east Africa, too.

Most slaves ended up in Brazil, and most slaves in the US came from other parts of the New World -- not many were imported direct from Africa.

A discussion of Brazilian favelas would be on point. They have always been extremely violent, but with the advent of better weapons they are now so unsafe that police will not enter them.

May 11, 2008 7:22 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, I don't suppose anyone will see this on this old link, but this is interesting:

The D.C. police are planning to arm 500 beat cops with AR-15s to keep up with the firepower of the criminals.

D.C. also has laws against citizens from owning guns.

Hmmmm.

May 21, 2008 8:41 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

The reason you can't find any data is because there is no objective phenomena from which to derive said data.

The various explanations which you list are really variations on a theme: chattel slavery and its knock-on effects.

The only alternative left to you in explaining why African-American criminality is so much higher than the rest of the population is that African-Americans are inherently violent.

Now, presuming you don't find that nearly as persuasive as the 500 lb gorilla lurking in the room, the one gorilla that hasn't even touched anyone else, then the burden is really upon those who insist upon aggregating statistics to explain one thing, when the cause is elsewhere entirely.

In other words, posit a US which never had chattel slavery. What do you suppose the murder rate would be?

Harry:

The D.C. police are planning to arm 500 beat cops with AR-15s to keep up with the firepower of the criminals.

Just as are other cities in the US. About 10 years ago there was a shootout in LA where two perps kept 50 odd police at bay for something like an hour because the police were so outgunned.

Depending upon the Supreme Court, perhaps those obscene DC laws won't stand much longer.

I predict they won't, and that the consequences will be very embarrassing to gun control advocates.

Presuming, of course, they are capable of embarrassment.

May 23, 2008 10:00 AM  

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