Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

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Murder on the Wane

December 18th, 2012 · 7 Comments

The massacre in Connecticut and other similar massacres have obscured in the public mind long-range trends: a recent decline in homicides and other violent crime, and a centuries-long decline in homicide and (possibly) in military violence.

First, the most horrifying crimes: the murder of children. These have declined, as this chart indicates.

Each death is a tragedy, but society is, overall, becoming less, not more, violent.

After rising in the 1960s and peaking around 1990, homicides in the United States have returned to the level of 1950. Moreover, these declines continue long-term declines in American homicide rates.

One reason  (but only a partial reason, is the increasing incarceration of criminals. Other reasons are better policing and the decline of crack cocaine; but no one is really sure why there has been such a sudden and massive decline.

There are also long-term declines in European homicide rates.

Stephen Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature documents these declines and also, more speculatively, he sees millennia-long decline in military violence. That is less certain, but it is clear that in many pre-modern societies, a major portion of males meet a violent death.

The decline in homicides in Europe since the Middle Ages is part of the civilizing process, in which the violence and unruliness of young males is disciplined and restrained.

As to Lanza in Connecticut and other mass murderers: They certainly lack empathy, and the absence of affectionate fathers during childhood seems to be a major factor in the failure of males to develop empathy, so single-parent families do no bode well for the future. Males also feel they have to establish their identity, to prove they are somebody, and a few of them choose mass murder as a way of proving this – in vain, because almost no one remembers the names of the mass murderers.

One law about guns that might help is to require all gun owners to keep their guns, especially rifles, in a locked gun safe. If they do not, and someone uses the gun to commit a crime, the gun owner should also be criminally liable. This would help stop adolescents in a sudden passion from grabbing a gun and killing people. But restraining intelligent psychopaths like Breivik in Norway is very, very difficult, without creating a surveillance state that would bring its own problems.

Tags: Masculinity · Uncategorized · crime

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mary // Dec 18, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Thankyou Leon , certainly a very helpful and informative article.Much appreciated.

  • 2 Father Michael Koenig // Dec 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Yes, the “good ole days” weren’t necessarily so good.

    I recently listened to A Tale of Two Cities on CD during a long drive. In the introduction, Dickens paints a rather grim picture of crime, violence and cruelty at the end of the 18th century in Christian and “Enlightenment” England and France.

  • 3 Mary // Dec 19, 2012 at 6:30 am

    Last Friday…….
    I was reminded of Herod’s slaughter of the Innocents and Rachel weeping for her children. Children are precious from the moment of conception, but my favorite age for laughs and wonder at the world is between the ages of six and seven. Linkletter capitalized on this with the best Reality Show ever produced for television and all he did was ask a few questions.
    This is the age when they share their views and we are priveledged to view life though the innocent lens of childhood again.
    They remind us of what Jesus told us we must be like.
    I hope this tragedy does not spawn any quick fix Laws that are not well discussed and thought out.

  • 4 admin // Dec 19, 2012 at 7:00 am

    When my four boys were teenagers my house was always full of them and their friends. I had a glass gun cabinet that displayed my rifles (we went skeet and trap shooting), I soon realized that it would take about 30 seconds to break into the locked cabinet, and I remembered the emotional ups and downs of my own adolescence. I stored all my guns at the house of a friend who had no children at home, and now that the boys are gown we keep them all in a locked gun safe.

    A legal requirement to keep guns in a locked safe would prevent some of these spontaneous massacres, and there may be other reasonable measures to limit danger. But apart from banning all guns (which would provoke political violence and be impossible to enforce because of our porous border with Mexico) there is no way to prevent all gun violence – life has inescapable dangers. Automobiles kill far more people than guns do –should we ban them?

  • 5 Mary // Dec 19, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    Actually Leon , Since 2009 it is suicide that has been taking more lives than automobile crashes.

    A friend was given shared access to high school age suicides recently. Seems the CDC is asking social workers church affiliated personnel and other organizations that deal with the public for their opine on the recent phenomena.
    Gerald Celente has a saying,”When people feel they have nothing left to lose they lose it.”
    IMHO the sense of the absolute loss of control of one’s life leads some to harm either themselves or others. Fox News reported that the shooter in Connecticut may have known his mother filed for conservatorship over her son. Anorexia and Bulimia are linked to control issues as is the phenomena of “cutting” which the late Princess Diana said she had issues with.Even Domestic abuse has been linked with the notion of a need to control.
    I absolutely agree with you on the gun issue. However, I do wonder why anyone feels the need to own an automatic or semi automatic weapon.

  • 6 Mary // Dec 20, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Continuing along same vein linking irrational acts of violence with the sense of personal loss of control over one’s life…
    Paradoxically, we willingly embrace legislation that results in more forfeiture and loss of personal control of our own lives as a means to control the actions of others.
    Shades of your previous missive?
    How irrational are we as a collective Lee?

  • 7 Augusta Wynn // Dec 22, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Happy Christmas to all you wonderful folks.



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