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Violence Forecast: Sunny with an Occasional Hail of Bullets

Last month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and local officials were bragging that their strategies “brought down gun violence,” which he blamed on youth, gangs, drug selling, and guns flowing into Chicago. Then, over the 4th of July weekend, Chicago suffered a horrific 80 shootings. Press reports revealed victims of all ages, 15 to 66. Emanuel again singled out youth.

“Youth programs” got credit for San Francisco’s reduced murders this year in press reports last week. Then, reports revealed seven shootings, leaving four dead, in San Francisco in a matter of hours.

Waves of shootings don’t negate larger statistical trends, of course. What they do demonstrate is that gun violence remains very much outside official control.

Whether violence is up or down, press reports and commentaries are identical, as they have been for decades. Interest groups and reporters recite standard talking points: Youths are to blame; the answer is more cops, programs, crackdowns, and community policing and fewer guns, drugs, and “kids” on the streets.

Good programs and policing yield many community benefits. Programs are essential to addressing immediate homelessness, drug abuse, and individual, family, and community troubles. But they’re unlikely to prevent murder. In a city of 840,000, 30 to 60 San Franciscans will shoot someone to death in a given year. Even in poorer districts, murders remain rare events with varied settings and motives difficult to predict or prevent.

A Richmond program that uses computer modeling to identify the most murder-prone and “pays youths… not to shoot each other” was also lauded in the press for “success.” After 47 months, “only” four of the 68 program participants had been shot, three fatally. Although the strategy may yield other successes, the gun toll isn’t much different from what would have occurred among this population anyway.

Gun killings of Richmond’s teens and young adults over the last decade ranged from a high of 27 in the worst year (2007) to 10 in the best (2004). San Francisco had 55 gun homicides among all ages in 2005; four years later, 22. Each short-term trend is greeted as larger evidence of crisis or victory. Did policing, programs, gun laws, video games, etc., change radically in such short periods? Do tighter gun regulations prevent murders?

Hard to say. Guns flowing into Chicago from outside Illinois, which has stricter gun control laws, are evident. Still, guns must flow even more freely into Houston, given Texas’s practically non-existent regulations, yet the Houston metro has a lower gun murder rate (6.2 per 100,000 population) than Chicago’s (8.6). In turn, gun-rights Houston (which also just suffered a mass shooting claiming six victims) has a higher firearms murder rate than Los Angeles (5.2) in gun-control California.

The barrier remains an establishment and media more interested in scapegoating than analysis. Frivolous lobbies like the Partnership@Drug-Free.org and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy spearhead popular campaigns that divert attention from America’s massive drug crisis that is fostering deadly violence globally and in American cities.

Youths suffer 6 percent of the nation’s gun murders and commit 4 percent of urban homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and FBI. But youths are politically powerless, so politicians and journalists assign them 99 percent of the blame for guns and drugs and endlessly tout the same narrow youth-aimed salvos while ignoring vastly larger issues. No wonder that shootings continue in cycles of their own.

Americans do not have the leadership to confront crises, which is why ours remain at the worst levels of any Western country. The American pattern is one of dubious interests exploiting crises to scapegoat unpopular social outgroups, to little positive effect.

Amid distractions and policy squabbling, crises gradually solve themselves over time as an older generation of drug abusers slowly dies off (the deaths of 40,000 drug abusers per year must be America’s chief drug-war strategy), newer generations react against ongoing epidemics (gun violence and every type of crime have plummeted among California’s young); and the strengths of an increasingly diverse society supplant tribal divisions (currently, panic-driven nativist hysteria is being vented against 8-year-old Central American refugees) — all aided by limited community efforts that realistically identify, analyze, and address individual needs.

After many decades and millions of violence and drug casualties, Americans still gravitate toward popular, quick fixes that generate splashy headlines rather than large-scale government anti-poverty investment coordinated with carefully targeted local initiatives. Until Americans come to care enough about one another to do more than bluster and blame, cycles of crises will continue.

Posted in Blog, Political Landscape

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