Murder Rates and Correlations

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One of the finest lines in Bob Dylan’s entire songwriting catalog comes, in my opinion, from the song ‘It’s a hard rain gonna fall’ – I want to know my song well before I start singing. It is advice the news media and talking head circus seldom follow, insisting on yammering away without even knowing the basics of what actually happened. For this reason I make it a rule not to form a strong opinion on an event until a week or so has passed and I’ve had a chance to study the reality of the situation. The knee-jerk conversation about gun control after the Sandy Hook murders was intense but ultimately uninformed. Getting to the roots of America’s high murder rates are likely not going to come about by having more guns, or fewer guns, or having more armed guards, or fewer video games.

First off, its important to separate these sorts of mass killings from our overall penchant for killing one another. Mass murders happen throughout the world, largely irrespective of gun laws, gun access, foreign policy, or even culture. Dismissing potential actions because they “Couldn’t have prevented Sandy Hook (or Columbine, or Aurora, etc.) is not helpful. For mass killings, the best remedy is to reduce their prevalence and their lethality. For that purpose, limits on clip size and the fire rate of firearms could certainly have the effect of slowing down a potential mass killer, and legislation to that effect would have next to no impact on the ability of Americans to defend themselves or utilize guns for peaceful purposes.

But the far bigger point, as some gun advocates have also pointed out, is that that Americans are just so prone to killing one another. At 4.2 murders per 100,000 people, the US has a murder rate roughly three or four times that of most Western European countries and Canada, but well below the largest Latin American countries. A great deal was made of the potential correlation, positive or negative, between gun ownership and homicide rate. The statistical evidence, however, does not bear that out – there is at best a weak negative correlation between gun ownership rates and homicide rates, meaning that if anything more gun ownership appears to correlate with slightly lower rates of homicide. there’s a couple potential reasons for this. For one thing, while the US is a huge outlier on gun ownership, European countries tend to have very high gun ownership rates because, frankly, guns are expensive, so the average low-income person is not going to buy one except for for good reason. Moreover, since most countries have some kind of restrictions on who can own a gun, it stands to reason that the more well-qualified gun owners there are, the less relative power criminal gun owners have. Reducing the gun ownership rate is not likely to have a positive effect on our murder rate – which isn’t to say laws making it harder for the tiny percentage of people likely to misuse them are not worthwhile.

More interestingly, there seems to be a closer relationship between homicide rate and wealth inequality. There have been various studies on the issue, and a simple exercise confirms it for those who might doubt the extant studies. There exist reasonably comprehensive lists for income inequality and homicide rate ; pasting them into Excel, removing those countries where data was not available for both metrics, and calculating the Correlation gave me a coefficient of +.5. In other words, while gun legislation may save lives in case of another mass attack, tackling our real murder problem will in all likelihood require chipping away at the monumental levels of inequality in our society.

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The Polish Wolf

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Mark Tokarski
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I am curious about US homicide numbers when the rate at which we murder people of other nationalities is factored in. Without looking at those numbers, which are not made available (those who try to study this are demeaned and ridiculed), this all seems academic and pointless. Add to our private gun ownership rates our stunning war toy arsenal, and it’s apparent that we are a threat to the planet as a whole, and not just ourselves. But you are on to something, no doubt. Michael Moore stumbled onto some the same phenonemon in Bowling for Columbine when he discovered… Read more »

Craig Moore
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Craig Moore
Pogie
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Craig Moore
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Craig Moore
Pogie
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That sure seems like some credible, objective news.

JC
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“I have found Europeans to be at least as frightened of their poor neighborhoods as Americans” That may be. But what is revealing about this comment is that it is elitist. Are poor Europeans and Americans as frightened by poor neighborhoods as the rich or middle class are? How about this: are poor Europeans and Americans frightened of rich neighborhoods? Asked another way, if poor people can access rich neighborhoods, what is there to fear besides “stand-your-ground” and castle doctrine laws? Stop and frisk? Racial profiling? Hazing? Should poor neighborhoods be as insulated from the rich as rich neighborhoods are… Read more »

The Polish Wolf
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The Polish Wolf

JC – What exactly is elitist about noting that many people feel uncomfortable in poor neighborhoods? It’s hardly a judgement on the people who live there, merely a statement of fact about the attitudes of the people who don’t. As to why this is the case, I think there are a few possible hypotheses. One is certainly that the wealthy generally do not appreciate thinking about the poor, because it makes their own lifestyles harder to justify. And to answer your ‘question’, in many cases, yes, poor people are as afraid of poor neighborhoods besides their own as the wealthy… Read more »

Mark Tokarski
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I think it safe to say that murder among the lower classes might be more prevalent than the elite, and that use of handguns would be common. Murder on a large scale, as in our wars of aggression, is done with sophisticated weaponry and is usually impersonal. We have refined that sort of killing so that murderer and victim rarely see each other. I got caught up in this silliness because of the grotesque nature of the Newtown incident. In the 1990’s during the Clinton Administration our government murdered a half a million Iraqi children by starvation and disease. Desk… Read more »

Mark Tokarski
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By the way, just an afterthought – the idea that there is any serous government concern about gun control is a knee-jerk reaction on my part. A citizen with a gun is no match for a blow-dried anchorman with a microphone, and an Apache helicopter would take out Noxon Montana twice before morning coffee. Armed or unarmed, the American citizenry is no threat to anyone in power. That is a side issue.

