“An elite South African police unit shot dead seven men who tried to rob a cash depot in western Johannesburg on Saturday evening,” reuters reports. “Nine others were injured and under police guard in hospital.” Local news, really. So why did this shooting [not shown above] make the NBC News blog? Perhaps it has something to do with the closing paragraphs. “Crime is a chronic problem for South Africa. It has one of the highest murder rates in the world outside a war zone. About 40 percent of the adult population is jobless – a percentage expected to rise substantially in the coming years – and this is seen driving crime and widening economic inequality.” A familiar media meme: high unemployment = high crime > tax and spend! Except that America’s violent crime rate has continued its multi-decade drop during our festering recession—until this year when it soared 17 percent. So what causes violent/gun crime, then?

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42 Responses to Question of the Day: What Causes Gun Crime?

  1. Gun Crime can’t be reduced to a single variable. Unemployment, income disparities, political abuse, discrimination, education, drug problems, and even cultural perceptions of violence all have a huge correlation to violent crime.

    Oddly enough, an answer like this isn’t acceptable to the media or politicians because it requires serious effort to correct. Instead, they would like to blame it on a scapegoat, like firearm availability, which has little correlation to violent crime. People don’t actually want to solve violence, they just want to look concerned about it.

    • +1
      Neither Politicians nor the Media want to deal with a complicated answer, so they just go for the “easy” answer and blame it on the availability of guns. Sounds good to the simpletons (who are scared and not committed to their Rights) because it requires no headache-causing activity…namely, thinking!

    • Good list, but incomplete. I’d add family fragmentation, generational welfare and media desensitization to violence.

  2. Habitual offenders that haven’t been locked up for life. We have been locking them up in recent years and the crime rate is going down. Not the only part of the equation but an important one. The fact we have a high prison population is unfortunate (and expensive) but it beats the other option for now.

  3. The problem in Africa is two fold.

    First- Africa was a tribal society. European colonialism completely destroyed the tribal structure between 1700 and 1945. After 1945 the US forced Europe out of Africa. National lines were drawn according to American and European politics… not traditional Tribal Lines. Hence the modern tension inside African countries.

    Second- Lack of birth control. Simply put, the Earths population has grown beyond what the Earth can support. In America we use modern technology for maximum farming efficiency and feed the people. Africa never developed technologically, but did develop a huge population.

    The problem in Africa forecasts what is to come for the rest of the world as the population continues to grow. There is a point were even modern farming techniques will not be sufficient to feed all the people in America. Any large scale natural disaster that interrupts modern technology and logistics would cause world wide famine… which will bring the human population back into balance with nature.

    Consider that the average US city only has one weeks supply of food. If you had a volcanic eruption that blanked all the roads with ash for months the trucks would not be able to get to the cities. The fuel would not be able to get to the farmers to run the tractors either… NYC and LA will make African cities look civil.

    • You asume that people in Africa and the US eat the same. While food is grown more efficiently in the US, its use is horribly inefficient and a large amount of the crops are used for animal consumption as well as the massive portions a large portion of the population eats. Africa, as far as my knowledge stretches(I am a South Africa citizen) actually produces all its own food and even exports allot of it, the reason why there is starvation is not there isn’t enough food, but its distribution is not ideal, and the poverty leaves allot of people not being able to afford food.

      Good point on the tribal society, it is definitely a good explanation for the political situation found in African countries trying to adapt a Western government to a tribal culture.

    • In most of the world population is stable or even declining (Russia, China and Japan, for instance). Even in the least developed areas where population is still rising, the rate of growth is slowing. There is food scarcity but not due to the aggregate carrying capacity of the planet. If the money were there, the US, Canada, Australia, Argentina and Brazil could all significantly ramp up their land under cultivation.

      • “There is food scarcity but not due to the aggregate carrying capacity of the planet.”

        I disagree.

        The earth has reached its limits as to how many humans it can sustain. you have little things to take into account such as peak oil, peak water, peak phosphorous and the wildcard called “climate change”; all of which will have profound effects on the carrying capacity of the planet.

        • …Peak Oil, Peak water, Peak phosphorous, climate change…..

          All False. I did four years of research on those topics and never found any hint of truth whatsoever for those claims. But self serving interests love them.

          Moreover, if you took the worlds population and stood everyone up next to each other, giving each 1 meter squared, we would all fit in the Florida Everglades….. The planet is A LOT bigger than most people even know. Lest we also forget that the World is three dimensional as well.

          J.

        • To JAS:
          And your four years of research is not a self serving interest? I detect a bias in your “All False” declaration.
          Your final paragraph has no bearing on the carrying capacity of the planet. Do you understand the equation of energy returned on energy invested (EROI)? I suspect your definition of peak is quite simplistic.

