Let’s Talk Gun Violence

When you watch the local or national news, the leading story always seems to be some iteration of gun violence. While gun violence is glorified in Hollywood, it is, and rightfully so, vilified by the general public. The same people who earn millions of dollars making movies where gun violence is the central theme vehemently revile the gun industry and one’s right to keep and bear arms. There is no question that gun violence in this country is rampant. So, the question is, What Do We Do About It? 

A review of the shooting statistics as presented by the media tells you that there were in excess of 45,000 homicides by gun in the U.S. in 2020. What do these numbers suggest to you? What are your assumptions? Do you assume that these homicides were all murders? How does the media portray this distinction, or does it? Were they all violent crimes where someone killed someone else like you see on television? What do these statics actually mean? 

Black’s Law Dictionary defines a homicide as “the killing of one human being by the act, procurement, or omission of another.” In other words, when one human being kills another. This definition does not differentiate between the legal taking of a life and the unlawful taking of a life. Black’s defines murder as “the unlawful taking of the life of another with malice aforethought.” In simple terms, an individual unlawfully kills another individual with intent. Black’s also defines a suicide as “self-destruction; the deliberate termination of one’s existence.” 

Using these definitions, let us look at some statistics: 

Death by Gun2017201820192020
Total Deaths by Gun39,77339,74039,70745,222
Homicides by Gun15,19113,93814,41419,384
Suicide by Gun23,85424,43223,94124,292
Total Suicides48,34447,17347,17345,885

In essence, when the media reports there were in excess of 45,000 homicides in the U.S. in 2020, these numbers included murders, justifiable homicides, and suicides. You don’t see this breakdown on your local news. Let’s look at an example. A man walks into a convenient store to rob it. The man shoots and kills the clerk. This is a homicide, but it’s also a murder. A police officer responds to the robbery and the man shoots at the police officer. The officer returns fire and kills the man. This is also a homicide but it is not a murder. The man’s girlfriend is so distraught over watching her boyfriend’s demise that she shoots herself and passes away. This is also a homicide but it is also a suicide. 

The homicides that seem to dominate the news are murders. A review of the murder statistics in the U.S. reveals some interesting insights. The Guardian reported that, “homicides in 2020 were concentrated among Black Americans who, despite making up 14% of the population, represented more than half of the 2020 victims, according to FBI data. Gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black males ages 15-34, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Gun violence has a disproportionate effect on racial and ethnic minorities and is highly concentrated in a relatively small number of neighborhoods that have historically been under resourced and racially segregated.” The Department of Justice (DOJ), reported, “Today homicide is the leading cause of death among young Black men, and contributes significantly to the shortened life-span of the Black male. In about 80-90% of the cases, the Black victim was killed by another Black…” This DOJ quote was taken from a document published in 1983. THAT’S RIGHT…. NEARLY 40 YEARS AGO! This information can be substantiated by just watching the evening news. I did a very informal survey on shootings by watching the local news in Mobile Alabama and Pensacola Florida. In a three-month period, in excess of 80% of the shooting victims presented by local TV affiliates were Black.  In addition, in excess of 80% of those perpetrating these shootings were Black. This does mirror the 1983 DOJ report. 

Statistics indicate that 59% of high school students in the 50 largest cities in the United States drop out of school. Statistics further indicate that 60% of Black high school dropouts spend time in prison. The Pew Research Group reported that at the end of 2017 there were approximately 476,000 Black prison inmates and approximately 436,000 White prison inmates. Prisonpolicy.org reported in 2010 that 2,306 Blacks per 100,000 population are incarcerated. This is nearly twice as many as the next ethnic group. The Sentencing Projectand numerous other criminological research projects have identified educational outcomes as one of the individual level factors in the disparity in the incarceration rates by race. When you watch documentaries like Prison State and Behind Bars and Inmates Out of Control and even when you watch reality television shows like Lockup, Girls Incarcerated and COPS there are some overriding characteristics that inmates and arrestees have in common. The most glaring characteristic is they all seem to have a room temperature IQ on a cold day. 

