i was born in 1950, and so I have lived through many wars. As a child of the 1960s, the Vietnam war made a big impression on me. I was too young to understand the Cold War until college, when political science classes opened me to world politics. When Vladimir Putin was first named president of Russia, I joked that the former KGB officer wanted to become the next tsar. How prescient I was. Putin’s small stature, as with many short leaders, has helped him dream of gigantic goals–in his case the reunion of the countries under former Soviet control. i may be underestimating his real motivation. Why not all of Europe? so will there be a world war 3? With Iran as Russia’s protege? So what is Obama’s will? Does Congress regret smashing our military capabilities? As Russia uses lots of boots on the ground and we use drones, the advantage may be with overwhelming soldiers, the grandchildren of Russia’s old army. Do they have the will to die not for their country, but instead for Tsar Putin the First and his corrupt government? I am not ready for another war, but Putin is.
To protect the public, we regulate cars and toys, medicines and mutual funds. So, simply as a public health matter, shouldn’t we take steps to reduce the toll from our domestic arms industry?
Look, I’m an Oregon farm boy who was given a .22 rifle for my 12th birthday. I still shoot occasionally when visiting the family farm, and I understand one appeal of guns: they’re fun.
It’s also true that city slickers sometimes exaggerate the risk of any one gun. The authors of Freakonomics noted that a home with a swimming pool is considerably more dangerous for small children than a home with a gun. They said that 1 child drowns annually for every 11,000 residential pools, but 1 child is shot dead for every 1 million-plus guns.
All that said, guns are far more deadly in America, not least because there are so many of them. There are about 85 guns per 100 people in the United States, and we are particularly awash in handguns.
(The only country I’ve seen that is more armed than America is Yemen. Near the town of Sadah, I dropped by a gun market where I was offered grenade launchers, machine guns, antitank mines, and even an anti-aircraft weapon. Yep, an N.R.A. dream! No pesky regulators. Just terrorism and a minor civil war.)
Just since the killings in Tucson, another 320 or so Americans have been killed by guns — anonymously, with barely a whisker of attention. By tomorrow it’ll be 400 deaths. Every day, about 80 people die from guns, and several times as many are injured.
Handgun sales in Arizona soared by 60 percent on Monday, according to Bloomberg News, as buyers sought to beat any beefing up of gun laws. People also often buy guns in hopes of being safer. But the evidence is overwhelming that firearms actually endanger those who own them. One scholar, John Lott Jr., published a book suggesting that more guns lead to less crime, but many studies have now debunked that finding (although it’s also true that a boom in concealed weapons didn’t lead to the bloodbath that liberals had forecast).
A careful article forthcoming in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine by David Hemenway, a Harvard professor who wrote a brilliant book a few years ago reframing the gun debate as a public health challenge, makes clear that a gun in the home makes you much more likely to be shot — by accident, by suicide or by homicide.
The chances that a gun will be used to deter a home invasion are unbelievably remote, and dialing 911 is more effective in reducing injury than brandishing a weapon, the journal article says. But it adds that American children are 11 times more likely to die in a gun accident than in other developed countries, because of the prevalence of guns.
Likewise, suicide rates are higher in states with more guns, simply because there are more gun suicides. Other kinds of suicide rates are no higher. And because most homicides in the home are by family members or acquaintances — not by an intruder — the presence of a gun in the home increases the risk of a gun murder in that home.
So what can be done? I asked Professor Hemenway how he would oversee a public health approach to reducing gun deaths and injuries. He suggested:
• Limit gun purchases to one per month per person, to reduce gun trafficking. And just as the government has cracked down on retailers who sell cigarettes to minors, get tough on gun dealers who sell to traffickers.
• Push for more gun safes, and make serial numbers harder to erase.
• Improve background checks and follow Canada in requiring a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun. And ban oversize magazines, such as the 33-bullet magazine allegedly used in Tucson. If the shooter had had to reload after firing 10 bullets, he might have been tackled earlier. And invest in new technologies such as “smart guns,” which can be fired only when near a separate wristband or after a fingerprint scan.
We can also learn from Australia, which in 1996 banned assault weapons and began buying back 650,000 of them. The impact is controversial and has sometimes been distorted. But the Journal of Public Health Policy notes that after the ban, the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.
Congress on Wednesday echoed with speeches honoring those shot in Tucson. That’s great — but hollow. The best memorial would be to regulate firearms every bit as seriously as we regulate automobiles or toys.
Should logic finally prevail? The NRA should be ashamed of their damn-the-facts lobbying effort to put more guns into circulation every day. You’d think that they were representing gun manufacturers instead of the constitutional rights they use as a shield to cover their perfidious and self aggrandizing goal of making money for the international arms’ industry.
Like Kristoff, I grew up on a farm and learned to shoot a revolver, a shotgun and a rifle before I was 16. I wore the revolver at my hip as I rode the fence line on my horse Colonell. I learned to throw knives, dig postholes and muck out stalls. The guns were exciting because of their power and the obvious consequences of screwing up. To be taught to shoot — especially as a girl — was a gift from my father, and I knew that he would take pride in my shooting well. But I never went beyond the basics because even then I knew that guns were not just used to hunt squirrels or deer. And I knew that riding the fence with a gun strapped to my thigh was an idealized scene from my father’s childhood or perhaps his grandfather’s world. In my world boys not too much older than me were forced into the army by the government, and the larger world they saw was full of jungle and blood. Some didn’t come home.
