Jan 302013
 

Handgun

Since we had the Congressional hearings today with the incredible testimony of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, it’s worthwhile looking at a map of gun violence in United States cities compared to the rates in other countries. I am a realist here – I don’t see a reason for high capacity clips and assault rifles but the data is clear that most gun violence is due to handguns. NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelley was on CNN tonight and admitted as much – shootings here would drop less than 3% with a ban on assault rifles as it’s concealed handguns that are the weapon of choice. But tracking sales and background checks would help – as would addressing mental health issues. Ultimately, there is no single answer here.

The sports announcer Bob Costas was on The Daily Show January 28th and said in response to the recent controversy he stirred up: it is the culture of violence and permissiveness that needs to change. Smoking has gone from being cool to seriously not cool and we’ve managed to limit verbal bullying of people without taking away the First Amendment. But in too many subcultures in the U.S. it’s cool or hip to have a gun . . . and in some cases to use it (or at least threaten to). This is what has to change dramatically.

The map on gun violence in American cities published in the Atlantic comes from a number of sources – data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with work done by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute using additional data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and collated by The GuardianOf course, the map is comparing urban areas to entire countries but it still reveals the staggering level of gun violence there is in some cities. I’m sure many residents would be fearful of traveling to some of the countries they are in line with even though, paradoxically, they have the same average number of deaths within their own cities.

New Orleans, sadly, takes the top honors for having the highest gun homicide rate, the same as Honduras:

Gun Violence Map of United States Cities

Gun Violence Map of United States Cities

A few more details from the article by Richard Florida:

The pattern is staggering. A number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world.

  • If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world.
  • Detroit’s gun homicide rate (35.9) is just a bit less than El Salvador (39.9).
  • Baltimore’s rate (29.7) is not too far off that of Guatemala (34.8).
  • Gun murder in Newark (25.4) and Miami (23.7) is comparable to Colombia (27.1).
  • Washington D.C. (19) has a higher rate of gun homicide than Brazil (18.1).
  • Atlanta’s rate (17.2) is about the same as South Africa (17).

This level of violence should has no place in the United States. But like the issue of smoking, laws and restrictions are only part of a much larger, and much needed, cultural change.

Dec 152012
 
A young boy is comforted outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut,

A young boy is comforted outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012 (Reuters / Michelle McLoughlin

More gun violence. My heart goes out to those affected by the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut as 20 small children and seven adults die in one of the worst massacres in U.S. history. One recoils at the horror of what the children in that school went through; and it’s impossible to fathom the pain and suffering that the families, the communities and so many others will feel.

Already the political snipping have started – Huckabee’s bizarre remark that the killings are due to God being removed from the schools ( as if this has anything to do with it) to those who argue for tougher gun control (Connecticut already has tough gun laws and the guns used were registered). There will be time enough to talk about solutions but the underlying issue here is a strain of violence that runs deep through our culture and people who can act out their mental health issues with immense firepower at their disposal.

At the same time (or the same day more or less), a man in China walked into a primary school in the Henan province village of Chengpin and attacked 22 young children and one adult. We don’t know what was troubling him, but the difference was that all the children are still alive.

He used a knife.

Here, someone picks up a Glock semiautomatic pistol and puts on a military vest before entering a primary school to shed blood. Glocks seem to be a favorite of those bent on a deadly rampage, used in killings in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Colorado. Perhaps because they’re so effective.

But I don’t see an easy answer to the gun violence here. It goes beyond access to the weapons themselves – it’s not video games, movies, or television but something else. Those are all the easy targets, the easy answers to something we do not understand.

For now, a short piece by Roger Ebert from his review of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, and reposted in Kottke.org:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Everybody was happy, indeed.

Sadly, we’ll probably make ourselves happy again, finding something easy to condemn for the shooting, bemoaning the gun violence we hear about so frequently and missing the deeper issue entirely. But there will be no comfort for the people in Newtown.