Where the Gun Violence Is

David M. Kennedy, Director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has a fascinating op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that forsakes gun control garment-rending for data. The results are eye-opening:

The fact is that most of the recent debate entirely missed the point about the nature of most gun violence in America. The largest share — up to three-quarters of all homicides in many cities — is driven by gangs and drug crews. Most of the remainder is also concentrated among active criminals; ordinary citizens who own guns do not commit street robberies or shoot their neighbors and wives …

… Gun violence turns out to be driven by a fantastically small number of people: about 5% of the young men in the most dangerous neighborhoods. It is possible to identify them, put together a partnership of law enforcement, community figures and social service providers, and have a face-to-face engagement in which the authorities say, “We know who you are, we know what you’re doing, we’d like to help you, but your violence has to stop, and there will be serious legal consequences if it doesn’t.”

… Even in high-crime communities, gun violence is concentrated geographically. It is particular blocks and corners, not whole neighborhoods, that are at highest risk. Rutgers University criminologist Anthony Braga has found that such places often stay hot for decades. Focused police attention on those places pays demonstrable dividends. Mere presence works; more sophisticated problem-solving efforts work better.

These approaches can work quickly, and they sidestep the culture war on guns because they require no legislative action. Most important, they bring relief to the beleaguered communities that need it the most.

While Kennedy acknowledges the need for more aggressive policing, some of his proposed remedies are a bit watered-down for my taste (the people who think “community outreach” is a solution to violent crime are the same people who really bought into the pep rallies in high school).

Still, I think he identifies two of the perverse incentives at work for politicians in the gun control debate:

1) The grisly spectacle of shootings like the one that occurred in Newtown blind us to where most gun violence occurs. It thus becomes very easy for politicians to conflate the most visible violence with the most common, even though there’s no real overlap.

2) The efforts that would have the most effect — namely, a more forceful police presence in America’s most dangerous neighborhoods — offer none of the political benefits that flow from standing before a bank of microphones on Capitol Hill. It’s easy to pass legislation. It’s much harder (and less visible) to marshal existing resources more effectively. It also happens to be what government’s there for, however.

This is just one more reason I’d like to see Republicans make a more aggressive run at winning seats in major urban centers. Standing athwart new gun control laws is one thing. As noble as most of those efforts are, they won’t do anything to assuage the concerns of voters who don’t come to this issue with strong ideological priors. Simultaneously pushing for law enforcement efforts to curb violence where it actually happens, however, would allow us to wed a principled defense of the Second Amendment with practical efforts to actually make our streets safer. And it would lend a lot more credibility to the notion that we’re the adults in this debate.

  1. Larry Koler

    Our local government officials are really letting us down.

  2. Roberto
    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    The efforts that would have the most effect — namely, a more forceful police presence in America’s most dangerous neighborhoods — offer none of the political benefits that flow from standing before a bank of microphones on Capitol Hill.

    It is worse than that even. Aggressive policing in crime plagued neighborhoods will always bring out activist groups in opposition. The ACLU in particular detests effective policing. So any politician truly wishing to tackle crime will not only be denied praise for his efforts but is likely to be pilloried in the press as well.

  3. tabula rasa
    Roberto

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    The efforts that would have the most effect — namely, a more forceful police presence in America’s most dangerous neighborhoods — offer none of the political benefits that flow from standing before a bank of microphones on Capitol Hill.

    It is worse than that even. Aggressive policing in crime plagued neighborhoods will always bring out activist groups in opposition. The ACLU in particular detests effective policing. So any politician truly wishing to tackle crime will not only be denied praise for his efforts but is likely to be pilloried in the press as well. · 15 minutes ago

    I agree.  It takes someone with the clout of Rudy Guiliani to bring real law enforcement back to neighborhoods.

  4. KingsKnight1

    To quote one of the comments on the LAT page, “Stop making sense!”

  5. DocJay

    The debate cannot happen because of identity politics.    

  6. Skyler

    “. .. are the same people who really bought into the pep rallies in high school).”

    Brilliant line!

  7. wmartin

    It would have been nice if Kennedy had at least mentioned the race of the “fantastically small” number of people doing all this shooting, but I am grateful he went as far as he did.

  8. wmartin
    DocJay: The debate cannot happen because of identity politics.     · 12 minutes ago

    People forget just how much resistance there was from the liberal/race lobbies in NYC in the first term of the Guiliani mayoralty. It really took a driven madman like Rudy to put up with it and win.

  9. Goldgeller

    The thing about it is this– the cops will get in trouble with “community leaders” for “profiling.” The risk of a short-term controversy stoked by an Al Sharpton or a Jesse Jackson outweigh the long term benefits to the community for any particular politician. Especially if the cops stop a few people and it turns out the people weren’t doing anything wrong. 

