I don’t post often about America’s insane gun culture, because the lines have been drawn for a very long time, and the combatants’ feet are firmly in cement.
I could share innumerable facts: how many people die by gun each year, the margin by which the thousands domestic gun deaths exceed deaths in war, how guns facilitate suicide…on and on. It wouldn’t matter to the relative minority of gun owners who stockpile weapons and foam at the mouth at any suggestion that we withhold firearms from wife-beaters, crazy people or people on the terrorist watch-list.
Unfortunately, the foaming-mouth folks can rely upon the congressional GOP to ignore any and all facts, and block efforts to fund research into gun violence.
Research does exist, however, and rational people will find it persuasive. The Guardian recently reported on data from an experiment in the Bay Area.
For each new millionaire household the San Francisco Bay Area has produced, there are at least four new people living below the poverty level. San Francisco’s property crime rate has spiked to the highest in the nation. Many people – tech newcomers and longtime residents alike – complain of feeling unsafe.
At the same time, with little fanfare, the Bay Area has seen a dramatic drop in its homicide rate, driven by a considerable decrease in deadly shootings.
Across the region, the overall gun homicide rate has dropped 30% in the past decade, a Guardian investigation of homicide data across more than 100 cities has found.
The study analyzed homicide data across California’s Bay Area from 2007 to 2017. During that time, gun homicide rates fell across all racial groups, but the decrease was largest for black residents.
What was particularly striking about these findings was that the dramatic drop came at the same time as criminal justice reforms in California reduced the number of people in the state’s jails and prisons.
The reduction came as cities like Oakland and Richmond did what a number of scholars have recommended: they changed their approach to the problem, investing tens of millions of dollars in public health approaches to gun violence.
The study considered–and dismissed–the possibility that gentrification was the reason violence subsided.
Three cities that are undergoing intense gentrification saw the biggest drops in gun homicides. But outlying suburbs – the towns where many residents forced out by gentrification have moved – did not see a corresponding increase in violence…
The Bay Area still sees nearly 300 gun homicides each year. But these changes are profound. The majority of America’s gun homicide victims are black, killed in everyday shootings in segregated, economically struggling neighborhoods in cities such as Oakland and Richmond. It’s this everyday toll of violence, not mass shooting casualties, that drives America’s gun homicide rate 25 times higher than those of other wealthy countries.
The article noted that cities that once ranked among the nation’s deadliest have seen enormous decreases, and emphasized that these decreases spanned a decade– they weren’t single-year drops. The declines persisted over the years.
California has the strongest gun laws in the country, and it has enacted more than 30 new gun control laws since 2009 alone. The Guardian credited those constraints, together with the change in approach to violence prevention, for the reduction in gun homicides.
There’s early evidence that local violence prevention strategies – including a refocused, more community-driven “Ceasefire” policing strategy, and intensive support programs that do not involve law enforcement at all – were a “key change” contributing to these huge decreases.
As the article concedes, there are still plenty of problems in the Bay Area. (Police shootings haven’t declined, for example.) But there is a lesson here.
Of course, lessons are lost on people determined not to learn them.