There is a second, perhaps even more important qualification to state-to-state comparisons of gun violence: controlling crime is primarily a local decision. While state legislatures enact the criminal penalties for different offenses, local governments set the policies that determine whether someone is arrested and convicted. Cities and counties set spending on police and sheriff departments and policing policies. Most states have local elections for district attorneys and trial court judges. In the last few years, many Democrat district attorneys have been accused of going soft on violent criminals. They may also not request bond for criminals. Judges have also released large numbers of inmates from many local jails over the last few years. …
Consider two very heavily Democrat jurisdictions in heavily Republican states: St. Louis, Missouri; and New Orleans, Louisiana. Over 80% of the voters in both places voted for Biden, though only about 40% of the voters in those states voted for him. Their murder rates are also extremely high, with St. Louis at 52 per 100,000 people and New Orleans at 50. With their large populations, they were a major reason why Missouri’s and Louisiana’s murder rates were 11.8 and 15.8 per 100,000 people, respectively. By contrast, the murder rate for the U.S. as a whole was 6.5.
Thus, the CPRC research shows that blue pockets scattered across the U.S. map are the zones where most violent crime is committed, and it underscores how the generalizations on one partisan side or the other can mislead.
Such generalizations also shape other public debates about gun violence. In most instances, people equate gun violence with violent crime, murder, and random shootings. Almost 70% of all gun deaths are, in fact, suicides. And while President Biden has repeatedly called for limits on the sale of AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, which, he said, have turned “too many” schools, “too many other everyday places” into “killing fields, battlefields here in America,” those weapons are used only in about 2% of homicides. Even for mass public shootings, rifles of any type are not the weapon of choice for most of these mass murderers. Over the last 25 years, 14.9% of these attacks involve only rifles.
Or consider school shootings. The majority of school shootings, as recorded by law enforcement and criminologists, do not involve students. Instead, 70% of them occur outside school buildings but on school property, according to Northeastern University professor James Alan Fox, whose tracking of mass killings is considered one of the most meticulous.
“The chances of a K-12 student getting shot and killed at school in the U.S. is 1 in 10 million,” Fox said, notwithstanding the highly publicized carnage at Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Uvalde.
Fox notes that one huge difference in the numbers comes from gunfire that leaves four or more people hit and gunfire that kills four or more people. Using the latter, stricter, definition, the number of such incidents in the U.S. drops dramatically. Such differences can sometimes warp a national discussion about what is happening.
“Nothing in the phrase ‘mass shooting’ says people are dying,” Fox told RealClearInvestigations. “The mass shootings we read about are usually conflating those where four or more people were shot and those where four or more people were shot and killed. So, should we be talking about shootings or fatalities?”
“You have to be very careful about the definition or you are comparing apples and oranges,” [College of William & Mary economics] Professor Moody warns. “Mass shootings involving gangs or robberies are not the type of attacks that get attention. What makes people nervous and gets international news attention are people being randomly shot in a public place where the goal of the murder is to become famous by killing as many people as possible.”
— John R. Lott Jr. and James Varney, RealClearInvestigations in Murder, They Spun: Selective Stats Leave Suspicious Fingerprints All Over the Crime Debate