Concentrated solutions

Gun violence shatters lives among its victims, and leaves society at large shaking its head and wringing its hands.

Criminal-justice experts and analysts, however, recognize and understand a key concept and condition that rarely makes the news but is essential to making progress: the law of crime concentration.

Half of the gun deaths in the U.S. in 2015 occurred in just 127 cities. Moreover, gun violence is further concentrated in neighborhood areas within those cities that comprise only about 1,200 census tracts, which cover roughly 1,600 square miles. To properly frame the reference of the minuscule nature of those numbers, our country has 73,057 census tracts and 3.8 million square miles.

Though those neighborhoods contain only 1.5 percent of the U.S. population, 26 percent of the nation’s gun homicides happened within their local confines.

Now you see why gun-crime statistics by state are utterly deceiving. Any averaging that lumps large numbers of counties with zero gun deaths together with a very few urban counties with very high gun homicides produces an idiotic and useless result. Outliers that are way out of scale always skew averages into meaninglessness.

Gun-crime “solutions” based on state averages are therefore doomed to fail; they seek to solve illusory problems.

Consider Missouri and Arkansas, for instance. The per-adult gun ownership rate in Arkansas is twice that of Missouri, but the firearm murder rate in Missouri is 50 percent higher than Arkansas. Both states rank high in gun death rates, the problem isn’t statewide in either, as FBI murder data demonstrate.

In 2016, Arkansas had 216 murders, for a rate of 7.2 per 100,000 population. But only 25 of those murders occurred in nonmetropolitan areas. For those 55 counties, the murder rate was half the cities’ rate.

In Missouri, the contrast is even starker: The metro homicide rate was three times the non-metro rate. Of Missouri’s 537 murders, 474 occurred in its eight metropolitan areas. Of Missouri’s total gun homicides, one-third can be traced to neighborhoods in either St. Louis or Kansas City.

That’s not a Show Me State irregularity; it’s a national reality.

Moving up the map, 31 of Iowa’s 99 counties belong to metropolitan areas. In all of the 68 nonmetro counties, there were only 8 murders in 2016. The murder rate in St. Louis (population 319,924) is 50 times more than in nonmetro Iowa (population 681,181).

Trying to approach those two population sets with a one-size-fits-all crime prevention strategy is absurdity beyond description. What our concentrated crime problem is crying out for is a common-sense strategy that treats communities according to their situations, and applies crime-prevention resources and practices accordingly.

Some city neighborhoods need police presence, loitering policies, curfews and other measures ratcheted up radically until improvement is seen. Many, many other small towns and neighborhoods across the nation don’t need anything at all—certainly no new gun laws.

In reviewing urban areas where concentrations of gun crime are most rampant and produce the most deaths, some insightful political observations arise.

The top five cities with the highest gun death rates are New Orleans, Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore and Oakland. The top five cities with the highest non-fatal gun crime rates feature some overlap: St. Louis, Memphis, Oakland, Detroit and Pittsburgh.

If we expand each list to the top 20 cities, and cross-reference them, 14 cities appear on both the gun death and non-fatal shooting lists. Of those 14 cities that were in both top 20 gun crime categories, Hillary Clinton carried every single one in the 2016 election, with landslides (more than 60 percent) in nine of the 14.

In some of the deadliest gun crime cities, such as St. Louis, New Orleans and Baltimore, Trump fared worst of all, getting only 15.9, 14.7 and 10.7 percent of the vote respectively.

How silly it would be for Democrats to limit their campaign strategy for 2020 in the metro areas where their candidate won hands-down. A strategist suggesting more ad spending in Baltimore would be a laughingstock. To change things, obviously the party must address the many suburbs, small cities and rural counties where Clinton lost.

How silly it is, likewise, to propose and devise gun crime solutions for the vast majority of people and places in the U.S. where there is no gun violence problem.

To effect change and improvement, we must address those small, narrowly defined areas where gun crime is off the charts.

Politicians can sound noble and statesmanlike standing up and calling on Congress for a national assault weapon ban. Meanwhile, nightly handgun shootings take a deadly toll on constituents trapped in select census tract neighborhoods—so easily identifiable, so statistically predictable, so conveniently forgettable.

Back in 1914, opposing troops in World War I along no-man’s land called a Christmas truce and put down their weapons to celebrate the holiday. Maybe mayors in major cities ought to coordinate a plea for a gun crime truce this Christmas.

