NDN Analysis: Hard To Argue There Is A Culture of Violence in the US

Like many I was a bit amazed at Wayne LaPierre's effort to blame fictional weapons found in the movies, TV and video games for Sandy Hook style shootings in the US, and not the real guns themselves.  Since then I have followed the debate closely and have listened to leading figures attempt to blame a rising "culture of violence" in the US for the conditions that have created these horrific incidents. 

"Culture of violence."  Are we living in a worsening culture of violence in the US today? Are our cities more dangerous, our kids less safe, our communities more under threat? As someone who lived through the 70s, 80s, 90s and the last decade this argument seemed ridiculous.  My own city, Washington, DC, has seen a huge drop in crime.  Let's take the murder rate.  In 1993, there were 454 murders in DC.  In 2011, 108, almost a fifth as many! The city is profoundly safer and more vibrant than in the dark days 20 years ago.  This is also true for so many other cities in the US.  In fact there has been something of an urban rivival in the US, with vibrant, prosperous and safer cites once again becoming the core of more dynamic metro areas in many many parts of the country. See the chart below mapping DC murder rates from 1993-2011.

So, to check and see if the US was actually more violent today, I looked at national data.  And here is what I found: the incidents of violent crime in the US per 100,000 people in 1993 was 747; in 2011 it was 386, or half the rate. Half! Not 10 percent less, 20 percent less, but fully half.  Even in absolute terms - not adjusted for the rapid population growth and huge waves of immigration in the last 20 years (and explosion of video game use) - violent crime is down, and down in all areas measured.  See the chart below for one cut on the data, violent crimes per 100,000 people over the past generation.

The reduction in crime that has taken place in the US over the past twenty years is something that, as a society we should celebrate, and be proud of.  America was indeed a violent place.  It simply isn't any more.  All of this happened while immigration has soared, something that normally could be associated with less social cohesion, and all forms of media consumption - video games, tv, movie, youtube - have increased. Gun ownership, by the way, has also been declining for generations now.  Far few people own guns in the US than two generations ago.

While I am no expert on these matters, it seems like a much more reasonable interpretation of recent data is that while the consumption of all forms of media has increased - including mature video games - all forms of violence in the US have dropped.  There just isn't a strong statistical basis for claims that we are or have become more violent, and this violence has somehow contributed to these horrific incidents. But what seems clear as day is that if these disturbed people did not have high capacity assault weapons, the carnage they would have caused would have been much less severe.  Crime is down, violence is down, but these mass killings are up.  To me,the culprit seems to be much more likely to be real guns than the fictional ones in Mr. LaPierre's imagination.  And we can, and I hope will, do something about that in this coming Congress.