Stopping Preventable Murder
by Robert Weissberg
Issue 223– March 13, 2013
The horrific school shootings in Newtown have sparked national outrage spawning dozens of purported solutions to an alleged epidemic. But, horrific carnage acknowledged, it is unclear why these 26 deaths (plus the shooter) have mesmerized public thinking. The awkward truth is that Newtown is only a blip in the overall tapestry of American deadly violence. And this “insensitive” conclusion would be true even if we include murders from other recent deadly mass shootings. One estimate puts the mass shooting toll at 61 since 1982, not even a rounding error in the total homicides since that year. In 2009, some 9,203 people were killed by firearms.
All the handwringing over Newtown might almost guarantees cures worse than the disease and, of the utmost importance, far better ways exist to reducing homicides than stiffer gun control laws, bans on so-called assault weapons, stricter background checks and all the other nostrums endorsed by the liberal dominated media. It is often said that rare occurrences can instigate bad laws, and the Newtown tragedy will surely confirm this wisdom.
The oddity of this outrage becomes clearer when we consider deadly assaults in places that do not inspire Newtown-like public anguish. For example, between 2000 and 2011, guns killed 53,850 black males with blacks themselves being the largest perpetrator. By mid-December of 2012 Detroit had hit its highest homicide rate in two decades—375 people, mostly black. Meanwhile, 2012 saw 503 homicides in Chicago, a figure that had not been reached since 2008. Ironically, 62 of these Chicago victims were youngsters a figure far in excess of the 20 killed in Newtown.
These and mountains of similar data all make a disconcerting point—the American public is hyper-sensitive to slaughter when the killing is done all at once (a massacre) and both victims and perpetrators are white. By contrast, when the deadly violence is black-on-black, and committed on the installment plan, no big deal. This is even true when the deaths are in the hundreds or thousands.
Is a racial “double standard” regarding public attentiveness defensible? Perhaps. After all, the whites massacred are innocents in the “wrong” place at the wrong time, gunned down by a mentally deranged shooter whose past behavior hardly portended mass killing. The incident had a random quality about it and therefore especially disconcerting (a parallel is the out-of-the-blue terrorist attack).
By contrast, black murders are often predictable given inner-city life. The deceased were often gang- bangers or drug dealers dispatched by other drug dealers. Nevertheless, many black victims were just as innocent as the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School. The shooter was merely aiming elsewhere or a missed shot just kept traveling. The outpouring of grief in such circumstances was equally heartfelt as anything in Newtown. Ditto for the fervent demands from parents and local residents that “something be done” to protect children whose only “crime” was sitting outside their home during a botched drive-by-shooting.
The preceding analysis makes it clear that if reducing homicides is the goal, the focus on future Sandy Hooks and similar episodes with multiple victims is misplaced. Even if future Sandy Hook (and the like) were 100% prevented, the overall impact would be minimal—at most saving 50 lives per year out of a total 15,000 more or less.
So, what is to be done? If the question is one of saving the most lives, the answer is obvious: increasing plain-Jane but vigorous policing in areas notable for high homicides and in practice this means neighborhoods with high concentrations of poor blacks. Compare the cost of enhanced security in thousands of Sandy Hooks (67,148 grade schools in 2009) versus focusing on a few murder-ridden neighborhoods in cities like Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis? A 10% reduction in murders in Chicago, for example, is the equivalent of two Sandy Hooks, and while we know Chicago’s crime spots, who can anticipate the location of the next Sandy Hook? And what about detecting the next one-in-a-million mentally ill perpetrator?
Concentrating on high-crime venues is a reasonable and relatively cheap strategy. Washington DC, was once famous for its murderous violence but thanks to a recent concerted police effort that concentrated on breaking up gangs, confiscating guns, extra patrols in dangerous areas and modern technology (especially surveillance cameras) , only 88 homicides occurred in 2012 compared in 140 as recently as 2009 (and despite population increase).
An even better example comes from New York City where the police employed an energetic “stop and frisk” approach to taking guns off the street and arresting potential shooters. Here a police officer can stop a likely suspect and question him or her, and pat them down in search of a weapon. All it takes is suspicion. As a result, homicides in the Big Apple are at an 18 year low, a mere 414 (guns were responsible for 237 of these killings). By comparison, in 1990, the City had 2,245 murders. Last year there were some 684,330 stop and frisks and these stops have averaged finding some 8,000 weapons and 800 illegal guns per year. Needless to say, as the low level of gun deaths indicate, stop and frisk is an effective deterrent.
It would seem prudent, then, that all those outraged over all the killing should demand more intensive policing in crime- ridden areas and stop talking about reinterpreting the Second Amendment, banning assault rifles, blaming violent video games and all the rest.
So, why not just have more energetic policing? The answer is simple: more invasive policing in largely black areas invites a political firestorm. In New York City, for example, stop and frisk as been denounced by the New York Times and other liberal groups; it has brought multiple law suits and civil rights activists denounce it as racial profiling, and no amount of evidence regarding lives saved placates these opponents. In sum, tough policing is an unwelcome cure.
Let me conclude by being extremely politically incorrect. Liberals are exploiting the Newtown shooting to advance their anti-gun agenda and in doing so are ignoring far greater preventable deadly violence among blacks. In their political cosmology it is far better to avert future and difficult to stop white-on-white violence where only a handful are killed versus reducing far deadlier violence among blacks.
Robert Weissberg holds a Ph.D. in Political Science, has authored 11 books, and has taught at Cornell University and the University of Illinois-Urbana; he still occasionally teaches a graduate seminar on elections at New York University. A rare academic, Robert had owned and operated a clothing store for fourteen years. This first appeared in Conservative Action Alerts.