By Ken Cuccinelli, LE Action Board Member
As the tragedy at Parkland, Florida, inspires discussion (and some screeching) about how to keep our children safe, the politically correct answer heard over and above all others is “gun control.” The widely held assumption is that America is suffering a major increase of gun violence.
According to the FBI, the truth is very different: Gun violence is not just down over the last 25 years, it’s way down, as is violent crime overall, down to levels not seen since the 1960s (for murder) and 1971 (for violent crime generally).
So, if we can at least agree that we would all like to reduce violence in America, especially violence that victimizes children, then let’s at least try to start with the facts.
The data I reference here come from the annual FBI crime reports, and I will use the number of crimes per 100,000 people (called the “crime rate”), that way we are automatically adjusting for the significant growth in population over the last 25 years.
The most recent year for which the FBI has data is 2016. So we will start with 1991.
In 1991, the violent crime rate was 758 violent crimes per 100,000 people, including 9.8 murders. By 2016, the violent crime rate had been reduced to 397 violent crimes per 100,000 people, including 5.3 murders. That is a 48 percent reduction in violent crime overall, and a 46 percent reduction in murder. The rate of property crimes dropped by even more, over 50 percent.
If you’d prefer to look at a 10-year window, and despite a two-year jump in 2015 and 2016, we have still been improving: going from 477 to 397 violent crimes per 100,000 people (a 17 percent decline), and from 5.7 to 5.3 murders per 100,000 people (a 7 percent decline).
How low did we get? In 2013 and 2014, America had the lowest murder rates since before 1960.
In raw numbers, America went from suffering more than 1.9 million violent crimes in 1991 down to less than 1.3 million violent crimes in 2016, despite our population growth during those 25 years. This includes going from 24,700 murders in 1991 down to 17,250 by 2016. Obviously, there is plenty of room for continued improvement, and I would hope that’s what we would be focusing on. But to improve a complicated societal problem like reducing violence, we need to start with the facts.
Some things we’ve been doing for the last 25 years have been working. What are they? Can we expand on them? Can we reduce the rate of violence in America by half again in the next 25 years? I hope we can, but only if we are realistic in addressing the problem.
And what about guns in all of this?
In 2013, (left-leaning) NPR reported on information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (then under President Barack Obama) and the (left-leaning) Pew Research Center. I provide the three sets of parentheses so you can see I’m not cherry picking data (a common problem in debates about guns and violence).
I will simply quote the NPR article at length:
"'Firearm-related homicides dropped from 18,253 homicides in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011,' according to a report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, 'and nonfatal firearm crimes dropped from 1.5 million victimizations in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011. There were seven gun homicides per 100,000 people in 1993, the Pew Research Center study says, which dropped to 3.6 gun deaths in 2010. The study relied in part on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 'Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49 percent lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation's population grew,' according to the Pew study. 'The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75 percent lower in 2011 than in 1993.' All of that is good news—but many Americans don't seem to be aware of it. In a  survey, the Pew Research Center found that only 12 percent of Americans believe the gun crime rate is lower today than it was in 1993; 56 percent believe it's higher."
What gets reported? Crimes. When a crime does not happen, there is nothing to report. So we only get a steady drumbeat of the violence, crimes, and tragedies, not to mention that’s what the media overwhelmingly wants to report (calamity is interesting, placidity is boring).
When a discussion is sparked by a tragedy like the mass shooting at Parkland, it’s easy, and even understandable, that emotions can dominate the discussion. But if we want real, long-term results—less violence and safer children—then while we comfort those who are in pain from the recent tragedy, we must focus on what works.
And that starts with the facts.