So, what have we done to try to curb this wave of gun violence? One approach has been gun buyback programs. Gun buybacks have been in use for at least 40 years. The theory is that if guns are taken off of the street, then gun violence will end. An editorial piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer (09/01/2022) reviewed the buyback program in that city. The 16 buybacks in Philadelphia in 2021 netted 558 handguns and 110 long guns. During the first half of 2022, Philadelphia has experienced an 8% increase in shootings. The editorial further explained that of the more than 1,000 guns turned in during the past three years, not one was linked to a crime. 

The Bureau of Economic Research (05/2021) concluded that “Gun buyback programs (GBPs), which use public funds to purchase civilians’ privately-owned firearms, aim to reduce gun violence. However, next to nothing is known about their effects on firearm-related crime or deaths. Using data from the National Incident Based Reporting System, we find no evidence that GBP’s reduce gun crime. We can rule out decreases in firearm-related crime of greater than 1.3 percent during the year following a buyback. Using data from the National Vital Statistics System, we also find no evidence that GBP’s reduce suicides or homicides where a firearm was involved.” This study examined 339 buybacks in 277 cities and 110 counties nation-wide between 1991 and 2015. Clearly, the study concluded that these buyback programs have no significant effect on crime. Further, this study reported that there was a 7.7% INCREASE in gun crimes in these cities the two months immediately following the buyback. 

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have some iteration of an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), more commonly known as Red Flag Laws. A Red Flag Law allows for an individual to petition the court to remove firearms from the home of someone who the petitioner believes may present a danger to themselves or others. This petition is reviewed by the court and a judge decides, based on state law, if the petition to remove the firearms should be granted. Firearms may be removed from the individual for up to a year. Each state’s law sets the rules for who can start the petition process. In some jurisdictions law enforcement or a family member may start the process. In some jurisdictions, neighbors, a physician, a teacher, or other interested parties may also start the process. 

Just how effective are Red Flag Laws? Historically, Red Flag Laws are used rarely. PBS Newshour (09/02/2022) published an article Indicating that since 2020, Chicago, had 8,500 shooting which resulted in 1,800 deaths and the Red Flag Law was used four times. New Mexico had nearly 600 homicides (presumably all by gun) and the Red Flag Law was used eight times. Massachusetts had nearly 300 homicides and their Red Flag Law was used 12 times. City-journal.org reported that in New York, “in 2018, before the red flag law was enacted, the number of shooting victims in New York City was at its lowest since 2002. Two years later, the city saw almost 1,000 more shootings than the year the red flag law took effect. The number of shooting victims in 2020 more than doubled. One would have to go back many decades to have even a chance at finding a year in which the city’s gun violence rose so dramatically.”  WSKG (08/05/2022) reported that New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued a directive to the New York State Police to, “automatically invoke the state’s red flag laws and ask a judge for an order to temporarily seize the guns or other weapons of anyone they think might be a threat to themselves or others.” State Police Superintendent Kevin Bruen said, “It’s not possible for me to tell you a specific case of something that didn’t happen because we did this, but I know in my heart of hearts we have stopped specific tragedies from happening because we took action.” Clearly, there are a multitude of factors that cause crime rates to fluctuate. NYPD posted crime statistics for August 2022. These statistics indicate that the homicide rate in New York City has taken a dramatic decrease over August 2021. This drop could be due to the Red Flag Law, or it could be due to NYPD reinstituting the street crimes unit which was disbanded in 2020 as a result of a Mayoral change. 

