Friday, October 18, 2013

Two Models of Modern Murder

There are two models of modern murder that are used in the debate about how to deal with crime.   The assumptions about reality that the models are based on are significantly different, which results in consistently different prescriptions for public policy.

The first model, which I call the "Progressive Elite" model, has these basic assumptions about criminal homicide and its causes:

1.  The majority of people, except for the exceptional elite, are just moments away from committing a criminal homicide.  They have poor impulse control and fly into rages which escalate into homicidal rages if a weapon happens to be present.  For this reason, only  those in the elite, who have become experts in government through the attainment of public office, employment by police agencies, or attendance at ivy league schools, should be allowed access to weapons that might be used when these uncontrollable, emotional fits, strike.  Just a few months ago, it was reasonably summarized by  David Frum at thedailybeast:
Most gun casualties occur in the course of quarrels and accidents between people who would be described as “law-abiding, responsible gun owners” up until the moment when they lost their temper or left a weapon where a 4-year-old could find it and kill himself or his sister.
2.  The second model, which I call the "Trust the People" model, holds that the vast majority of criminal homicides are committed by a tiny fraction of society, that they are easily identified by their past history of violence, cultural set, and lack of civilized values and discipline instilled by a stable home life.

John Lott notes that it is the second model that has triumphed:

Actually, as I showed in More Guns, Less Crime, about 90 percent of adult murderers have a violent criminal record. About 89 percent of juvenile murderers have a criminal record for serious crimes.

-- In 2010, there were 36 accidental deaths involving kids under age 10. Most of those children were also shot by adults with criminal records. Accidental deaths are very small portion of total gun deaths. You can look up the data for other ages or all ages here ( Note that "unintentional" means "accidental." If you want to look up other issues there, please note that the CDC measures homicides differently than the FBI.

Lott is joined with a well known academic from Harvard, David Kennedy:

A very short summation of David Kennedy's finding about urban violence is quoted  below from the nhregister:

While homicides result from a variety of factors, the vast majority are committed by a small, violent and often gang-affiliated segment of society. 

"We're dealing with a tiny distinct, population in the city, and that tiny distinct population of gangs that drives the worst violence can be quiet. But it often doesn't take much to get it going," Kennedy said.

Kennedy agrees that most criminal homicide is committed by a small group of offenders with a past history of violence. He also shows that the violence can be significantly reduced by community and police focusing on this small group.   To be fair to Mr. Kennedy, whose work I admire, he has noted that his efforts may not have much effect on domestic violence, though I do not have a link to that comment.  Here is a link to a David Kennedy interview that gives a good summation of his approach to reducing criminal homicides:

David Kennedy: Innovating New Approaches to Justice (Part II)

The two models of modern murder are, at the core, reflections of a larger split in basic assumptions noted by Thomas Jefferson:
"Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests."
 --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, 1824. ME 16:73

 While the "Progressive Elite" model for criminal homicide has been discredited, it still has significant effects in critical institutions.    The FBI Uniform Crime Report was created as part of the progressive movement, and it reflects its origins in its extremely limited definition of justifiable homicide.    From the UCR Handbook:

NOTE: Justifiable homicide, by definition, occurs in conjunction with other offenses. Therefore, the crime being committed when the justifiable homicide took place must be reported as a separate offense. Reporting agencies should take care to ensure that they do not classify a killing as justifiable or excusable solely on the claims of self-defense or on the action of a coroner, prosecutor, grand jury, or court.
The following scenario illustrates an incident known to law enforcement that reporting agencies would not consider Justifiable Homicide:
17. While playing cards, two men got into an argument. The first man attacked the second with a broken bottle. The second man pulled a gun and killed his attacker. The police arrested the shooter; he claimed self-defense.
 The scenario quoted is a virtual shorthand for the Progressive Elite model.    The UCR even goes so far as to direct reporting agencies *not* to take into account the findings of coroners, prosecutors, grand juries or courts about whether a homicide is justifiable or not; only the FBI's extremely limited definition is to be used.

This  explains much of why the UCR  reports only a fraction of justifiable homicides in the United States.  They simply define the rest out of existence,  which naturally flows from the cognitive model used.  If homicides occur from a emotional quarrel, with no one really at fault, then justification becomes moot. 

Gary Kleck shows that between 5.6 and 13% of reported homicides are justifiable homicides by citizens who are not police. 

The rarest, but most serious form of self-defense with a gun is a defensive killing. The FBI does not publish statistics on self-defense killings per se, but it did start publishing counts of civilian justifiable homicides gathered through their Supplementary Homicides Reports program in their 1991 issue. For a variety of reasons, the FBI counts of civilian justifiable homicides represent only a minority of all civilian legal defensive homicides.
I have not found any work that refutes these findings.  Those who cling to the Progressive Elite model simply state the FBI numbers as fact.

In 2010, the UCR reported 278 justifiable homicides which are only 1.9 percent of  the total criminal homicides (14,748) reported.

A corollary result of the "Progressive Elite" model is puzzlement at the fall of general crime rates coincident with the rise in justifiable homicides.   If justifiable homicides are simply excused criminal homicides, then they should rise and fall with the homicide rate generally.

According to the "Trust the People" model, justified homicides reduce the very small number of violent people likely to commit criminal homicide, thus directly lowering the number of homicides in the future.

 The "Trust the People" model is gaining credibility and respect. It is the basis for the victory of the shall issue permit model, and the growing number of "constitutional carry" states where no permit is required.

©2013 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch 

1 comment:

Bill from Detroit said...

Was not aware of Kleck's observations in re: the weakness of the FBI crime statistics. Thank you.

Was aware, in a vague sort of way, about the two different models but had never seen them laid out and clearly explained before -- just something that I "sensed" as opposed to something I knew.

Thank you very much for this lucid treatment of the matter.