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Guns: Amid more tragedy, the hopeful realities everyone ignores

Amid today’s going-nowhere debate over gun policy, in which both sides recite talking points that bear little provable relationship to preventing ongoing gun tragedies, the mass and individual shootings keep happening. On October 10th, 17 people were killed and injured by a shooter in Roseburg, Oregon; in coming weeks, another shooter will strike somewhere else. Following these tragedies, come cries that “something must be done!”

A big reason nothing gets done is that major interest groups fail to confront the facts that defy their hardened ideologies. The U.S. suffers vastly higher levels of anti-sociality and violence because (unlike most other Western nations) we are not a cohesive society – which is why so many Americans fearfully keep guns, and why we cling to rigid political positions that prevent solution-oriented debate.

Thus, a strange duality has developed: the same racial diversification that promotes so much fear is also associated with less gun and other violence. How can we use manifest reality to assuage imagined fear?

Solutions may not come from attempting consensus, but instead through directly confronting the primary ideologies of both sides. Striking new information shows dramatic declines for gun deaths in the three biggest states with very different gun laws, far exceeding those elsewhere in the country (see Figure below).

Note: Rates are per populations of 100,000. Source: Centers for Disease Control.

How did gun deaths plummet—not in idyllic Stockholm or polite Winnipeg —but in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, San Diego, San Antonio, and other cities in the three biggest states (with a combined population of 85 million) in the more violent USA? No other state comes close to these statistics, so we should better understand these promising trends:

  • Researchers with a record of supporting “gun rights,” such as those prevailing in Texas, should be commissioned to analyze why gun homicide rates have fallen by a staggering 63 percent (and by 52 percent for all gun deaths) over the last two decades in California, the state with the nation’s strictest gun-control laws and a low gun ownership rate.
  • Researchers with a record of supporting strong gun controls, such as those in California, should investigate why gun murder rates fell by 64 percent (and by 47 percent for all gun deaths) during the same period in Texas, which has among the weakest gun regulations and highest gun ownership rates.
  • Both sets of researchers should combine their findings to include explanations of why these two giant states with similar sociodemographics, but diametrically opposite gun laws have very similar gun-death trends and rates of gun homicide.
  • If there is curiosity left, both sides could collaborate to explain how New York, with average gun laws and a low gun ownership rate, boasts the most impressive gun fatality drop of all (down 75 percent for gun murders; down 62 percent for all gun fatalities), as well as much lower gun death rates.

Why, in particular, have gun homicide rates among Latino and African American 15-24-year-olds, once the highest-risk group, plunged the fastest of any age group or race? You’d think gun-control lobbies would be breaking out the champagne to celebrate the transformative fact that 7,000 fewer teenagers and young adults die from gunfire every year today than 20 years ago, and eagerly investigating why.

The gun-rights lobby, in effect, has decreed that states like California, ”disarmed” by gun regulations, are at the mercy of bad guys with guns. The gun-control lobby argues that “open-carry” Texas’s weak regulations must lead to gun carnage. It is doctrinally impossible for both states to show major declines in gun casualties and identical gun murder rates.

Gun control and gun rights interests have been awarded “proprietary” privileges to own the issue and regulate what information (for discussion of this “privatized social policy,” see previous blog) is permissible for the White House, candidates, experts, and media commentators to raise. It’s time to bypass their never-ending shouting match over guns, which incorporates so many myths and dogmas.

Instead, we need to look deeper and examine what steps communities and citizens themselves, particularly young people in the three largest stages, have taken to dramatically cut gun violence in the face of official default. The surprisingly hopeful trends in radically different California, Texas, and New York indicate it is not likely to be the issues being argued about now.

Keywords: gun death, guns, homicide, Mike Males, youth of color

Posted in Blog, Political Landscape

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