Scholars, pundits, and activists have been more and more frequently mentioning the decreasing homicide rate in our society while the media paints a very different picture. We are at the low point of a near twenty-year decline in violent crime in America. Despite this quantifiable decrease, American perception stubbornly holds on to the idea that America has become a more violent and dangerous place. While in some major cities we can see evidence that trend is potentially reversing, the bottom line is America in much safer then it was twenty years ago.
Much of that perception is based on the frequency of reporting of violent crime by our media. The statistics are well documented and present a grossly inflated view of crime as a percentage of other events. As we look at media over time, we can see a steadily increasing diet of violence, crime and social unrest fed to the American public via movies, TV shows, gaming and the news. Unfortunately, the reporting percentages have no correlation with the incident rates and are purely providing programming based on what American viewers choose to watch.
The American Psychological Association has published study after study finding that violence viewed on TV and in person, is associated with increased aggressive behavior. The classic example of these types of experiments is the Bobo doll experiments conducted by Albert Bandura in the early sixty’s. In two subsequent experimental iterations, Bandura deliberately exposed children, ranging from two and a half to six years old, to adult acts of aggression directed against a Bobo doll. The first exposure was in person and the second iteration was exposure on television, but the results were the same. Exposure to violence results in increased violent actions.
From the results of these studies and many more like it, many Americans make the claim that we are raising an ever more violent generation of young American. This reasoning fits with our predisposed notion that society is becoming more violent despite evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, our perception often has little to do with reality. The average age of violent offenders has actually increased, and not decreased over the past thirty years. Sixteen
to twenty-four year-olds have always accounted for the lion’s share of violent crime. As the boomer generation ages, we are at the end of a historically rare reduction in the youth bulge in America. Despite that fact, the demographic shift alone is insufficient to account
for the decrease in the violent crime rate.
Two factors are easy to quantify and simple to explain. First is the massive expansion of our judicial system. We have increased spending by nearly 171% over the past 30 years. That spending has increased the number of police on the streets, the number of judges and the number of jails. As a proportion of GDP, which has remained pretty flat over same period, we have massively increased the percentage of resources dedicated to security services.
The second is the impact of massively increased incarceration rates which further contributes to the decreasing crime rate by simply locking those predisposed to crime away from society. We have increased the incarceration rate in this country by over 255% over the same thirty – year period. Using that metric alone, the total amount of criminals is probably increasing significantly, despite the deterrent impact of more police on the streets. In other words, we are catching more criminals, locking them away for longer periods and doing so at a rate that surpasses their production. Until of course we lose the generational advantage of the aging population…
As Millennial’s age, we see the demographic of sixteen to twenty-four-year-olds increasing dramatically, and we can expect an equivalent increase in crime. That demographic shift started about two years ago. We can no longer afford to spend and incarcerate our way out of the violence we experience in society. It is inefficient, ultimately counter-productive and eventually creates artificial dependencies on government provided services. The bright spot in this conversation is that we not only have other avenues to pursue, but we have also already proven some of those avenues work.
John Lott at the Crime Prevention Research Center has studied the impact of concealed carry on crime for the past 25 years. His findings show that increasing the number of armed citizens have a significant deterrent effect on crime. Many hone in on the gun, but my supposition is that the deterrent effect has as much due to the active participation in personal security by the community as the impact of putting a gun in your waist belt. Regardless of the mechanism by which it occurs, liberal concealed carry issue policies result in decreasing crime rates ranging from 4 – 20% across municipalities, counties, states and nationally.
Successful social change has never occurred via restrictions at the hands of government bureaucrats, the funding of pet social programs, or excessive legislation. It has always been a byproduct of a fundamental shift in the education, attitudes, culture and the empowerment of our citizenry. Personal security is no different. We cannot afford to incarcerate and police our way through the next youth boom, nor do we want to victimize future generations with the tax burden associated with the incarceration rates of the past.
If we want a long-term sustainable approach to safer communities, it starts with the education of future generations on the appropriate use of violence in society. We can empower them to take an active role in their safety and security. We can give the education, training and tools to create the safer community we all want to live in. Alternatively, we can continue to attempt to pass off our personal responsibility on to dedicated security and pretend that zero tolerance is “teaching” our children anything. The concept that we can eradicate violence by ignoring it is a utopian pipe dream. We can take steps to empower every citizen to an active role in reducing it – if they understand it, and understand their role in prevention.
We already see indicators of the impact of the next youth bulge on violent crime with the mild flattening or up tic of the past two years. We have the ability to handle the next one more productively then in the past. The deficit alone shows us that more spending is not a sustainable solution. The astronomical cost of increasing police and incarceration is detailed above. The cost of personal empowerment through education and training is miniscule by comparison, and infinitely more sustainable.
~ Patrick Henry