Friday, October 9, 2015

Sticking to his guns

Image via Pleated Jeans.
Our old friend Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review (quoted on Monday by Steve M), making fun of the urban myth that mass shootings of the Umpqua Community College type are some kind of problem:
we love stories. We love them more than we love reality: The Republican party is not run by a secret cabal of warmongering billionaires; Barack Obama is a cookie-cutter Ivy League lefty, not a Kenya-born al-Qaeda plant; you’re going to die from emphysema or from being fat rather than from Ebola or a resurgent Islamic caliphate; the people who commit the murders are for the most part going to be ordinary criminals going about ordinary criminal business, and a fair number of the people they kill are the same thing.
I couldn't get over the implication there that murder itself is not a problem in the US, because it's not a problem for Kevin D. Williamson and other upstanding citizens; it's just an occupational hazard of ordinary criminal business, whatever that is—if people don't want to get shot to death, you know, they really need to make better life choices, and the wider society can't help with that.

Meaning, pretty clearly, that it's only a problem for black people, nothing serious, because that's the memetic heritage of this argument, as put out in such respectable sources as the World Nut Daily, or the Arkansas Council of Conservative Citizens, based on the technique of lumping together a large number of bona fide statistical views of a single problem as if they were independently correlated variables:
  • over half of murders in the United States are committed by black people, though they constitute only 13% of the population, and most of their victims are also black; 
  • most murderers by a large majority are young men, and a majority of victims are the same;
  • more murders are committed in densely populated urban areas, where there are heavy concentrations of black people; and
  • in studies conducted by the police departments of certain cities (e.g. Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, Chicago, New Orleans), very large majorities of murderers turn out to have prior criminal records, and in a lot of the cases large majorities of the victims have at least one prior arrest, and real majorities arrests for a violent felony (they don't say convictions, bet you can guess why).
And therefore if you get killed it stands to reason you're probably a killer yourself, and "very, very urban", and guns have nothing to do with the case, which is the main thing, right? It's just the way murder is around here, with notably rare exceptions, as the saying goes.

If you're under 10 or over 60, you're more likely to be killed by some other method, but in between it's all guns. Via Bureau of Justice Statistics.
So I really don't want to give this view the respect of arguing with it, as if it had some kind of formal validity.

Other than to note that if an extremely high proportion of young men in your community have arrest records, that could say more about your police force (especially if they overwhelmingly come from a different and economically more comfortable community, see the policing of Malays in Singapore, Chinese in Malaysia, Muslims in India, Hindus in Sri Lanka, Tibetans in Tibet, Uyghurs in Xinjiang, etc.) than it does about you. Or maybe not (ultra-Orthodox Jews in Orange County, New York, where almost all the crimes, to be fair, are not violence but welfare fraud), but that's not the point.

And when your rightwing brother-in-law reminds you that New York and DC and Maryland have pretty strict gun laws and yet people keep getting killed, remind him that nobody's policing the state borders against states with ridiculous gun laws like Virginia and Pennsylvania. In 2011, 90% of guns used in crimes in New York City were from out of state, and when governor Andrew Cuomo calls on the federal government to help keep them out, as he just did today, there's a reason. State laws aren't adequate because we need federal law, and the Constitution unquestionably authorizes something, though it's not clear what. Just saying.

But really, you know, we worry about young black men on this page all the time, and that's just not the only issue. There is another side to Williamson's statement that he is determined to ignore, and it deserves some attention too: that there is a "fair number" of murder victims that are not young black men, and the role of guns can be examined there as well. Somewhere between 20 and 25% of the annual murders in the US, for instance, kill women (from 3,755 out of 16,230 in 2002 to 3,240 out of 14,610 in 2011). And these victims are certainly not gangbangers and casual criminals, as we learn from an important report from the Center for American Progress:
Women are much more likely to be victimized by people they know, while men are more likely to be victims of violent crime at the hands of strangers. Between 2003 and 2012, 65 percent of female violent crime victims were targeted by someone they knew; only 34 percent of male violent crime victims knew their attackers. Intimate partners make up the majority of known assailants: During the same time period, 34 percent of all women murdered were killed by a male intimate partner, compared to the only 2.5 percent of male murder victims killed by a female intimate partner.
Guns play a crucial role in these killings:
A staggering portion of violence against women is fatal, and a key driver of these homicides is access to guns. From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun—more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. Guns are used in fatal intimate partner violence more than any other weapon: Of all the women killed by intimate partners during this period, 55 percent were killed with guns. Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than are women in other high income countries.
Because the overall murder rate in the US is so high, that's a lot of women: for perspective, if no American men at all had been murdered in 2011, just the 3,240 women, that still means an annual murder rate of 2.0 per 100,000, twice as many as all the murders of men and women combined in the UK or France or China (all at 1.0 per 100,000), slightly more than twice for Italy or South Korea (0.9)  or Germany (0.8), about the same as the murders of men and women together for Brunei, Cyprus, or Jordan  (all US murders were 4.7 per 100,000, the same as Belize, Latvia, and Niger). You could strip out all the "ordinary criminals going about ordinary criminal business", in other words, and still have a murder rate that is more than twice as high as that in most similarly developed (Western European and East Asian) countries. Even if Williamson were right about four fifths of the murders, we'd still have an enormous problem he'd be unable to account for.

In this light, the typical mass gun murder isn't so unusual; cases like that of Umpqua or Sandy Hook or Aurora or Santa Barbara, going to Columbine, loner white boys who don't feel socially and sexually accepted, and the "going postal" killers of workmates and supervisors, are extremely typical killers of the violence against women type, targeting mostly people they know and resent and particularly women, just able to go crazier because they have more weapons and bigger magazines. The whole argument that they are unpredictable hapax legomenon cases that have no relation to anything else in society is completely wrong, and the argument that it's not about guns is completely wrong too. It's a problem, all right; just not as pervasive as the structural racism that brings on the deaths of so many more young black men, and compared to that it seems like a minor problem, but compared to any other rich country it's an enormous crisis in its own right. Mass shootings are the spectacular cable-TV tip of an iceberg buried in the back pages of the local papers.

Of course to Williamson and your typical conservative in general, there's another secret argument, even more secret than the racism angle: Williamson lets it out of the bag when he talks about what's likely to kill "you", his reader—"you" will die of emphysema or heart disease or diabetes, not from a spray of gunfire in a classroom or movie theater. He doesn't think society should do anything about gun murderers because they don't threaten him, or his comfy NRO audience. And the people that are threatened, even if they're not black but only female and/or young and/or maybe poor, he doesn't give a shit about. "I'm all right, Jack; fuck you."

How likely a woman is to be killed before she's one—matched only by black women in their early 20s.

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