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by Peter Moskos

May 30, 2015

Shootings up in NYC

The recent crime numbers in NYC will soon come out, and they're not good. Homicides this week are way up compared to last year. Of course that's just one week... till it's not. Shootings are up in NYC. Not Baltimore up. But up. People are dying. It is time to ring the alarm. Maybe not the crazy 5-alarm fire for Baltimore. Maybe a simple 1-alarm would do NYC. But more people are dying.

So what might be the cause? A lot of things of course. One factor may be people's willingness to carry heat. Word on the street is that guns are back in town. As I was told: "People are now shooting into crowds more often, doing drivebys, more often, and shootings as teams more often. The risk for carrying a gun in nearly zilch. Bottom line: cops aren't stopping people, and young black men are paying for it with their lives."

Stop and frisks are down roughly 95%. Now we could debate whether certain police tactics are legal, constitutional, or moral. We should debate these things. Maybe it's OK to have 50 more dead bodies in NYC if hundreds of thousands of other young black men aren't stopped by police for no good reason. So let's have that debate. What bothers me is the disingenuousness of those who refuse to grant criminals any agency in crime. Like Broken Windows is the root of all evil. Like it is inevitable that 2015 would see a 10 to 20 increase in shootings in Brooklyn. And it must have been written by the Almighty that some in Baltimore would riot on April 27, and then the homicide rate would skyrocket.

Criminals don't leave their guns at home because they're asked politely by community leaders. It is possible that force and coercion might, in some cases, keep people alive. Remember (before we forget) that the arguments against stop, question, and frisk weren't only that it was illegal, unconstitutional, and morally reprehensible. It was that it didn't work -- that stop, question, and frisk was actually counterproductive with regards to crime prevention. (I never quite understood that argument, but it was said.)

The role of guns in NYC homicides is surprisingly varied. It wasn't that long ago (well, the 1970s) that guns were used in less than half of all murders in NYC. In 1960, at least according to one source, guns were used in just 20 percent of homicides. But that changed in late 1960s and 1970s.

By 1990, guns in NYC out of control. 1,650 killed by guns, 75% of all murders, higher than the national average (not including NYC) of 67%. (All these percentage may be a bit low based on "other and unknown".)

So along with all murder going down in NYC, gun murders went down in particular.

In 2000 65% of murders in NYC involved guns. (Compared to 66% in the rest of the nation. UCR data, all.)
In 2005 61% in NYC. (Rest of nation: 68%.)
In 2010 60% in NYC. (Rest of nation: 68%.)
In 2013 59% in NYC. (Rest of nation: 70%.)

Meanwhile, the percentages of gun homicides in other cities is much higher: 84% in Chicago; 79% in Los Angeles; 81% in Baltimore. So New York looks all the more impressive.

This was a little heralded victory against gun crime in NYC. While the rest of the country saw a small increase in the percentage of homicides involving guns, NYC saw a decrease.

I asked my friend, Dan Baum, who insisted on being identified as "a liberal Democrat Jewish gun owner who wrote Gun Guys: A Road Trip". Baum can write. (Too bad you didn't buy his book.)

Anyway, I asked Baum about what changed in the 1960s. Gun violence increased 50% in the 1960s (five times more than other/non-gun violence). He said:
What changed in the early 1960s? JFK was shot, and the liberals began their long love affair with gun control. Until 1968, you could buy guns through the mail. Guns were things that people owned, but they weren’t a cultural marker, a badge of belonging to a particular subculture.

The liberals changed all that, by relentlessly pushing the bubbas into a corner. Suddenly, people were in a panic to buy all the guns they could, because they never knew when the liberals were going to ban their sale altogether. The NRA, taken over by the loonies in 1977, pushed that narrative. The number of guns circulating in private hands exploded exponentially, with predictable results. Not only that, a tremendous amount of anger was injected into the national discussion around guns — also not a good thing.

So I’d argue that we have the liberals, and gun control, to thank for the huge increase in gun murders. Guns are way more prevalent than they used to be, because the liberals made them a thing. Had they not done that, we’d be back in 1960 America — guns being a thing that some people own, that have no cultural/political/spiritual significance.


Jay Livingston said...

Baum likes guns. Presumably, he doesn’t like people who are against guns. Fine. But to blame gun control advocates for the increase in gun crime rates makes about as much sense as blaming birth control advocates for an increase in birth rates.

The key word in his little history is “people.” “People were in a panic to buy all the guns . . .” It wasn’t “people” in general who were committing the gun crimes. It was baddies, not bubbas. Even if, as Baum says, bubbas went bonkers buying Berettas, that wouldn’t have budged the gun crime rate. Baum himself is probably typical -- armed and not dangerous. It wasn’t the liberals who made it easier for the baddies to get guns – good guns too, not the old Saturday night specials of the 60s. It wasn’t the liberals who were manufacturing and selling those guns.

