The recent shooting at the community college in Oregon was clearly tragic and we do not wish to politicize the needless loss of life. What we do wish to do, however, is to point out how selective we are in our outrage and how academic biases in the social sciences shape and skew perceptions.
As a group, with a few exceptions, academics hate the fact that citizens can own weapons. In a survey of sociologists, for example, there was NO variation in questions about gun control (I have to find the survey). That says something. And don’t be deceived by the language of “common sense gun control” or anything else because the ultimate motivation is to ban the private ownership of guns. Even President Obama, who received 110% of the vote from social scientists (we are sure some voted more than once :) ) hinted at gun confiscation immediately after the Oregon shooting.
There exists two major problem in the left’s selective outrage about guns. The first is that the scientific evidence is simply NOT on their side. Thousands of gun control laws have proven ineffective. We encourage readers to examine the work of Gary Kleck and also John Lott. You don’t have to agree with their work, but you should read it. There is also a NAS panel on gun control and they reached pretty much the same conclusions--gun controls don’t impact crime. Moreover, it is important to note that the proliferation of guns in our society (thank you President Obama) had NO measurable impact on our crime rates. None. Zip. Zero. So, as Haidt noted, the academic left will claim the mantle of science when it suits them but as soon as a core principle is violated, they will become as ideological as anyone else.
But here is the second point--the one nobody really talks about. There are two gun cultures in America. The first, what we call “traditional culture,” primarily uses guns for legitimate purposes. They hunt with them, they target shoot, they use them for protection, they admire their construction, they know their varied histories, they reload their own ammunition, they have debates about which weapon maker and model is the best...... In traditional culture, guns are things that are earned and things to be respected. They represent a person’s individuality, their freedom, their dependence. Moreover, in traditional culture, guns are used to socialize young males (and increasingly young females). Boys are still introduced into manhood through time spent with their fathers and other men in pursuit of sports like hunting. To receive your first rifle as a young boy is an important milestone and a signal of trust and growing responsibility. The overall point is simple: traditional culture is pretty functional and responsible when it comes to guns.
The other culture is where the real problem can be found. Let’s call this “thug culture,” or if that term bothers you, we can call it “criminal culture.” Whatever.
In thug culture guns are as much symbols of street credibility as they are devices to kill foes. The vast majority of guns in thug culture are illegal, were obtained illegally, and are carried by people already prohibited by law from carrying them. In my field work in Cincinnati this summer, I found that guns were just about everywhere. If you saw a drug dealer, there was a gun nearby. If you saw a group of guys having out on a corner or a stoop, I could guarantee you that at least one and likely more had a gun or that several guns were close by. I saw thugs with guns in their shorts, guns hidden under picnic tables, guns hidden in cars, and guns carried by kids who stood guard. Shootings, by the way, were up 40% this year in Cincinnati.
To these guys, guns are an extension of their criminal lifestyle. They carry them for protection but also so they can victimize people. They use them indiscriminately, without regard for who they harm. They know virtually nothing about them and most couldn’t tell you the various parts of a pistol, how a pistol actually worked, or even the caliber of the weapon they were holding. Serious.
In thug culture, weapons are used to socialize young boys into the thug life--a life of crime, disrepute, hedonism, and irresponsibility. Just the opposite of traditional culture.
Yet the left remains utterly silent about this important difference. Why? I propose a couple of reasons: First, the left simply hates guns so they don’t make any distinctions. Something is wrong with you if you have a weapon--period. I think this explains some of the variance, but not all. When it comes to academics and criminologists, most know the data or at least know how to find the data. When you examine data on gun violence, one fact leaps out at you: It is disproportionately caused by young, black men--the same men who are disproportionately victims.
There is nothing more sacred to the academic left than race. Nothing. Critical attention to issues that involve race can thus spell the death of a career.
So what happens when leftist academics find out that gun violence is a remarkably black problem? Nothing. They simply don’t mention it, or they deny it, or they attack those who bring up the facts. Odd right?
Not really. There are two competing values at work. The first is the left’s legitimate interest in harm. The second, and the primary source of conflict, is the left’s unyielding belief in equality. The academic left, broadly speaking, prioritizes the shielding of minorities from criticism and negative attention literally at all costs. This creates a toxic atmosphere in talking about race and violence and guns.........and usually shuts down any conversation.
Let’s see how this might work. Take a look at this website: http://heyjackass.com/category/2015-chicago-crime-murder-stats/
Shocking, right? Terrible, right? Virtually all black, right? 85+ shootings on 1 weekend...........say what?
Did you see where Chicago has experienced at least 16 “mass shootings” this year? Mass shootings involve the shooting of 4 our more people in one incident, according to James Fox. Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee ........ the same.
Now, take the horrible church shooting in South Carolina where one white male walked into a church and shot innocent people (who were all black). The left went crazy........utterly unhinged.
And somehow the issue became about the Confederate flag. Symbolism. Pure and simple.
If we wish to reduce gun violence we should do what we know works. Stop-N-Frisk strategies work. It is estimate that the NYPD saved the lives of at least 15,000 predominately black individuals using this strategy. That is 15,000 people----black lives still alive today.
Charges associated with illegal weapons use and for felons carrying weapons are usually the first to go in plea hearings. There is room, here, for improvement.
Experimental evidence also shows that targeted enforcement, lever pulling, and other police strategies have a measurable and almost immediate impact on crime--and on the number of people murdered. Use them.
Those on probation/parole, especially for violent offenses or who have an extensive criminal history.......should be top candidates for revocation.
Finally, go after the criminals. There is increasing evidence that many large-city police departments have pulled back on basic street enforcement. Cincinnati clearly did.............and anecdotal evidence clearly tells us that other departments (can you say Chicago, PD) also have.
Will we every be completely free from tragedies like what happened in Oregon? No.
Is gun confiscation reasonable? No. It would lead to a revolution.
Can we do something about gun violence. Yes, of course.
John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisi
Professors of Crime and Criminology