No shootings, for just one day.

It might fail miserably. No harm in trying, though. The longest journey always starts with a single step.


The parallel tragedy

Normally tranquil Jonesboro was rocked in the first minutes of Mother’s Day when gunfire erupted at a private party in a popular downtown venue. Two suspects are in custody, accused of killing one person and wounding six others when they fired into the crowd.

In smaller communities, violence like this hits close to home for just about everybody.

Local teachers know a lot of the kids involved in Sunday’s tragedy, as do local police. Countless local residents have been inside the location of the shooting, since it was a longtime restaurant setting before becoming a rent-out space for events and organizations.

A local church group had to cancel its weekly Sunday night services hosted there, but members still congregated outside to pray.

Young Monterio Barnes lost his life in the shooting, which forever changed the honor and recognition of the maternal holiday for his family into heartbreak and desolation.

“You don’t know which is worse, the shock of what happened or the ache of what never will.” The words of English author Simon von Booy resound with relevance and poignancy, although the magnitude of grief in such moments defies literacy or description.

As expected, the main suspect is no stranger to entanglements with law enforcement. Kalius Lane is only 20, but his brief stint as an adult is already peppered with a lifetime’s worth of police run-ins and arrests.

In addition to being out on bond for a kidnapping and armed robbery charge in Osceola, a local news outlet detailed no fewer than 12 incidents reported by the Jonesboro Police Department involving Lane from April 2015 to January 2017—including one in which Lane was allegedly seen in a local hospital with a gun in his back pocket.

In an unusual twist, Lane began posting about the shooting investigation on his Facebook page about 10 a.m. on Sunday.

He shared the press release about the crime from the Jonesboro Police Department and then posted, “This [expletive] sad [expletive] slandering my name frfr 100 Case beat.”

About fifteen minutes later, he added another post: “Feds wanna lace put me on murders tryna case,” which was followed by a middle-finger “bird” symbol, a police officer emoji and a palms-up shrug emoji.

An hour later, this: “The rest of my life just gone over some [expletive] Ian do. [Expletive] wanna cover up for the next [expletive] 100 Dirty world frfr,” followed with another bird.

Around noontime, a barrage of posts included this: “[Expletive] I’m shooting for and Ian get touched,” followed by laughing-to-tears emojis.

That indecipherable mess is a compounding, parallel tragedy.

It’s worth remembering that the state of Arkansas committed approximately $130,000 in resources to the suspected shooter’s education, including English classes every year.

That is not said in mockery. It’s posited in the spirit of pondering aloud the prudence of that investment in its current form as part of the far-flung public education system.

Maybe we should reconsider the one-size-fits-all approach funneled into schools, in terms of whether it truly serves kids coming from neglected, parentless, impoverished or other at-risk situations.

Rather than funding one large system, would that money be better invested in individual children at a younger age when home circumstances throw up early red flags?

It’s too late once a kid pulls a gun at a party.

But this shooting suspect was once an elementary student. Probably in class with 25 other kids. Possibly in a school with high free-lunch counts and low test scores.

Money spent that permits a child to slip through the cracks is more than mere waste. It paves the way for greater losses later on: damages caused by crime, court and incarceration costs, unrealized earnings and tax revenue. Not to mention the incalculable loss of individual potential, and what might have been.

We see this pattern over and over. It’s time we open up discussion on what has to change to alter it, with a willingness to slaughter some sacred cows if necessary.

Who’s to say that front-end loading the same $130,000 on private tutoring and mentoring through junior high wouldn’t produce better English? Maybe better behavior? Then as an alternative to traditional high school, provide an accelerated technical school path to a practical career. There might even be federal financial aid available for that. Or maybe lottery money.

Heaven knows we need resurgence in the skilled trades. Good plumbers, electricians, carpenters all stay busy.

The difference in cost to society between a kid launching a lifetime of productive work at 20 and a kid going to prison for life at 20 is literally in the millions.

We’re already spending significant money on every child’s education. It’s not too much to insist on equally significant results, or at least sufficient vigor to demand exploratory change when status quo inertia produces failure.

Uneducated kids who can’t communicate are tragedies unto themselves. Instead of being surprised when they beget further tragedies, shouldn’t we be trying more innovative things to prevent that first tragic deficiency?

