Friday, July 20, 2012

Where Is The Love?

Okay, this post isn't really about running, but this blog isn't just about running - Sometimes it's about the things I think about while I'm running...and today the thoughts are anxious, angry, frustrated...

Another mass shooting in America. Children, sitting in a movie theater watching "Batman", are senselessly gunned down in Aurora, Colorado...And again we are up-in-arms about it. How can this happen?? We all wonder. And we remain upset for a while until the dust settles and a little time passes and then we slip back into our comfortable complacency - until the the next horror is unveiled on the TV news.

What horrifies me even more with each new incident is the call to arms from my fellow country-people. Again, some trot out the old National Rifle Association nonsense: "Guns don't kill people. People kill people". That may be technically true, but the correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths is statistically suspicious at best. Many in the US believe that if we are all armed then violent crime will drop and we will be able to defend ourselves against these attacks.

But I just keep coming back to the question: Do I want to live in a world where everyone around me is packing heat? Will that make me feel safer? Will I FEEL safer if I were to carry a gun?  Will I BE safer?

I think about this occasionally as I run down a deserted country road as the sun rises above the horizon. Does that guy driving by have a gun? I think about this as my daughter goes over to a friend's house to play. Are there guns in that house?

It seems to make intuitive sense to claim that criminals are less likely to commit crimes if they believe others are armed and able to respond with deadly force, but the data doesn't support this view. Unfortunately crazy people are rarely thinking rationally about consequences. And the idea that you can respond to a homicidal-suicidal gunman cranking out rounds from an assault rifle with a handgun is equally nuts.

Instead, the data shows that those countries with the strongest restrictions on gun ownership and/or gun ownership at a lower percentage per household - have the lowest incidents of gun related violence.

But we do have a chicken-and-egg problem here - because so many factors influence the data. Perhaps it's just our U.S. "gun culture" that explains both the high rate of gun ownership AND the high rate of gun deaths.

In the 2008 New York Times essay, Gun Laws and Crime: A Complex Relationship By Adam Liptak it is noted that the causal relation is hard to firmly identify:
Many criminologists say cultural, economic and demographic factors play a big role in murder rates, and some say the number of guns and the number of murders may well be uncorrelated.
The murder rate in the United States, in any event, is higher yet — 5.7 per 100,000 people in 2006, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 2005, according to the Justice Department, 55 percent of homicides were committed with a handgun and 16 percent with another kind of gun. 
Correlation or not, the United States is a special case, Nicholas Johnson, a Fordham law professor, said in an e-mail message. “Our culture of armed civilians is unparalleled in the history of the world,” he said. “According to the high estimate, there is a gun in every other American home.”
Most experts agree that at the very least more stringent background checks will decrease the number of gun deaths (states with background checks have lower rates of gun deaths). In the 2008 NYT essay Gary Kleck, a professor at Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, points out that:
“Background checks in general at the state level did show lower homicide rates. I’d improve the enforcement of laws against unlicensed carrying of guns in public places.”
Americans should be doing some deep soul searching that doesn't end as time mellows the outrage we feel today. We should be asking ourselves and those around us: Why is this happening here? What is wrong with this culture? Why have we become such a divided country? Why is there so much anger and aggression floating around?

So how can I somehow tie this in with running? Well, this may sound like a stretch but I truly believe that people are happier and more more at peace with those around them when they run (I've said this before) - outside, though the world, in nature... through their towns, cities, communities. My feelings about my community are intimate and intense partly due to the fact that I run through this place everyday - past houses and people leaving for work...greeting children waiting for school buses... Waving to the regular walkers and runners I see daily, though I do not know their names. These people are part of my world and I am part of theirs. In so many ways we have cut ourselves off from those around us - we're scared to go outside, we're scared to greet a stranger - We walk from house-to-car, close the car, shut out the world and drive off safely sealed away from all those people out there.

So, as with many things, I think if more people got outside and ran and walked and waved to their neighbors and stopped to chat from time to time then things might get better. Is that simplistic? Yes. But there seems to be a lot of anger and frustration floating around out there, and I'd wager a fair sum that runners are less angry and frustrated than most.

Ultimately the question comes down to: What sort of life do we want for ourselves and for our children? Do we really want to walk around, run around, always carrying a gun...knowing that others are carrying guns. I know that I don't. We cannot continue down the path we are currently traveling.

Go for a run and greet a stranger with a smile and a friendly 'hello'.


Gun Deaths - International Comparisons  

Showing latest available data.

Rank   Countries  Amount 
# 1     South Africa: 31,918 
# 2     Colombia: 21,898 
# 3     Thailand: 20,032 
# 4     United States: 9,369 
# 5     Philippines: 7,708 
# 6     Mexico: 2,606 
# 7     Slovakia: 2,356 
# 8     El Salvador: 1,441 
# 9     Zimbabwe: 598 
# 10     Peru: 442 
# 11     Germany: 269 
# 12     Czech Republic: 181 
# 13     Ukraine: 173 
# 14     Canada: 144 
# 15     Albania: 135 
# 16     Costa Rica: 131 
# 17     Azerbaijan: 120 
# 18     Poland: 111 
# 19     Uruguay: 109 
# 20     Spain: 97 
# 21     Portugal: 90 
# 22     Croatia: 76 
# 23     Switzerland: 68 
# 24     Bulgaria: 63 
# 25     Australia: 59 
# 26     Sweden: 58 
# 27     Bolivia: 52 
# 28     Japan: 47 
# 29     Slovenia: 39 
= 30     Belarus: 38 
= 30     Hungary: 38 
# 32     Latvia: 28 
# 33     Burma: 27 
# 34     Macedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of: 26 
# 35     Austria: 25 
# 36     Estonia: 21 
# 37     Moldova: 20 
# 38     Lithuania: 16 
= 39     United Kingdom: 14 
= 39     Denmark: 14 
# 41     Ireland: 12 
# 42     New Zealand: 10 
# 43     Chile:
# 44     Cyprus:
# 45     Morocco:
= 46     Oman:
= 46     Luxembourg:
= 46     Iceland:
Total: 100,693  
Weighted average: 2,097.8  

DEFINITION: Total recorded intentional homicides committed with a firearm. Crime statistics are often better indicators of prevalence of law enforcement and willingness to report crime, than actual prevalence.

SOURCE: The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2002) (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention)


  1. "And the idea that you can respond to a homicidal-suicidal gunman cranking out rounds from an assault rifle with a handgun is equally nuts."

    It was one of my worst fears, next to having my weapon taken from me. I'm not sure carrying a weapon, or having one easily available in the home, really makes one safer.

  2. Why is it that whenever the topic of guns and crime comes up, everyone fixates on the guns part of the topic and not the crime part?

    What if, rather than limiting the freedom of an individual to own weapons, we asked ourselves why would an individual feel the need to instigate a violence against others? How can we create a society where individuals are not compelled for various reasons to restrict the liberties of others (through injury, death, theft, defamation, etc)?

    Sure, because of the natural diversity of human experience there may always be some degree of crime, but is there some fundamental element of society that we can advocate in order to ensure that everyone (including those inclined to crime) feel in control of their lives enough to not need to commit crime (without marginalizing anyone else's freedoms)?


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