Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Guns and Crime: U.S. Violent Crime Statistics

I posted initial gun and crime thoughts in my last post,  Guns and crime: Please stop misusing numbers. Now I'd like to talk about violent crime statistics.

Joyce Lee Malcom writes what seems to me a well-reasoned article: Joyce Lee Malcolm: Two Cautionary Tales of Gun Control. I think her numbers are good, but she perhaps fudges a bit to make her point. Australia and the U.K. are two countries not completely dissimilar to ours but with much tighter gun control. She says the numbers show it doesn't work. I'd like to look at some numbers for comparison.

First let's look at some raw number from the U.S. Department of Justice. I used the table builder to generate violent crime statistics for 1960 to 2010. I downloaded the spreadsheet (csv file) and made the following chart.

Murder and rape rates are small compared to aggravated assault. I separated them into their own charts so the trend would be clear.

To me two things stand out right away
  1. Crime rates are dropping since 1990. It's not like violence is out of control and needs a radical solution. It's getting better. We can argue about the best way to keep the trends going or improve them. But certainly we all should not be panicky, depressed and despairing about our country.
  2. Murder rates are insignificant compared to robbery and aggravated assault, and smaller even than rape. Yet murder gets all the focus, except when we focus on rape. Why? Well, probably because both those crimes are perceived as worse than robbery or assault. In 2010 the murder rate was 4.8, rape 27.2, robbery 119.1, and assault 252.3. So I guess we assume murder is over five times worse than rape and over 50 times worse than beating the crap out of someone.
In #2 above I'm being somewhat facetious. Nonetheless, the question of relative importance is a serious one that must be considered. Joyce Lee Malcolm cites a Brookings Institution conclusion that murders are down 3.2% in Australia since the National Firearms Agreement was passed in 1997. She also cites Australian Institute of Criminology statistics that show assaults up 40% since the 1990's. If that were to happen in the U.S. would it be worth it? The raw numbers for 2010 are 14,748 murders and 778,901 assaults. A 3.2% decrease in murders and 40% increase in assaults would change those numbers to 14,276 murders and 1,090,461 assaults. The differences are 472 less murders and 311,560 more assaults. Are 472 less deaths worth over 300,000 more people getting beaten horribly?

At this point you might argue that I'm reading too much into the numbers, that there must be other factors. You could be right. If so, I would argue the same about all the numbers presented in this debate. It requires thoughtful reasoned consideration. The problem needs to be properly engineered, not solved by emotional debate using suspect statistics.

There are many more numbers that I hoped to present but again my post has become too long. I hope this post at least gives convincing evidence that we are not in a crisis and that if we do need a solution it requires calm, reasoned analysis.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Good article about relevant data: http://www.factcheck.org/2012/12/gun-rhetoric-vs-gun-facts/