We’re Doing OK

After pretty much every major terrorist attack, mass murder, or other traumatic event, people and political pundits alike scramble to find something that can be presented as a “solution” to “fix” the problem of people killing other people. It’s an age-old problem without a clear political solution, but that has never stopped anyone from trying.

Today, one of the popularly discussed (though not actually popular) solution is gun controls or restrictions of varying kinds. (For instance, I’ve seen proposals to require mandatory insurance for gun owners, or to close avenues for private sales, suggestions that clearly target poorer citizens and/or minorities, who often were the targets of original gun control laws designed to prevent anyone but the upper-class “respectable” citizens from carrying concealed weapons.)

I have an alternative suggestion, one that is far harder to contemplate, but much less difficult to implement.

Watch and wait.

You see, America is doing much, much better when it comes to violent crime. The FBI has a nifty tool they use to track crime, and murder rates are falling fast. While the FBI’s database only tracks the years between 1960 and 2012 (new years to be added once they finish crunching the numbers) they show a sharp decline in America’s murder rates, which reached their height in 1980, with more than 10 people killed per 100,000 Americans. In 2012, the number was almost half that, down to 4.7/100,000, which was itself a huge improvement over 2007, with 5.7/100,000. Check the data out yourself: the results are unambiguous. Murder rates have been consistently falling, even as American’s access to firearms has increased. Florida in the 1980s started a nation-wide revolution, as state after state passed “shall-issue” concealed-carry permits, which mandated that the state would issue concealed-carry permits to all qualified citizens (rather than issuing them on a discretionary basis, an easily abused system that tended to ignore minorities and cater to the existing elites of the day.)

Similarly, the idea that mass shootings are an isolated U.S. problem is simply false, and in fact the United States is almost doing well compared to other advanced nations. Our size and vast population magnifies our problems, as most other nations with similar wealth and quality of life are smaller and consequently experience fewer criminal acts per nation, especially if one removes crimes considered “terrorism” and crimes not involving the use of firearms from the mass-shootings equation, as PolitiFact did when the compared US mass shootings to mass shootings in other advanced countries.

Now, I’m certainly not claiming that concealed carry laws and privately-owned weapons on their own brought down the crime rate. Although they are are a significant factor, I doubt that they are the only factor, but unfortunately accurate data remains rare. (You can read all about the trouble with accurate self-defense numbers on Wikipedia, which cites 1 million defensive uses of firearms in the US a year as a middle-of-the-road figure for defensive gun uses annually.) Internationally speaking, data tends to suggest that merely spreading about firearms will not necessarily reduce crime, but taking away firearms won’t do it either–nations like Russia, with incredibly high murder rates, often have strict gun control laws. This suggests to me that cultural and socioeconomic issues are more important to the safety and well-being of a nation than national gun policy. (For reference, the United States is 111 out of 218 nations when it comes to our murder rate.)

I am claiming that whatever we are doing, it is working. Figures don’t lie. Even cities that are typically characterized as “wretched hives of scum and villainy” have experienced uncharacteristic relief in recent years. Most crime, especially violent crime, is down across the nation, including forcible rape. We need to do more research into what *is* working, and apply the lessons learned from years of fighting crime and preventing murders to our next generation’s approach to crime. We need to delve into how our culture has changed, into how our law-enforcement has changed, and into how our citizenry has changed. While the government and the media often act as if the world is ending due to the most recent catastrophe, there is real reason for optimism as regards crime in the United States of America. We are not without our flaws, but in this area, we are doing well. We need to find out why so we can do better.