In the last couple years, the murder rates in large metropolitan areas such as New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and about any other metro area you can name have gone up. That being said, these murders still occur in very small areas within these cities.  James Q. Wilson, in 1983, proposed his broken window theory which suggests that visible signs of crimeanti-social behavior and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes. This is not a difficult concept to understand, nor is it difficult to verify. The town where you live, unless you are the mega-rich, have areas where the crime rate is higher. These are generally low socio-economic areas with high unemployment, high drop-out rates, and offer little hope for the residents to escape this environment. These areas also tend to be inhabited by underrepresented segments of our society. Not surprisingly, these areas also have high murder rates. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention published findings that suggest that “Blacks had significantly lower educational attainment and home ownership and almost twice the proportion of households living below the poverty level and unemployed than whites in all age groups.” So, the fact that 58% of the murders in this country are perpetrated by less than 7% of the population should not be unexpected. 

The question is, what do we do about it? It is readily apparent that gun control does not work. New York, California, and Illinois had the strictest gun control laws in the country and they also had the highest murder rates in the country.  There is no statistical data the suggests that Red Flag Laws reduce gun crimes. Even the Superintendent of the New York State Police could not confirm one case where this law kept a gun crime from being committed. We know what does not work. How about we try something new!!

How about we fix the K-12 education system in this country? How about have high school graduates who can actually read, write, cognitively think, have a conversation? How about when a student graduates from high school, that student actually has a skill that will produce a living income? How about we make available an alternative track for high school students other than college? What I am about to suggest is not a reflection on the dedicated professionals who work in our schools. Without them, the outcomes would be substantially worse. However, WSWS.Org reported that in the first four months of 2022 there were nearly a half a million resignations from public K-12 education.  There has to be a reason for this. I have talked with numerous teachers in various regions in this country and their major complaint is the excess workload that has nothing to do with teaching. I have heard that as much as 60% of what they do during the day has nothing to do with teaching. It is about prepping for standardized testing and making sure that a metric is met for state and federal funding. They further explained that they cannot introduce anything outside the curriculum, which may improve student learning outcomes, because their classroom focus should be on the standardized tests. It seems to me that once government, at any level, got involved in education the student learning outcomes started to drop. 

It you want to learn first-hand what your typical high school graduate has to offer and have some fun, go into a convenience store and make a purchase. When the clerk rings it up, give the clerk a bill that is larger than the purchase. When the clerk rings in the bill amount and looks at how much change you are to get back, put down a couple coins. Watch the fun. I actually had a clerk tell me I gave her too much money. She could not figure out much change I should get back. This is a sad thing, but not uncommon. I used to teach at a university. I actually had students that expected a college class to be conducted like a high school class, where the teacher does all of the work and the student gets a C or higher. This was typical across all of my entry level classes and for a lot of years. It did seem to get progressively worse toward the end of my teaching career. 

Let’s look at some starting salaries as reported by Forbes for 2022.

MajorSalaryTradeSalary
Arts and Humanities$42,000 Plumber$43,000
Business52,000Electrician45,000
Health53,000HVAC44,000
Social Sciences49,000Construction MGT51,000
STEM60,000Heavy Equip Operator57,000
Teaching39,000Auto Mechanic46,000

There does not appear to a significant difference in the starting salaries between the college graduates and the entry-level tradespersons. So why does it seem like high schools focus on preparing students to go to college? Could it be because high school teachers, high school administrators, guidance counselors, and high school administrators are all college graduates? It there an educational bias? It seems to me that if a high school can afford to focus four years students’ education preparing them for college, they should provide the same outcome to prepare them for a lucrative trade. 

I was on the criminal justice program advisory board for a career college in Cincinnati. This school had a construction management program. Inside their building construction management students were taught to frame of a house. The plumbing students plumbed the house, electrical students ran the wiring, and HVAC students put in the heating and air conditioning. At the end of two-year program, these students had an employable skill. Why have we not put these types of programs in our high schools? Why are we adverse to opening avenues for high school students who either do not want to go to college or cannot afford college to get a marketable skill set? 

It seems to me that if we really want to address the violent crime in this country, we go to where the violent crime is happening. Problem solving is a funny thing. Particularly within the confines of the federal government. One could make the argument that our governments approach to problem solving is to put a band-aid on the symptoms then pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Addressing the violent crime issue is going to require more than putting a band-aid on it and saying, “Look what we did!!” 

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