    The controversy will be immediate, and they will have to apologize and explain “what else” they are doing for the community (monetary shakedown!). The benefits the community receives won’t happen until much later, possibly after that politician gets voted out of office. 

    So I can see, cynically, why these crime pockets haven’t been policed heavily. I really doubt it was because cops didn’t already know where the crime occurred.

  10. Valiuth
    Randy Weivoda: This reminds me of every time I see some Chicago official on TV talking about shootings.  They rarely mention that there are some very bad neighborhoods with a lot of crime or concede that their gun control laws have failed.  The blame always lies in the “out-of-state” guns brought into Chicago.  As if it’s those darn gun-totin’ tourists from Wisconsin and Indiana who come in and shoot the place up.  · 1 hour ago

    I think what they mean is that Chicago criminals drive down to Gary or up to Racine and buy their guns there. Rather then tourists coming to commit crimes here. This of course is the problem of local gun control mixed with open state borders. 

  11. civil westman

    Were it possible for Republicans to capture seats in major urban areas, surely it would have happened somewhere. I can think of no examples. Dem’s majorities in urban centers approach Saddam Hussein’s.

    It is, however, refreshing that the MSM occasionally publishes some truth, as in this case. I think it is clear to those of us at Ricochet that the gun control fanatics (=mainstream Democrats) are not interested in criminals’ guns. The simple truth is that they will doggedly try to incrementally disarm the law abiding. It is another example of defining deviancy up – stigmatizing what was once considered normal behavior – gun ownership. In the big picture, it is simply another front in the war to make everyone dependent on government for everything – in this case eliminating self-defense as a possibility, thereby fundamentally altering the relationship between citizens and government.

    The EU, as usual, is one step ahead. It has fielded a proposal to criminalize ownership of unregulated vegetable seeds by home gardeners! See here . Statists really know no limits. The goal in this case seems to be to make everyone dependent on government/corporate entities for every bite of food. Dependency in all things…

  12. Fake John Galt

    For a Republicans to capture seats in local government they would first have to run. In my local area, most of the positions up for election are unopposed, with most fights being between Democrats in the Primary. Been that way all my life. Republicans are losing because they do not do what it takes to win.

  13. CygnusA81

    Who wants to bet this study won’t be on Morning Joe tomorrow.

  14. DocJay
    wmartin

    DocJay: The debate cannot happen because of identity politics.     · 12 minutes ago

    People forget just how much resistance there was from the liberal/race lobbies in NYC in the first term of the Guiliani mayoralty. It really took a driven madman like Rudy to put up with it and win. · in 3 minutes

    In the early era of Aids, the bathhouse crowd with the help of the gay lobby fought tooth and nail against closing the orgy clubs down.

    The inner city lobbyist groups ask for more of the status quo and blame the “other”.  They point to the splinter and ignore the log.

    Personal responsibility is the last thing anyone wants it seems yet where this ends is a police state or chaos.  

  15. Fricosis Guy

    I’d like to see this too. But there is no incentive for the GOP to attract such urban voters unless and until it has to contest state and federal legislative districts which contain substantial numbers of such voters.

    Troy Senik, Ed.: This is just one more reason I’d like to see Republicans make a more aggressive run at winning seats in major urban centers.

  16. Mark Wilson

    This also goes a long way toward explaining this country’s deceivingly high murder statistics.  The vast majority of our gun-nutty country is just as safe as any Eutopian gun-free zone.

    This is a good illustration of how we generally fail to understand the power law distribution (related to the 80-20 rule).

    Long_tail.jpg

    In the ubiquitous Gaussian/normal distribution (bell curve), the average is also the most common value.

    However, when you have a Pareto/power law distribution — where there are a few cities with a very large number of murders, and a large number of cities with few murders — a linear average like “murders per capita” tends not to represent any city well:

    Gaussian and Paretian distributions differ radically.  The main feature of the Gaussian distribution . . . can be entirely characterized by its mean and variance . . . A Paretian distribution does not show a well-behaved mean or variance.  A power law, therefore, has no average that can be assumed to represent the typical features of the distribution …

    In other words, the few very large values pull the mean well above the vast majority of places, giving the impression that the whole country is far more dangerous than reality.

  17. Randy Weivoda

    This reminds me of every time I see some Chicago official on TV talking about shootings.  They rarely mention that there are some very bad neighborhoods with a lot of crime or concede that their gun control laws have failed.  The blame always lies in the “out-of-state” guns brought into Chicago.  As if it’s those darn gun-totin’ tourists from Wisconsin and Indiana who come in and shoot the place up.