Gun Crime Down, But Americans Think It’s Up
The Los Angeles Times points to a new study that shows that gun crimes are down dramatically, but Americans think otherwise:
Gun crime has plunged in the United States since its peak in the middle of the 1990s, including gun killings, assaults, robberies and other crimes, two new studies of government data show.
Yet few Americans are aware of the dramatic drop, and more than half believe gun crime has risen, according to a newly released survey by the Pew Research Center.
In less than two decades, the gun murder rate has been nearly cut in half. Other gun crimes fell even more sharply, paralleling a broader drop in violent crimes committed with or without guns. Violent crime dropped steeply during the 1990s and has fallen less dramatically since the turn of the millennium.
The number of gun killings dropped 39% between 1993 and 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in a separate report released Tuesday. Gun crimes that weren’t fatal fell by 69%. However, guns still remain the most common murder weapon in the United States, the report noted. Between 1993 and 2011, more than two out of three murders in the U.S. were carried out with guns, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found.
The bureau also looked into non-fatal violent crimes. Few victims of such crimes — less than 1% — reported using a firearm to defend themselves.
Despite the remarkable drop in gun crime, only 12% of Americans surveyed said gun crime had declined compared with two decades ago, according to Pew, which surveyed more than 900 adults this spring. Twenty-six percent said it had stayed the same, and 56% thought it had increased.
The most obvious explanation for the disparity between reality and perception, of course, would arguably be media coverage of crime. Mass shootings like those in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut resulted in round-the-clock coverage by the news media that lasted for days on end. Local news stations continue to seem to follow an “if it bleeds, it leads” theory of journalism that emphasizes violent crime as a prominent part of the local news reporting that they do. Newspapers aren’t quite nearly as obsessive in their coverage due to their delayed nature, but you see the same phenomenon there. Throughout the media, violent crime of any kind gets a high degree of attention. The result, arguably, is that this coverage creates the impression in the minds of the public that we live in a far more violent society than we actually do. In reality, the odds that the average citizen will be the victim of a violent crime, and specifically a crime involving a gun, is far lower than it was 20 years ago. But, you wouldn’t know that by watching the media.
None of this is to discount the violence that still does take place in society, of course. Cities like Chicago and Detroit remain far too violent for their own good, for example. Even there, though, the violence is restricted to “high crime” areas of the city rather than being something that the average citizen necessarily needs to worry about as they walk around the more well-developed areas of the city. We ought to be vigilant about the violence that does take place in our society, and we ought to be looking for ways to reduce it. At the same time, however, we need to be realistic about what’s actually happening here. America is a much safer place than it was 20 years, and even more so than it was in the 1970s when you look at major cities like New York City. The suggestion that there’s an “epidemic of violence” simply doesn’t comport with the facts.