Sunday, November 22, 2015
Is There a Gun Violence Epidemic? The Numbers Say No
The recent mass shooting in Oregon has brought the seemingly endless debate on gun control back into the national spotlight.
Are we, as some insist, in the midst of a gun violence crisis? Gun control advocates would certainly have you think so.
Rolling Stone magazine has an entire section on its website dedicated to gun violence entitled “America’s gun violence epidemic.”
Hillary Clinton recently stated that “this epidemic of gun violence knows no boundaries.” Even the American Public Health Organization states in its section on gun violence that “a comprehensive public health approach to addressing this growing crisis is necessary.”
A quick look into the facts reveals an entirely different picture. According to the FBI, in the past two decades, violent crime has been falling almost continuously. In 2013, the number of violent crimes perpetrated was 37 percent lower than it was just two decades earlier.
In 1994, there were 23,326 murders in the United States; by 2013, that number had fallen to 14,196, an incredible 39-percent decline. More specifically, according to the Department of Justice, the number of firearm-related homicides declined from 18,253 in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011.
The Department of Justice further concludes that even non-fatal gun-related crimes are declining, dropping 69 percent between 1993 and 2011. While the exact causes for this dramatic decrease can be debated, the decrease itself raises the question: Where does this idea of an “epidemic” of rising gun violence come from?
The most significant factor may be the large-scale media coverage of and public interest in mass shootings. Americans are captivated by stories of mass shootings and have followed them closely.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012, 57 percent of the American public said that they followed the Newtown, Conn., school shooting “very closely.” The attention given was second only to that year’s presidential election. The Pew Research center further reports that 48 percent of Americans also paid close attention to the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colo.
The simple fact is that horrific headlines, such as the number of children gunned down in a school, have a greater shock value than nearly any other kind of story. The media understand this. Seeking, as always, the highest ratings, media companies tend to disproportionately report on mass shootings even though mass shootings account for only a fraction of the total number of homicides committed each year.