22 February 2018

Guns. And inequality. OR; Lets focus on the root of the problem

Apparently now the topic is guns here. I guess I'll bite too.
Inspired by a Facebook theory on how race relates to the public reaction to gun violence, I did a little (internet) research, and a little thinking, and I think I've got something...

First a bunch of background:

- Gun violence IS very high in this country compared to other wealthy nations. So is violence, generally. Gun violence is a subset of, and proportionate to, violence generally.

- While comparing the US to wealthy nations makes us seem particularly violent, comparing us to the world puts us on the gentler side of average.

- It turns out wealth is the wrong metric to use to compare. There is little to no correlation with wealth vs poverty and rates of violence.

- The relevant metric is actually wealth equality. Across all countries, the more inequality there is, the more violence there is. https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/003465300559028#.VEa2xNTF9D5

- When measuring inequality, the US is actually closer to some "third-world" dictatorships than it is to Western Europe, Canada, or Japan. According to the CIA, there are 110 nations with more equality than the US, and only 39 with less.
- Whenever a high profile, dramatic incident involving guns occurs, 1/2 the country is extremely interested in guns for a few weeks. This could be a person shooting indiscriminately at other people, or a stand off between law enforcement and some cult or militia.

- When some such incident has occurred recently, and people are talking about it, some gun control advocates will point out the extremely high rate of gun homicides in general

- Some will make claims about the frequency of indiscriminate shooters or gun stockpiles, however these claims are statistically false: they are not common, and they are not increasing. In the big picture they are rare enough to be negligible.
Why is it that we care about this issue only when there is a "mass" shooting, when those are so rare, while regular shootings happen all the time?
This is where the general idea of selective attention may have some sort of merit.

This is certainly not the only factor, but one thing that is true is that the victims of "mass" shootings are overwhelmingly white. No matter what color the shooter is (and they are in fact distributed pretty equally), the victims tend to be white. The victims of regular one-or-two-at-a-time shootings are disproportionately Black, and (to a lesser extent), some other non-white ethnicity. Its not that gun control advocates are necessarily "racist", per say, but they are usually White, middle class, liberals, who most likely live on one of the coasts - they don't live where violence is a daily phenomenon.
Out of sight, out of mind.

They have probably never been robbed by someone who flashed a gun at them. They have probably never had to repair a window with a bullet hole in it from crossfire. They didn't get called in from playing outside as a child only when the gunshots or police helicopters sounded like they were within a few blocks of home because hearing them off in the distance was just business as usual.
(If you were wondering, yes, these are all examples from my life. Our local high school installed metal detectors years before the incident at Columbine made "school shooting" a household term among middle class America. When that happened' I had no idea what the big deal was, because shooting happen at school all the time!)

Of course, another factor is a combination of news media being concerned first and foremost with ratings and the nature of human psychology. There is no race component to the fact that there is far more attention paid to commercial plane crashes. A total of 1600 people died in commercial plane crashes over the past 4 years *worldwide*. In the same time period, roughly 5 MILLION deaths due to automobiles, 1 million of those in the US alone. Compared by the mile, there is over 100 times greater risk in traveling by car.

But when a plane does crash, it is on the news for a week. If a car crashes, the only way you hear about it is in the context of a traffic delay on your daily commute.
It is the very fact that it is rare, therefor unexpected, that makes us pay attention.
When a plane crashes, there are also always some accompanying calls that somebody DO SOMETHING to make air travel safer. Yet common sense ways that would make driving safer - speed limiters that make speeding impossible, electronic systems that make it impossible to use communication devices while driving, requirements for real driver's training (more equivalent to that required of pilots) - are not even a consideration or discussion topic.
All of the attention to "do something" goes to the dramatic, and none to the actual problem.
This is exactly the equivalent to calls to ban AR15s and bubp stocks. They are attempts to solve what isn't really a significant problem in the first place ("mass" shootings), which would do exactly nothing to solve what is actually a very significant problem (the overall homicide rate, of which almost none is committed by rifle of any kind).
All that background to get to this: the real root of the problem is actually inequality.
While the biggest gulf is between the top 0.01% and everyone else, with a significant gulf between the top 0.1% and everyone else, the middle class in this country is still extremely well off and comfortable compared to the world average, and even compared to the poorest in the US.
So perhaps there is some self-benefit to focusing the problem on "guns", and especially on those guns that are involved in "mass" shootings, the ones that middle class white America can envision themselves being caught up in.
Because "equality" just might mean you have to give up something.
Here is my question:
What if, instead of forcing other people to give up their guns, making the world safer meant you had to give up your car, your smart phone, and your 2000 square foot house?
Would preventing deaths still rank as the highest priority?

1 comment:

  1. Hey Bakari, I enjoy your content but a quick question: why do the comments for an article close after a certain amount of time?


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