Tomorrow’s violent criminals are in primary school today. Their paths can be changed. But not if nothing else changes first.

Gun culture on display

For most Americans, Memorial Day is a holiday weekend rich with robust dimensions.

It formally embodies somber respect for fallen soldiers, and appreciative gratitude for the blessings of liberty they died to preserve. It’s also the informal kickoff to the summer season, a time of joy that includes road trips (89 percent of holiday travelers drove to their destinations), cookouts, outdoor activities such as swimming and boating, and bargain-hunting amid holiday sales.

We lay wreaths to honor supreme sacrifice, then celebrate the fruits of freedom with festivities.

But for a growing number of citizens, Memorial Day is not a holiday at all, but instead a worrisome weekend fraught with fear and terror, maim and mayhem, blood and death. More than anything else, perhaps, modern Memorial Days (and other summer holiday weekends) are showcasing the true nature of America’s gun culture—and it’s a far cry from the picture painted by political propaganda.

Like millions of others basking in the bliss of grilled holiday burgers and nursing a sunburn, I missed the bloodbath unleashed in Chicago till I read reports of it on Tuesday.

Sixty-nine shootings rocked the Windy City from Friday till Memorial Monday. That capped a May total of 318 shootings, which left 397 Chicagoans injured and 66 dead. Amazingly, with so much lead flying over the weekend, only six victims died. That’s a dastardly, disgusting asterisk, however; the relatively low death toll masks the violence, and minimizes the outrage.

Propaganda is a powerful tool, and in no subject is it more expertly applied than gun crime. The “gun culture” as presented, discussed and analyzed in the mass media is a fiction of Orwellian magnitude. Its imagery of unregulated gun shows, uneducated gun owners, and trigger-happy rednecks is false fodder for gun-control advocacy as a legislative end—not a social solution that actually saves lives.

The sad shooting snapshot that was Chicago on Memorial Day will play out all summer long, in every major metropolitan statistical area.

But not in every metro neighborhood.

A map of shootings from May in Chicago reveals the discriminatory nature of criminal gunplay. When overlaid on a demographic map, the little dots that represent shootings are overwhelmingly located in black and Hispanic population centers. The shooters and the victims are overwhelmingly minorities. A majority of the victims are also male, and either criminals themselves or associating with criminals.

The youngest homicide victim over the weekend in Chicago was a 15-year-old girl, who was a passenger in a car with two known gang members when it was fired upon at 1:30 Saturday morning.

This is the monumental fraud that is being furtively propagated on us all. Gun laws don’t matter to the lawless. No gun-control measure—from magazine capacity limits to assault-weapon bans—would have saved that teenage girl and spared her family’s grief.

With so many black lives lost in Chicago in an unusually violent May, one might have expected some comment or acknowledgement from the Black Lives Matter movement.

But special interests are exceedingly narrow; despite their often noble-sounding names, they cling tight and hold close to their core issue. Had a white cop shot a black victim in Chicago, the pre-ordained protests would have materialized en masse. While black lives lost in the business-as-usual intra-racial crime of urban areas like Chicago’s West and South sides do actually matter, the Black Lives Matter is really only interested in grinding the racist axe.

Another fairy-tale aspect of America’s gun crime is that it’s not even a gun issue but a geographic one. Shootings are remarkably concentrated in the largest American cities, because that’s where the gangs are.

The FBI Uniform Crime Report tracks violent crime and murder rates by cities, which it categorizes by population size. When aggregated according to city categories, it becomes clear that our national “average” statistics on crime serve to disguise some incredibly high-crime urban areas.

Chicago, despite being one-third the size of New York City, has a murder rate four times higher. But Chicago doesn’t even crack the top 10 cities above 250,000 for murder. St. Louis’ rate is 10 times that of New York City.

The 76 cities in that largest category (which represents about 18 percent of the nation’s population) have a collective average murder rate of 9.27 per 100,000 population. In contrast, there are 3,056 cities with populations between 10,000 and 99,999 and 5,227 cities with populations between 1,000 and 9,999 in the FBI data. Together they represent 36 percent of the nation’s citizenry. Their collective murder rates are 2.98 and 2.46.

The gang problem, which is inherently criminal, is America’s main gun problem. They’re illegally armed to the teeth, and ruthless in their recklessness regarding collateral damage.

