Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Death by the numbers

A while back, I dug into the FBI crime statistics pages to buttress an argument that the crazy woman astronaut was only "typically deranged". Those same pages report far more than that about the actualities of murder in America. Sadly, it is time to examine the numbers a bit further.

From those same stats sources, the numbers for all murders, including "domestic" break down this way:

solved murders919N/A

This slightly begs the question of whether women get away with murder in a different proportion of cases then do men. 28% unsolved murders is nearly 4000 unexplained corpses nationwide per year. Considering that 3000 deaths in 2001 are the justification Americans unconsciously cling to as reason enough to waste uncounted lives in Iraq, you'd think 4000 would bother us a little more.

Other numerical findings rendered roughly in English:
  • 44% of victims have no known relationship to their killer.
  • By region, 2/3 of all murders are by firearms ...
  • Except in the northeast where that cause still leads at 3/5 of all murders.
  • About 5% of all killings are deemed "justifiable homicide"

That justifiable homicide number includes about 400 per year in which a police officer shoots someone, a number that has been rising over the last few years. Non-police justifiable homicides are about half that number. Handguns are the weapon in 81% of the non-police "justifiable" killings.

One might be tempted, as Michelle Malkin was, to see in that last stat a justification for arming all the students. That would be an asinine idea. Even if it reduced deaths in the sensational but rare cases like VT, Columbine etc by letting potential victims kill their attacker, it's far more likely consequence is self harm or more frequent if less spectacular killing of acquaintances and S.O.s with a net increase in unjustified deaths being an absolute certainty. Here are some numbers on suicide for one state, NC, where the gun ownership demographics might be similar to VA: 44% of suicides are by handgun and part of that is because it is such an effective weapon for that purpose. Note, also in the graphs at that NC link that suicide rates are highest in the college to mid-twenties group...just not the right group to be casually carrying sidearms. The terrible waste of life at Virginia Tech was also an elaborate suicide. Malkin and her ilk cannot recognize the operation of fear and fantasy in their "reasoning" . The events at VT are, after all, a fantasy played out. The fantasy of Malkin is that some magic will increase only the number of justifiable homicides. Fear makes people stupid.


Cosa Nostradamus said...


In Korea, the first reaction was, "Oh, no, now they'll be after US!" The NRA sees this as an opportunity to arm EVERYBODY. Bush jumps in for a quick foto-op to boost his poll numbers. Me, I just want a discount on kim-chee from now on.

The sad thing is that 50 people will have been shot, not for tighter control and more difficult access to guns, but for tighter control of people and more difficult access to mental health programs. Wait for it.

Every time this happens, I hear people say they saw it coming. But I never hear anybody suggest maybe we need mental health professionals patrolling the streets, and not bullies with guns. Nobody suggests we need to build fewer prisons for people with severe personal problems, and more neighbourhood mental health clinics. Not one person will volunteer to spend less on courts and prosecutors, in favor of spending more on doctors, psychologists, nurses and counselors.
Instead of a national health plan (or even a requirement for private plans) to include mental illness coverage, we are more likely to get a system that stigmatizes and victimizes the mentally ill, cutting them off from treatment by putting anyone who applies for such treatment on a master watch-list, that can be accessed by those accessories- to-murder known as gun shops, and, hey, why not the cops, and maybe employers, credit agencies, insurance companies, maybe a website... (

Then NOBODY will ever ask for help with emotional issues again, unless they're crazy AND stupid.

There will be no tightening of gun-laws, no pressure on gun-shops. There will be a tightening of the strictures on all of us, and more pressure on those least able to handle it, our poor bothers and sisters, Moms and Dads, sons and daughters, estranged boyfriends and girlfriends, distraught ex-co-workers, troubled loner neighbours, bullied isolated classmates: AKA, "the mentally ill."

Really, who's crazy, here? As Einstein is alleged to have said, the definition of insanity is doing (or failing to do) the same thing over and over and over again, expecting a different result each time. Texas Tower, anyone? Columbine, my dear? Virginia Tech, once more? Do nothing different, and the results are guaranteed. Wait for it.

[cross-posted at ]

GreenSmile said...

"...I hear people say they saw it coming. But I never hear anybody suggest maybe we need mental health professionals patrolling the streets..."

yep, you got it there: if you think gun control is a hard sell in John Wayne country, try to sell the mind patrol.

Doesn't the second amendment read "the right to bear arms and irrational grudges against society as a whole"?
I didn't think so.

Cosa Nostradamus said...

Not so much a "patrol" as in "police," more like a volunteer rescue squad, paramedics or the fire department, there to offer help as needed: Counseling, treatment, medication, hospitalization.

Or some kind of de-stigmatized, discrete walk-in clinics where anybody could go to get something off their chest, ask for help, get a mental health check-up. Is there even any such thing? I think we all know when somebody else is slipping off the deep end, but is there a self-help test for a person to do himself, to check his connection to reality?

I've talked to mental health professionals about this, and the system seems to be based on triage: There's no money for anybody who isn't already a danger to others or himself. At that point, most people are beyond asking for help. So we wait till they hurt themselves, or somebody else. Good system, hunh?

It's like saying, if you can walk, we can't treat you; come back when you can't walk. Or, if your symptoms are not yet contagious or disturbing to others, we can't treat your infection. Hey, if you really needed mental health treatment, you would have been dragged in here by the cops. Go kill somebody and then we'll see you.

The thing is, this guy was dragged in by the cops. He was seen by a counselor. He was already too far gone for casual treatment, but he wasn't far gone enough to commit him to an institution, involuntarily. And he was too far gone to commit himself. Catch 22. The system itself is crazy.

If we can't provide for early intervention, mental illness is just like any other ailment: It just gets worse and worse until there can be no good outcome. Funding community-based facilities and educating the public as to the necessity of good mental health care seems like the only rational way out of this. Everybody should have the means and the motivation to monitor and manage their own mental health. It should be taught to children like basic hygiene. That fact that it isn't just stinks.

Even the smelliest gun-nuts have to admit the problem is that people who are severely mentally ill should not be handling loaded weapons, especially around children. Their children.

I mean, John Wayne would have just beaten all those students and teachers up, not shot them unarmed. Then they would have all had a drink together and organized a posse to go shoot somebody else. And then the old alcoholic Doc would fix them up and everybody would live happily ever after. The end.