        • Maybe someone can confirm this, show how the laws of physics and chemistry can be violated to make a rise in CO2 relevant to a change in the amount of IR absorbed and thus a contributer to so-called anthropomorphic global warming.

          Since the first 20 ppm takes out about 80% of the IR; the next 20 ppm takes out about the next 15%; the next 20 ppm takes out about the the next 4%; the next 20 ppm takes out the next 0.8%.

          If you carry this out, at about 120-140ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere all of the IR absorption and reflection back to the earth occurs. No matter how much additional is added, it will have little or no effect.

          We could go to a 1,000 ppm and it won’t add any additional warming. You can only pull so many curtains across a window to block out the light.

          After a certain point more curtains don’t block anymore light.

          Real science always trumps politically correct science.

          Politically correct science is always a dangerous trend.

        • ‘”psmcd says:
          November 26, 2012 at 20:22

          To JAS:
          ………. Do you understand the equation of energy returned on energy invested (EROI)? …………….”

          Yes I do, and it’s EROEI by the way. The EROEI model is incredibly simplistic. It’s major failure is that it doesn’t take into account human ingenuity nor supply chains costs on both sides of the equation. It assumes static parameters for efficiencies on both sides.

          That is the wrong approach because it fails to provide for efficiency gains into the future. Recent examples? The 18650 battery, fracturing, hybrids, bio-engineered corn – and the list goes on and on and on….

          J.

        • JAS again:
          Your interpretation of “EROEI” is simplistic. The reality is yes, there are efficiency gains, and there are yet unknown costs in every human endeavor. The concept of EROEI is that eventually you must account for everything and the impacts of batteries, fracturing, hybrids, bio-engineering etc. are being discovered as we employ them.

        • “All False. I did four years of research on those topics and never found any hint of truth whatsoever for those claims. ”

          Oh really?

          now that is rich.

          I suggest you do some heavy reading from Michael Ruppert, Richard Heinberg, James Kunstler, and read a particular study by the Bundeswehr (german federal army) when it comes to the implications of peak oil. Read the book “The Grand Chessboard” by Zbigniew Brzezinski.

          Four years of research? LOL. please. provide some citations. im waiting.

          sorry, but those “theories” are true. We do live on a finite planet and there is such a thing as a carrying capacity.

          “But self serving interests love them.”

          and self serving interests also love the idea of infinite resources because it supports the flawed and incorrect infinite growth monetary paradigm.

          “Moreover, if you took the worlds population and stood everyone up next to each other, giving each 1 meter squared, we would all fit in the Florida Everglades….. The planet is A LOT bigger than most people even know. Lest we also forget that the World is three dimensional as well.”

          Which is a red herring fallacy because I wasnt talking about humans running out of space. Nobody is. Try again.

          I am talking about the consumption of resources being apparent enough that the planet cannot recover or repair itself…which is currently happening now.

          I suppose were digging into tar sands, conducting environmentally destructive fracking, and risky off shore drilling just for the testing of new technology LOL.

    • +1 on the tribalism.

      Not to sound like a dick, but South Africa is a perfect example of tribalism turning a once prosperous, potential superpower into a cesspool of tribalism, skyrocketed crime, government fiscal irresponsibility, and corrupt racist retribution. (read “Into the Cannibal’s Pot” by Ilana Mercer)

      The irony is that many states in Africa were better off under colonial rule. I dont agree with colonialism and am opposed to the idea of it, though one can see stark differences between turn of the century africa and the post colonial era.

  4. According to STATSSA the unemployment for the 3rd quarter of 2012 is 25.5%…I wish sources were a part of journalism, as these baseless claims are starting to get annoying.

  5. It’s not the only factor, but hungry people get desperate. Long term poverty generates a lot of hungry people. Hungry people will eventually steal, murder and pilage to get food. And as mentioned above, the world is generating a lot of hungry people, but the resources to feed them has a definite finite limit.

    • I can tell you from having lived in that country for years, is that the people who steal are not the ones who go hungry, its usually people being greedy and wanting more than they have/deserve. Mind you, I am referring to crimes such as the one above which is much more serious than someone pick pocketing someone, or stealing a bag someone left on a bench or something.

  6. What causes Violent crime to be called gun crime? Just because a gun was used? We don’t make this distinction with bricks or knives or fists, etc.

    Previous articles on this site spoke to the importance of controlling the language we use and arguing from a point of moral superiority instead of technicalities.

    It is nothing new, but I think we should continue to break the cause of “gun crime” into two elements:
    1. A Violent Criminal
    2. A gun

    The tool is insignificant and we already know where guns come from. Therefore, all the comments above and the article are discussing the human element. We should ensure we use words that identify the true subject of our discussion instead of inadvertently admitting that “gun crime” (guns) are a problem.

