Perspective needed on murders in America

Dec. 28, 2012

By John Seiler

Our country still mourns the victims of the horrible mass killing in Newtown, Conn. New gun-control legislation is being advanced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; and in the California Senate by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. More bills are likely to be introduced in the federal and state legislatures.

But the fact is that, despite the recent spate of mass killings, murders have been declining sharply for two decades across the United States, including in California. The data are easily available at the Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics database of the U.S. Department of Justice. Yet it’s hard to find opinion and news leaders who have checked this data. You can go to the site and access the data directly.

The database extends from 1960 to 2010. The embeded links get you to the closest part of the database. Then push “get table.”

I have obtained 2011 data from other sites and added it to the charts.

U.S. murder rate

Here is the chart of the U.S. murder rate per 100,000 population; 2011 number from here:

Murder Rate, U.S., 1960-2011

It clearly shows a sharp decline in the murder rate over the past two decades. Criminologists and demographers have several explanations. Probably the best is that most crimes, especially murders, are committed by young men between the ages of 15 and 30. Because of the Baby Boom that began in 1946 and ended in 1965, the birth rate doubled. When the Boomers entered the 14-30 age group in the early 1960s, the murder-rate doubled.

Later, the Boomers themselves had children at a much lower rate. So when their kids grew up, proportionally there were fewer of them; the population was aging. So crime rates fell.

The past 20 years also saw the passage of more flexible “conceal carry” gun laws in most states, although not California. Here, concealed weapons permits are granted mainly by county sheriffs. In rural areas, the sheriffs grant them fairly easily. In urban areas, including even supposedly “conservative” Orange County, the sheriffs are stingy.

Another factor credited for the crime drop of recent years has been cell phones. A person being stalked by a criminal can call for help immediately, instead of looking for a pay phone.

The increased abortion rate also has been used as a reason why murders and other crime dropped, but that theory was debunked by John Lott and others. Abortion was legalized in 1968 in California and New York, then our two largest states; and nationally in 1973 with the Roe vs. Wade decision. Adding 15 years, the years the aborted potential criminals would have been absent from the scene should have begun in 1983-88, so murders should have dropped. Instead, as the chart shows, murders surged as part of the crack cocaine epidemic.

California murder rate

Let’s now look at a chart of the California murder rate; the 2011 number is from here. It also has dropped sharply in the past two decades.

California’s passage of a three-strikes law 20 years ago was credited with a drop in crime, including murders. But in that period, crime dropped in states without three-strikes laws.

Murder rate, California, 1960-2011

Connecticut murder rate

Let’s now consider Connecticut, the site of the horrible murders. Its murder rate also has dropped sharply in the past two decades; 2011 number from here.

Murder rate, Connecticut, 1960-2011

There has been a slight increase in the last couple of years, to 3.6 per 100,000 people. But that rate still is below the rate in California and the nation as a whole.

I won’t put up another chart, but for 2012 New York City is projected to record its lowest murder rate ever. This has occurred despite — or because of — the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia vs. Heller, which threw out restrictive gun laws in such major cities as D.C., New York City and Chicago, all of which since have seen drops in murder and other crime rates.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been calling for strict gun control. And he has credited the murder drop to better police work. But the real reason murders have dropped is that more New Yorkers now are armed and can defend themselves. Potential killers no longer enjoy attacking universally unarmed victims.

Getting all the data

The point is that national tragedies such as the Newtown shootings should not be used to override rational analysis of what’s really going on.

In a similar fashion, when a plane crashes and kills hundreds of people, it gets international news coverage for weeks. But a local car accident will get a small mention in the local newspaper. Yet air travel remains far safer than travel by car.

The TV news shows and national newspapers have been using the Newtown tragedy to scare people into accepting radical new gun control measures. But I’ll bet few of our readers here have seen the above statistics on the general decline in murders, even though the data can be easily obtained and analyzed. I just plugged the numbers into the free online chart program,

This has occurred even as the number of guns in America now exceeds the number of people.

As the late Paul Harvey liked to say: That’s the rest of the story.

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