Peter Moskos said...

You make a good point in that "bubbas" don't matter in terms of crime. But they do matter in terms of preventing rational gun regulations that could actually be productive in reducing crime.

You should read his book. It really is good. Baum doesn't not like people who are against guns (he likes me). But he against "gun control" as it is currently advocated.

bacchys said...

I can't say I've seen many rational gun control proposals recently. Or even the last several decades.

Anonymous said...

Comparing 1960 to 2010:
There was virtually the same amount of homicides (per capita), but guns were used in only ~20% of homicides in 1960 (according to at least one source).

Presumably, then, most homicides in 1960 were knife-homicides.

How were murderers in 1960 able to achieve the same production using knives as murderers in 2010 using guns?

Here's what I think:

Knives are much less lethal than guns, so there must have been a much greater quantity of attacks (attempted murders).

Knives are much more up-close-and-personal than guns, so there must have been a much greater quality of malice attached to the attacks.

My conclusion, then, is that while 1960 and 2010 had virtually the same quantity of per capita homicide, 1960 was qualitatively more violent than 2010.

IrishPirate said...

Comparing homicide rates between different time periods is interesting. Not particularly meaningful, but interesting.

ONE HUGE factor in the number of homicides is better trauma care. The only good thing to come out of our Iraq/Afghan experience has been much improved "powders" to immediately stop bleeding and better overall trauma care.

I suspect the actual level of violence in parts of America, inner cities for example, is much higher than it used to be. An imperfect way to track it, and the stats aren't out there, would be tracking gunshot wounds.

Jay Livingston said...

Most homicides arise from disputes. They're not planned. An argument becomes a fight,the fight gets more violent. Liquor and weapons are important elements. The deadlier the weapons at hand, the more likely the fight will end in death. A homicide is an aggravated assault that gets a bit too aggravated.

In 1960 (I'm assuming that what Anonymous above says is correct), weapons were typically knives rather than guns, and even the available guns and ammo were far less accurate and lethal than what we have today. So you would think the ratio of homicides to aggravated assaults would be lower since fewer of those AAs became homicides. But the UCR data say otherwise. Murder rates in 1960 and 2010 were roughly equal. But the AA rates were:

1960 -- 86 per 100,000
2010 -- 253 per 100,000

I find this puzzling. It would help if we knew the circumstances of those murders in 1960, but I don't have a copy of that UCR. Also, I suspect that the quality of the UCR AA data was much different in 1960 than in 2010. But can better reporting account for all of that?

Anonymous said...

Baltimore Police, Cleveland Police and other scrutinized police departments need to continue to cease proactive police work (strike) in order to show the country what the effects of this war on police will be. Show up to work everyday, work hard on responding to calls but continue to cease proactive work because it's not worth getting in fights, foot pursuits, car chases and potential shootings and find yourself to be the next one indicted or fired. This strike needs to continue until these indicted officer cases are resolved.

bacchys said...

Right, Anonymous, because the only way we can have proactive policing is to let cops get away with committing crimes and violating peoples' rights.

If we don't let them kill us, someone else might!

Anonymous said...

No, the point is that in Baltimore the community rioted and threw rocks at the police and burned their cars and now whenever the police respond huge crowds mob them so they are slow and cautious and now the murder *rate*'is the highest in recorded history there.

Brian Harrington said...

Baum may mention this, since he mentions the takeover of the NRA, but it's important to remember that much of the push for gun control in the late 1960s came from conservatives afraid of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords. IIRC, California's gun control law was pushed through by Gov. Ronald Reagan after the BPs demonstrated at the California legislature with their perfectly legal M1s. I the the pre-crazy NRA also supported the bill. So you can't just blame it on the liberals.

@bacchys I think one handgun/month is a perfectly rational law. Don't you?

Peter Moskos said...

I remember years ago Boondocks, the original comic strip (a great comic strip) did a fun little bit where Huey, young black nationalist, was amazed to learn about the 2nd Amendment! Good times.

As to one handgun/month, of course it's basically rational. Sort of. But so is buying only one car a month. But we don't have a law saying so. Strikes me as the kind of law that is only intended to molly gun control advocates and poke a needle in the eyes of gun owners... without any benefit to public safety. I certainly wouldn't invest one iota of political capital in it. (Though potentially it could make life a little more difficult to those why buy 20 and sell them from their car.)

Jay Livingston said...

We don't have a one-car-a-month law because nobody except dealerships buys more than one a month. And because there aren't a lot of people bringing back dozens of cars from Virginia and selling them on the street in NYC, and if they did, it wouldn't be a problem. That's because the reason that people buy cars is not to make it easier to kill and rob.

The goal of gun laws should be to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys, and because this is the US of A, you have to do that without discomfiting the law-abiding gunslingers. A one-a-month law inconveniences only the bad guys. The NRA and others who complain about those laws are doing so for the sake of their ideological absolutism.