  7. I’d wager a guess but it lies within “FLAME DELETED” land. So here’s the version that won’t twist any knickers: the ANC wages war on productive Boers and Europeans. Both physically (plaasmord, farm murders) and economically (nationalization of Boer/Euro businesses, diversity mandates). Also really nasty tribal/clan tribal rivalries exist between the kaffirs in power.

    Define gun crime. Armed robbery and a 40 day lapsed FOID card are both felonies. I’ll assume you mean violent gun crime. It’s caused by people. People are inherently violent although much work goes into suppressing it. When crime pays more than 9-5 jobs expect more of it. Guns are merely tools.

    • But not always. Farm-murders usually are done for pure sadistic revenge. Theft is usually secondary, insignificant, or non-existent. Some people love killing for it’s own sake.

  8. The cause of gun crime is much like the rise of a dictatorship, there’s never just one simple factor that directly causes the end result. Still, people like to assign 100% of the blame to one object, person, or event as a direct cause because it’s most efficient for our brains.

    The antis exhibit this behavior perfectly. We know that gang membership, poverty, mental issues, and everything in between plays a role in gun crime. But the antis will continue to put all the gun owners in the same pot because it’s easier to generalize and blame the tool and not the career criminal users.

    The antis also have this rabid pipe dream of a desire to “prevent” crime. Crime and evil deeds are unpreventable. You can twiddle your thumbs and hope you never become a victim; you can actively fight back in self defense when crime befalls you, but you can not prevent it from ever happening to anyone. Still they pursue this impossible dream.

    It’s been cited a million times; we all know car accidents and botched surgeries kill scores more people annually than guns in this country, but the antis don’t care about that or even the real cause of gun crime, criminals. They just want to ban things from law abiding civilian ownership because they “look scary” and “were designed to kill people” when the facts are staring them right in the face.

  9. There is no such thing as “Gun Crime”. Guns are at tool, not a cause.

    Lot of crime where guns are used.

    Ya know, the usual, robbery, murder, assault ad nausea.

    I believe the concept that guns are a tool, not a cause has been beaten to death.

  10. Here are some terms you never hear reported in the media or talked about in the legislature:

    Baseball bat crime
    Car crime
    Knife crime
    Shovel crime
    Ice pick crime
    Crow bar crime

    Yet, any crime in which a gun is used is referred to nefariously as gun crime. Why the disparity?

  11. See my post on Virginia crime and extend it worldwide. When society loses social cohesion it returns to the state of nature — solitary, brutal, nasty, poor and short.. Our own inner cities and South Africa suffer from this problem. And remember, poverty doesn’t cause crime, crime causes poverty because when you turn over the streets to criminals it drives out productive employment and forces people to live isolated lives locked up in their own homes. (See stories on the Rockaway and Coney Island Neighborhoods in the aftermath of Sandy.)

  12. “The Justice Department said in a statement that there was “no evidence to suggest” that changes in victim interviewing tactics prompted the sudden increase in assault reports”

    — I’m not so sure if the above is true. Most of you guys know that I’m also an MRA Men’s Rights Advocate. There have been some changes that I’m aware of in terms of determining someone being victimized.

    The US CDC or it’s parent agency now has re-defined rape to include a drunk couple having sex. Even if the man is more drunk than the woman and she encouraged it it is now considered a rape by the man even if she was willing. The USG now defines rape as “if a woman can’t make a sober coherent decision to have sex she has been victimized” even if the man is her husband, boyfriend, or lover. Radical feminists and the ‘sexual grievance industry’ yes it is an industry with lots of people earning lots of money out of it will ask women in a survey (to paraphrase); ‘have you ever been even just verbally and emotionally pressured to have sex by a man when not in the mood or when you didn’t want to?’ If the woman says yes (and she often will) then they check off another rape mark on their statistic list.

    Domestic Violence, like rape, is constantly being re-defined and expanded upon. I haven’t kept up with the details in a long time yet now being disrespectful, rolling ones eyes at a spouse or partner, yelling at, trying to convince a spouse not to visit their parents, etc are now defined by some federal agencies and/or states as domestic violence. Most men would be too embarrassed to claim such treatment as experiencing DV. A few years ago, the CDC stated that in 50-70% of one-way DV attacks where the attacked partner does not retaliate it was the woman that started it with usually a punch, kick, strike, slap, etc. Now with the newest re-definitions the stats are probably starting to show a new picture. All the American public sees and has time for are the simplistic bottom line claims the mass media reports.

  13. This is such a non story.

    The USA Today article points out that this number is based on “simple assault”, which means on serious injury or weapon involved. Secondly, the FBI, which puts together the numbers, has already reported a 4% drop in “serious crime”, with the complete report to come out at the end of the month. Third, the article admits that the survey information is flawed!!

    Plus, what is “gun crime”?? Is this crime committed by evil guns, cruising the streets in their chevy low rider?

