Less Guns, Less Violence

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Via Ezra Klein, two fascinating points from political scientist Patrick Egan:


First, we are a less violent nation now than we've been in over forty years. In 2010, violent crime rates hit a low not seen since 1972; murder rates sunk to levels last experienced during the Kennedy Administration. Our perceptions of our own safety have shifted, as well. In the early 1980s, almost half of Americans told the General Social Survey (GSS) they were "afraid to walk alone at night" in their own neighborhoods; now only one-third feel this way....

Second, for all the attention given to America's culture of guns, ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows. Since 1973, the GSS has been asking Americans whether they keep a gun in their home. In the 1970s, about half of the nation said yes; today only about one-third do. Driving the decline: a dramatic drop in ownership of pistols and shotguns, the very weapons most likely to be used in violent crimes.

Gun control isn't my area, so these two points leave me with a variety of questions. How do those who favor gun control incorporate this into a critique? And what does this mean given that America is still, on a whole, more violent than any other industrialized country? (Evidently our rivals are Estonia and Mexico.) Does the ever-churning identity of American citizenry explain any of this? And how old are those who are still "clinging to their guns?" 

Finally, does a decline in gun ownership help explain the "Obama will take our guns" paranoia? Often what you see, as a group declines, is that the most voluble extremists grab the mic, because the moderates have given up the stage. 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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