So why do liberal politicians insist on legislating to the exception—further regulation of gun owners who aren’t shooting people—rather than the rule?

No community should have to dodge bullets and bury innocents over a holiday weekend as if it were in a Third World ghetto.

Gangs, not guns, are the cancer. Where’s the leadership on curing that?

Forget Hunting

It’s easy to grow weary of distractions in the debate over gun control and Second Amendment rights. One of the most tiring arguments of all is the mention of hunting and the right to bear arms in the same galaxy.

Never should the twain meet, they are so disconnected. The only point of commonality is the fact that both involve firearms.

In order to understand the first 10 amendments, it’s important to go back and remember why a Bill of Rights was written in the first place. The framers had already constructed a Constitution, which defined and limited federal powers, and most state constitutions already had bills of rights.

Why declare, to paraphrase Alexander Hamilton, that things shall not be done which Congress has no power to do?

One reason.

Because not everybody trusted Congress. And with good reason.

Even at that time-long before Communist Russia and similar regimes refined brutal oppression and governmental mass murder -history was rife with examples of ruthless governments that trampled citizens’ rights. Thomas Jefferson spoke wisely and for many when he warned that an active government was inherently oppressive.

So the early amendments to the Constitution were nothing but protections for the people against the federal government. James Madison, the chief author of the Bill of Rights, rightly called them “additional guards for liberty.”

Recall their protections-every one is an attempt to restrict government and its agents and officers so as to reduce the likelihood of oppression.

The Third Amendment protects us from our own military commanders. The Fourth protects us from our own police forces. The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth protects us from our own courts, judges and justice system.

The Bill of Rights doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust our fellow Americans in those positions of power at all. Trust is implicit in social and civic institutions. But it does mean that we shouldn’t blindly trust them, and that we should always be on our guard against their inherent tendencies favoring oppression over liberty.

Indeed, Hamilton and other Federalists’ main worry over adding a Bill of Rights was that by trying to quantify rights, the government might view such a list as limited to only those rights mentioned. That’s why the Ninth Amendment was included: to make it clear that just because one right was enumerated in the Constitution did not “deny or disparage” other rights that weren’t enumerated.

Hamilton was prophetic beyond his own imagination. Government has consistently looked to the Bill of Rights for what is literally prohibited, rather than what is allowed. The prevailing view in Washington is that if a power isn’t specifically proscribed by the Constitution, it’s fair game for Congress.

That’s the opposite of the original intent of the Bill of Rights, and an outright and dastardly defiling of the Ninth Amendment. Just as Hamilton warned.

The Second Amendment, particularly, had nothing whatsoever to do with owning firearms in the abstract, or with sport or hunting. It was a deliberate declaration that an armed populace was critical to preserving liberty.

The threats to freedom can come from without and within, but in either case, the people’s right to keep and bear arms was guaranteed in the context of defense of life, home and liberty.

Obviously, the Bill of Rights was written in the language and understanding of its day. Suppose the First Amendment’s free-speech clause was to be written today. It would be a slipshod protection at best to only include freedom “of the press” in this day and age.

Clearly, were we to write the clause today it would be broader to accommodate the changes since 1789. It would likely include, in addition to freedom of speech and of the press, broadcast media and the Internet and probably other forms of expression as well.

The goal, remember, was and is to prohibit and stymie government censorship that could be used to oppress the people.

Likewise, if James Madison were alive today and typing out a Second Amendment draft on his laptop computer, the last thing he would do is limit arms for defense of liberty to hunting rifles with low-capacity magazines.

It was and is common sense that arms suitable for the security of the state must be somewhat comparable to arms borne by those who would assault the state.

Whenever the federal government seeks to restrict any of the Bill of Rights, it’s akin to the fox seeking to redress hen house protections.

Thus it is proper that the citizenry always cast a wary eye when Washington politicians talk about weakening protective amendments.

In the case of “gun crime,” that problem exists and deserves attention. But the problem stems from the second word of the phrase, not the first.

America has had a heavily armed population since its founding, compared to European standards. But it’s only in the last 50 years that we have seen a sizable, violent criminal population emerge.

There’s where our problem lies, as well as any solutions. A sure way to reduce the number of gun crimes is to reduce the number of violent criminals.