Ingemar Johansson
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Ingemar Johansson

You’re looking at our high homicide rate as a bad thing.

Quote: People with a criminal record were also more likely to die as homicide victims.[12] Between 1990 and 1994, 75% of all homicide victims age 21 and younger in the city of Boston had a prior criminal record.[36] In Philadelphia, the percentage of those killed in gun homicides that had prior criminal records increased from 73% in 1985 to 93% in 1996.[12][37] In Richmond, Virginia, the risk of gunshot injury is 22 times higher for those males involved with crime.[38] -Wiki.

Mark Tokarski
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Many times I have thought that you have a rather well-developed sense of humor, only to realize that you are barely sentient.

Ingemar Johansson
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Ingemar Johansson

Grandma Swede used to say, “It’s a big round world, what goes around comes around.”

Mark Tokarski
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Oh, I don’t know – it just struck me odd that you seemed to be OK with people killing each other off, and then I thought it was humor, and then realized it wasn’t. But who am I – Mother Theresa?

Merry Solstice.

Ingemar Johansson
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Ingemar Johansson

Too bad Israelis and American serviceman don’t slaughter themselves.

Right Mark?

Mark Tokarski
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Was sorta of trying to say I was sorry for what I said. But let’s get into it – since Ronald Reagan took office,there have been something like 4,000 people world wide killed by Arab terrorist acts, including 9/11 which actually appears to have been done by Americans and Israelis, another debate. So I am being very generous. An American is more likely to drown in a bathtub than be killed by a terrorist. That’s factual, a real statistic, as like 400 people die that way each year versus what – -0- Americans here in our homeland by acts of… Read more »

The Polish Wolf
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The Polish Wolf

“something like 4,000 people world wide killed by Arab terrorist acts”

This is really an argument for another day, but you seem to be only counting non-Arabs who died in Arab terrorist attacks.

Mark Tokarski
Guest

In typical Vietnam fashion, we are murdering them like Tyson chickens and claiming we are the victims. That goes way back in our history, our habit of blaming our victims (and like the mantis, assuming a praying posture before we kill). You can, if you want, chronicle wars among themselves where there is no involvement of the imperialist powers, and have fun with that. You can also, if you are so inclined, chronicle deaths brought about by European wars throughout history, both internecine and aggressive, to award the prize for the most violent people on the planet. SPOILER ALERT: I’m… Read more »

NamelessRange
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NamelessRange

“Whenever an act of terrorim occurs and a group claims credit for it after, you can bet it was our boys.” You could use a crash course in logic Mark. At least then you could provide valid arguments supporting your apriori dogma that the blame is always the same- that black and white is all there is. Your arguments still wouldn’t be sound, but at least your conclusions would follow from your premises. You constantly tell people, “You need to learn politics”. Well, you need to learn about fallacies, because nearly every conclusion you draw about politics seems based on… Read more »

Mark Tokarski
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There are several problems with your outlook: 1. Perpetrators of state terrorism only rarely admit their crimes, and usually long after they are committed. So Robert McNamara, who lived a charmed life, only decades later on that perhaps as many as 3.5 million Vietnamese died in that war, most civilians. He appears to suffer form latent conscience, a rarity. But given absence of public confession and probing journalists, you can easily attest to absence of evidence as evidence of absence. Name that fallacy. 2. You are not going to make any attempt to discover any crimes by your own country.… Read more »

Ingemar Johansson
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Ingemar Johansson

“Free your mind”? Really Mr Lennon? Quote:”Lennon was indeed a heavy drug user, as has now been acknowledged by most people who knew the musician well, including Ono and Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia Lennon. The same is true of Goldman’s claims about Lennon’s tendency towards violence, a tendency Lennon himself owned up to in a Playboy interview.” Looks like he freed these two lives. Quote:”Among Goldman’s most serious charges are that Lennon was not only instrumental in the murder of a sailor whom he met in Hamburg, but also in the death of bandmate Stuart Sutcliffe. Goldman states that Sutcliffe’s… Read more »

Mark Tokarski
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Very funny indeed. No matter what Goldman may have written about Lennon, the words “free your mind instead” are what I used and I stand by them. If you are under a thought control regime, as Americans are, his words could not be more apropos.

Ingemar Johansson
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Ingemar Johansson

Bringing this post back to its origins with Lennon was certainly a stroke of genius Mark.

For everyone knows if John would’ve had a Concealed Carry Permit instead of taking 5 rounds to the chest while flashing the peace sign he could have prevented his own murder.

Ingemar Johansson
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Ingemar Johansson

Hard to justify God’s existence when there was 5 shots into John and none into Yoko.

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