During this sunny, pleasant weekend, a delicious smattering of Juneteenth celebrations are popping up around the city and region. Street fairs abound, concerts in parks, and spirits decidedly uplifted continue to improve the atmosphere. Despite the summer highlighting events and a welcome break from torrential downpours however, yesterday was, in fact, the six month anniversary of a great national tragedy. Newtown, Connecticut remembered its fallen and sent representatives of their suburban town increasingly the iconic image of gun violence in our country, to form a ribbon from green shirted individuals directly across the street from Congress in protest of their inaction on an overarching piece of gun control legislation.
On that day of infamy in December, 2012, our national identity was put on trial. Our previously mistaken conceptualization of an armed society enforcing politeness within itself was shattered. Of course, the recent revelations of the NSA’s PRISM program should have alleviated whatever delusions 2nd Amendment devotees had about protecting themselves from the government. That’s right: no matter how far off the grid you go, or how many layers to your triple reinforced, password encoded underground bunker with networked cameras you can see on closed circuit monitors purchased at the spy store has, the most clandestine agency on the planet has a way to get past your security, regardless of how many 3D printed AR-15s you’re hoarding behind the foot thick steel door.
Of equal concern in the present climate, is a lack of ATF director, and how a veritable avalanche of statistical work that was previously unavailable, or more specifically not in the public eye has recently come to light regarding firearms, their purchase, and the public’s behavior with them. The ATF, under whose purview the development of nationwide statistics relating to firearms would fall, has not had either the opportunity nor the resources to effectuate these types of reports for a variety of reasons both personnel and political.
And so it falls to us, the properly trained public, to complete what analyses we can whilst awaiting the proper organizational infrastructure/and or assignment. One particular statistic is continually cited in the good guy vs. bad guy with a gun scenario – the FBI deaths by murder and non-negligent manslaughter totals. In my own research, I plotted the numbers reported by the agency on a graph and they do, indeed, demonstrate a long, slow, downward sloping curve. An interesting wrinkle in the argument, however, is that in 2004 – after the expiration of the assault weapons ban, violent deaths shot up immediately, until 2007, and then began their gentle decline through 2010. That would seem to indicate a goodly level of self monitoring, with numbers of violent deaths remaining under 20,000 for the nation along the entire timeline.
Unfortunately, much like each branch of government, there are checks and balances for agencies in the public service. The CDC, for example, tracks the manner of death in the population for purposes of public health. Their assertions – related to death by violent crime, are entirely different, yielding a number many times that of the FBI. But these differences are exacerbated by a noticeable variation in each agency’s reporting on the population of the entire nation for each successive year. (See graphs of deaths by violent crime as well as population in the photos section).
There are some ideas of why such differences might appear. One, of course, is purely political. An easy narrative to believe in the current environment of publicly acknowledging deception and espionage is that quite simply it was institutionally prudent to publish faulty numbers since few people were looking at them anyway, and it created a bit of a salve for those who might otherwise be convinced that the assault weapons availability and its effect had gone horribly awry. Another easily salable explication would be pandering to monied interests. The NRA and all of the weapons manufacturers across the country poured funds into Congressional representatives that curried favor in sufficient amounts for them to influence the contents and reporting of the details. The CDC on the other hand, does not have a string of monied interests beating down their door to water down reporting on violent deaths by firearms, nor does misrepresenting the information represent a strategic advantage for them (they cannot, in offering such a report, claim that their monitoring, tracking, and incarceration of criminals has been efficacious). But there is the potential for a larger nefarious deed that may be at work here.
The FBI takes a collection of the reports from local organizations and compiles the statistics from the numbers it receives. To that end, their data collection is as good as what a department such as the NYPD is wont to produce. The NYPD, in turn, under the direction of a Commissioner who is appointed by a media mogul who is supremely cognizant of what information distribution looks like, also has its own issues with reporting. Thinking about the City’s claim that their vaunted Stop-and-Frisk campaign removes guns from the streets and helps keep residents safe, the graph (also in the photos section) does not necessarily bear that out. Also, given the Department’s recent brushes with perjury, one begins to reconsider the veracity of the record. Now, expand that possibility outward from NYC, and re-examine the statistics.
President Obama’s OFA put out a call to its membership to in turn call into their Congressmen and ask them to move forward on gun legislation. This is to be applauded, there can be no doubt an absence of an ATF director, the lack of official reporting, and Federal level intransigence in deference to campaign contributing idealogues is wholly detrimental to our society. However, it is equally as crucial to know the proper magnitude of the problem, and the dangers we face in lacking a response.