IF nine South Hadley, Mass., high school students — seven of them girls — are proved to have criminally bullied another girl who then committed suicide, as prosecutors have charged, they deserve serious legal and community condemnation.
However, many of the news reports and inflamed commentaries have gone beyond expressing outrage at the teenagers involved and instead invoked such cases as evidence of a modern epidemic of “mean girls” that adults simply fail to comprehend. Elizabeth Scheibel, the district attorney in the South Hadley case, declined to charge school officials who she said were aware of the bullying because of their “lack of understanding of harassment associated with teen dating relationships.” A People magazine article headlined “Mean Girls” suggested that a similar case two years ago raised “troubling questions” about “teen violence” and “cyberspace wars.” Again and again, we hear of girls hitting, brawling and harassing.
But this panic is a hoax. We have examined every major index of crime on which the authorities rely. None show a recent increase in girls’ violence; in fact, every reliable measure shows that violence by girls has been plummeting for years. Major offenses like murder and robbery by girls are at their lowest levels in four decades. Fights, weapons possession, assaults and violent injuries by and toward girls have been plunging for at least a decade.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports, based on reports from more than 10,000 police agencies, is the most reliable source on arrests by sex and age. From 1995 to 2008, according to the F.B.I., girls’ arrest rates for violent offenses fell by 32 percent, including declines of 27 percent for aggravated assault, 43 percent for robbery and 63 percent for murder. Rates of murder by girls are at their lowest levels in at least 40 years.
The National Crime Victimization Survey, a detailed annual survey of more than 40,000 Americans by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, is considered the most reliable measure of crime because it includes offenses not reported to the police. From 1993 through 2007, the survey reported significant declines in rates of victimization of girls, including all violent crime (down 57 percent), serious and misdemeanor assaults (down 53 percent), robbery (down 83 percent) and sex offenses (down 67 percent).
Public health agencies like the National Center for Health Statistics confirm huge declines in murder and violent assaults of girls. For example, as the number of females ages 10 to 19 increased by 3.4 million, murders of girls fell from 598 in 1990 to 376 in 2006. Rates of murders of and by adolescent girls are now at their lowest levels since 1968 — 48 percent below rates in 1990 and 45 percent lower than in 1975.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Intimate Partner Violence in the United States survey, its annual Indicators of School Crime and Safety, the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey and the Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance all measure girls’ violent offending and victimization. Virtually without exception, these surveys show major drops in fights and other violence, particularly relationship violence, involving girls over the last 15 to 20 years. These surveys also indicate that girls are no more likely to report being in fights, being threatened or injured with a weapon, or violently victimizing others today than in the first surveys in the 1970s.
These striking improvements in girls’ personal safety, including from rape and relationship violence, directly contradict recent news reports that girls suffer increasing danger from violence by their female and male peers alike.
There is only one measure that would in any way indicate that girls’ violence has risen, and it is both dubious and outdated. F.B.I. reports show assault arrests of girls under age 18 increased from 6,300 in 1981 to a peak of 16,800 in 1995, then dropped sharply, to 13,300 in 2008. So, at best, claims that girls’ violence is rising apply to girls of 15 to 25 years ago, not today.
Even by this measure, it’s not girls who have gotten more violent faster — it’s middle-aged men and women, the age groups of the many authors and commentators disparaging girls. Among women ages 35 to 54, F.B.I. reports show, felony assault arrests rocketed from 7,100 in 1981 to 28,800 in 2008. Assault arrests among middle-aged men also more than doubled, reaching 100,500 in 2008. In Northampton, the county seat a few miles from South Hadley, domestic violence calls to police more than tripled in the last four years to nearly 400 in 2009. Why, then, don’t we see frenzied news reports on “Mean Middle-Agers”?
What’s more, the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention concluded that girls’ supposed “violent crime increase” in the ’80s and ’90s resulted from new laws and policies mandating arrests for domestic violence and minor youth offenses “that in past years may have been classified as status offenses (e.g., incorrigibility)” but “can now result in an assault arrest.” Thus, the Justice Department found, increased numbers of arrests “are not always related to actual increases in crime.”
This mythical wave of girls’ violence and meanness is, in the end, contradicted by reams of evidence from almost every available and reliable source. Yet news media and myriad experts, seemingly eager to sensationalize every “crisis” among young people, have aroused unwarranted worry in the public and policy arenas. The unfortunate result is more punitive treatment of girls, including arrests and incarceration for lesser offenses like minor assaults that were treated informally in the past, as well as alarmist calls for restrictions on their Internet use.
Why, in an era when slandering a group of people based on the misdeeds of a few has rightly become taboo, does it remain acceptable to use isolated incidents to berate modern teenagers, particularly girls, as “mean” and “violent” and “bullies”? That is, why are we bullying girls?
Mike Males is senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Meda-Chesney Lind, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, is the co-editor of the forthcoming“Fighting for Girls: New Perspectives on Gender and Violence.”More Articles in
Opinion »A version of this article appeared in print on April 2, 2010, on page A23 of the New York edition.
the kind of statistics — and databases — mentioned in this article suggest research projects: use such statistics to compare with a content analysis of crime stories in one or more media. a two-tailed hypothesis might be: there is a (positive or negative???) relationship between media coverage of crimes by girls and actual crimes. this would be only half of the story, of course. if you can get stats on crimes by boys, you could be looking for boy crime stories while doing the girl crime content analysis. then you could find out whether all kid crime is dropping or possibly whether there is an interaction between gender of perpetrator and media coverage of kid crime.