Would a national law make a difference? Even Heather MacDonald in her latest WSJ piece says that crime is going up because the bad guys are arming themselves more. So if the 12-a-year law reduces the flow of guns to bad guys, then yes, it will have an effect. But thanks to the NRA, we have no data.

What I like about the law is not that it pokes needles at gun owners. It's a supply-side law, and it reveals that what motivates a large part of the NRA and gun lobby is not self-defense. It's the profits of the gun manufacturers and dealers. They're like Tom Lehrer's Werner von Braun: "Once guns get sold, who cares where they get used. That's not my department."

Jeffrey Imm said...

Mr. Moskos - this is nonsense that people concerned about "Broken Windows" do not hold criminals accountable for their actions. Of course they do, and you know it. But you write about how your friends in the police "miss those days before Rodney King," in your book calling for corporal punishment and whipping of Americans.

With all of your math and analysis, try starting with the equation "Two Wrongs Do Not equal A Right." Then lets see where your statistics lead. You can come up with your own statistics, but you can't change the fundamental ethical equation on which our justice system is based.

In your last John Jay class, you claim that the critics of "Broken Windows" are concerned only about "'root causes' and/or hold a Marxist anti-police view". Hardly. These is the conclusions that you draw based on statistics that ignore the very idea of the basis for our justice system itself: the ability to respect and understand the difference between right and wrong.

Peter Moskos said...

I do hope you're not basing what you think I teach solely on a few powerpoint slides. There's a whole lecture there, even a semester, filled (at least I hope) with nuance and subtlety and provocative intellectual positions. But it's not at all nonsense to say that some critics of Broken Window do not hold criminals accountable. Maybe that's not true you for you. But there's a long line of respected academics (especially in sociology) who refused to accept any notice of individual agency vis-a-vis macro-trends in crime. Broken Windows was presented, in part, in opposition to this "root causes" perspective.

Also, with regards to broken windows, please keep in mind that my support hinges on there being fundamental distinctions between broken windows and zero tolerance. I am not a fan on zero-tolerance policing. I think these semantics are important. My beliefs on policing often puts me on the same side as those who *consider* themselves opponents of broken windows... my problem is that I think many of these opponents do not understand what broken windows is (or at least should be).

All said, I don't know what any of this has to do with "In Defense of Flogging," which has almost nothing to do with policing. I hope you're not just judging the book by the cover. "Flogging" is an anti-prison book. By juxtaposing the two forms of punishment, I hope to show how bad incarceration in America is (don't worry, it's not a serious policy proposal). That isn't to say flogging isn't also horrible. I present flogging as the lesser of two evils, but the emphasis is on evil.

Adam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
bacchys said...

@Anonymous: "No, the point is that in Baltimore the community rioted and threw rocks at the police and burned their cars and now whenever the police respond huge crowds mob them so they are slow and cautious and now the murder *rate*'is the highest in recorded history there."

The community didn't riot and throw rocks at the police, nor does that seem to be the basis of the police discontent at the current time.

SA Mosby's pursuing criminal charges against the six officers involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray seems to be the basis of their discontent. IOW, they're throwing a tantrum at the thought they might be held accountable to the law.

bacchys said...


I don't see the one gun a month law as being inherently rational. In fact, it's essentially irrational. The object isn't to prevent criminals from acquiring guns: it's to prevent anyone- criminal or otherwise- from buying guns "too fast." It's typical of much of what passes for "gun control" from those who don't like the right to keep and bear arms and don't value it: it doesn't address any of the problems they say they're looking to solve.

One gun a month doesn't just inconvenience bad guys: it inconveniences anyone looking to buy more than one gun at at time. Want a matched set of pistols? You'll have to wait 30 days...

Peter Moskos said...

Anonymous, one really needs to replace "community" with "criminals" in describing rioters.

But of course the post riot-situation is different than the pre-riot situation, police-wise.

Bacchys, any dueling man should be able to matching set of pistols! Another reason not to support 1 gun/month.

But back Baltimore, what are Baltimore cops or residents telling you? Who has told you they're upset at being held accountable? Because that's not what I'm hearing. Maybe your sources are better than mine. But I seriously think you're clueless here. Speak to a few cops in Baltimore before writing an opinion.

Anonymous said...

PCM, your comment is laughable and utter BS. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/blog/bs-md-ci-fop-statement-20150528-story.html

The cops in Baltimore should be charged with conspiracy for the attempted protection racket they are trying to run. Unfortunately, enablers like you are applauding them.

Netbooker said...

This is why I didn't buy the man's book: he's not very bright. The idea that desperate members of the underclass engaged in a massive illegal business wouldn't buy easily available guns under any circumstances is stupid. Illegal profits = violent competition, and from their the violence spreads in the communities affected. Guns are the best tools for such violence, so if you can get them easily then you will.