Yesterday was one of those days where I grossly underestimated how long it would take me to finish events in a video game. As such I didn’t get a post out at that time. My energy is still fairly low today but we can still discuss something that I find somewhat interesting. As you are probably aware, the discussion of gun rights and the necessity for people to be armed is hotly debated in the US. As far as I can tell this is the only place where it is hotly debated, crime is going down here and you might be thinking “Well obviously, because criminals think everyone is armed.”
That’s a great thought but its also going down (or considerably lower) in dozens of other places that don’t have easy access to firearms. The only people in some countries with guns are the military or criminals, yet you don’t hear of the Netherlands being a hotbed for mass murder and school shootings. What gets me about this is not any of the many realities surrounding the ownership, obsession, and use of firearms in the US but the disconnection between the rational and reality.
The idea goes that we must be armed because someone, somewhere, at sometime might try to harm us and it falls upon us to deter or to execute these people. I can’t relate to the mindset but looking at it from the raw numbers side I am left wondering something. Why aren’t we actively arming all motorists? If the logic is that we must give people guns to deter crimes then why aren’t we giving people guns to deter motor accidents?
I can’t actually find data on the number of car accidents happening in the US but I can most certainly find the number of car deaths happening. We can safely assume that most people want to shoot other people because they are either insane or because they fear for their life. Since the only kind of car accident that would end your life is one that would end your life, this isn’t too bad a data point.
You will note that car deaths in the US are actually dropping and have been for some time (seeing themselves skyrocket in the 60’s, hmmm hmmm). A big part of this is that we got better about getting people to buckle up, began charging people for drinking while driving, and other safety changes. Naturally this doesn’t get rid of the problem of people driving like they’ve got nothing to lose.
Before I get into my next point you might be thinking “The reason that crime is dropping in the US is because criminals don’t know if their victim is armed.” I will point out that in the rest of the civilized world violent crime has been dropping steadily for decades and many of those nations either do not arm their citizens or actively have laws against it. We are one of the only industrialized nations that has seen such a sharp uptick in violence. That isn’t to say that guns create criminals, they don’t, they just make it more likely that an incident will escalate from a possible death or injury to an inevitable one. If you are feeling particularly morbid watch any video of real people shooting at one another, they stop acting like people and all you see is terror and barbarism.
Now back to my semi-sarcastic point. If we are already arming people more heavily while crime rates are dropping (at rates completely out of proportion with the changes in crime rates), why aren’t we heavily arming people while car deaths are dropping? Certainly if we can reduce the number of crimes by putting the fear of death into people we could reduce the number of traffic infractions by doing the same?
The reverse appears to be true. We’ve passed harsher and harsher penalties for road rage to the point where people act with impunity, ironically for the same reasons that gun ownership is dangerous (once your heart rate hits a certain point you basically become subhuman in thought and action, firing or being the target of a gun puts your heart rate well beyond that point).
You’d think with this impunity the rates of car deaths and accidents would rise, we can’t have that, so perhaps a return to the days when cutting someone off could get your windows bashed in with a hammer.
Now that I’ve gotten that bit of sarcasm out of the way I’d like to point out something strange. Did anyone else notice that the rates of violent crimes after 1982 drop at nearly the exact same rate as the rate of vehicular homicide? How strange is that? Each year the rate of vc to vh was 3 to 1 beyond that point. While they aren’t necessarily related, that does seem like the actual thing lowering these two factors are likely similar.
Perhaps it is reason enough to examine what changed that would impact each. Although I suspect my previously discussed post about violence in the 60’s versus the 90’s covers most of it (and Stephen Pinker covers all of it).
PS. I find it a bit disturbing that at the peak of violent crimes you see an extreme drop in vehicular deaths >.>… Perhaps folks were being killed before they could get on the road and get someone killed?