    Oh, you mean crimes by a person, who USED a gun! Well, in most of the categories, a gun is only one of many tools used by a criminal in committing a crime.

    So now, time to get the REAL report, then STUDY the silly thing.

    Instead of a useless article like this one from USA Today.

  14. Well this is an interesting article….

    First off we are applying “gun” to crime. While in the instance of whether or not a gun was used or not, “violent crime” needs to be applied since we are talking about an entire nation here. In this instance if we use violent crime as the designating factor it levels the playing field quite a bit. Be it rape, murder, assault, robbery, etc. If it is violent, it is a crime regardless of tool, tools, used.

    Now that we have that out of the way, we also need to consider varying cultures, and the areas of the world. Also sometimes statistics are sketchy at best. Consider the amount of crime committed in Mexico that goes unreported. Someone goes missing, and until they turn up in a mass grave somewhere, there is nothing reported as a crime. Only a missing person report is filed into the giant black hole of their government.

    While we can attribute some of the violence in South Africa specifically to tribal warfare or some other cultural specific reason, we need to look at some factor, or set of factors which transcend cultural and geological boundaries.

    So we need to look at what general issue causes people who are probably normal sane individuals to become criminals and commit such acts.
    If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the first two needs are physiological and safety. What those equate to in basic terms are the following. Physiological is food, water, air, and basic biological homeostasis. This means your basic needs are met for survival of your body. If you are starving, or because you live in a war zone, you are unable to sleep and deal with life and death everyday, there are ramifications to this.
    Safety is considered security, employment, family, health and property. So it means a safe living environment, with a roof over your head, and a descent job. This allows you to not only live, but also achieve some amount of quality to your life.

    In this instance whether you are living in South Africa, Gaza, Afghanistan, or even here in the US, when you do not have the basics in life you are more apt to turn to crime, or be willing to blow yourself up in the name of Jihad, or what ever. You do not have much to live for, and are willing to break societal codes in order to continue living.

    While things seem to be not going so well here in the US, things in other parts of the world are in fact worse. Part of this is due to the fact that we haven’t hit rock bottom yet here. Once folks have no fall back from government or the ability to gain descent employment, or maintain a basic standard of living, I fully expect to see violent crime skyrocket beyond what it already has.

    Now given that many states have descent gun freedoms and folks are taking advantage of these things, I would also expect to see an increase in DGU’s as well. This will hopefully keep crime in check in gun free states, but I predict that areas in Illinois, Washington DC, California etc will see crime increase and an outcry from the public as to why.

    As many have said politicians will blame guns, or what ever they can, rather than realizing they are watching the decay of the American society before their very eyes. We will see the projection of blame and scorn directed at anything and everything with no accountability taken by the government themselves, as they created the government dependence that we now face.

    I am not against social programs that help folks when they are down, but the idea should be that these are temporary things, and when it becomes a way of life for millions, it becomes a problem. Violent crime will be the teething pains of the common man being weened from the teat of the federal government hand outs. Unless the economy is in a position to absorb these newly motivated workers into the world, I fear we may face some pretty drastic civil unrest, and general social decay. People in general do not like change. Change will come if they like it or not, and how ready the economy will be for this change is the question.

  15. Not trying to pick a fight with you, RF, but the question should probably have been, “What causes gun involved crime?”.
    The answer that came to mind when I read your posted question is:
    Gun crime is caused when human criminal misanthropes take possession (often by force and against their will) of innocent, “minding their own business”, not intending to do any harm guns and force them to become involved in the commission of crimes, often heinous crimes, making them an unwilling accomplice to an act the gun would never have committed on its own under any circumstances.
    There. Kind of a silly answer to kind of a misconceived question. Unless, of course, this was some sort of a test.
    There is Crime where various objects, including guns, are used to facilitate the criminal act, but the act is committed by a person(s), and all else is just props in the scenario. Just as we argue Suicide is means independent, we need to keep in mind that Crime is largely means independent, which is supported by the fact that most crimes do not involve guns. However, it should be noted that a number of Crimes can be said to be gun involvement dependent by definition.
    A legitimate general question would be “What is the cause of gun involved crime?”
    An answer to that is: a gun is an effective means of injecting deadly force into a situation. So, a person who intends to commit a criminal act, where he/she feels deadly force can give them an advantage in completing the intended criminal act, would logically choose to employ a top tier means, aka a gun. This is not the only possible answer, but probably covers a majority of crimes where a gun is involved. On a somewhat ironic note, the same logic applies to why we choose to own guns for personal defense-because they are a top tier means to that end.
    There are a lot of good comments above, but the thread is a wandering track because the question is unfocused. Again, not trying to pick a fight, just constructive feedback….and getting my two cents in on the general topic.

  16. Was the 17% all gun violence? I would be surprised if it were. I get really skeptical when statistics are read in an ambiguous manner.

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