How to Think About Guns (Ep. 114)
Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “How to Think About Guns.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript here; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
This episode is a straightforward conversation between Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt, keeping in mind recent events like the Newtown, Ct., school massacre and long-standing traditions like the American embrace of guns.
Levitt has focused much of his academic career on crime research, including all sorts of gun policies that do and do not prevent violence. He has also analyzed the relationship between the economy and the crime rate, whether increased police presence affects crime, and whether deterrents like capital punishment and sentence enhancements actually work.
We begin this episode with some basic data. In the U.S., there are roughly 11,000 gun homicides and 20,000 gun suicides a year. (Our podcast “The Suicide Paradox” looked into why we hear so much less about the suicides than the homicides.) What we hear about more than anything are the relatively rare but extremely disturbing mass shootings. From the podcast:
Mother Jones magazine recently built a database of mass shootings – four or more fatalities — over the past 30 years. Not everyone likes this database – it excludes, for instance, all gang shootings and armed robberies. But here are those numbers: since 1982, there have been 62 mass shootings with 513 fatalities, or an average of 2 mass shootings and 16.5 fatalities a year. (Now, remember, keep in mind there are 11,000 gun murders each year in total.) Over just the past 10 years, those numbers are a bit higher – about 3 shootings a year, with 26 fatalities. But 2012 was a very bad year: 7 shootings with 72 fatalities, more than 4 times the average number of victims in a year from mass shootings.
Levitt helps put all these numbers in context, and make sense of overall crime trends. We also hear what he thinks about current proposed gun policy. He’s not optimistic:
LEVITT: I would just say that anyone with any sense looks at the current political climate, thinks about the kinds of proposals that are being made and accepts the fact that none of these proposals are going to have any real impact at all.
So what could diminish gun violence? We’ve asked that question before; good answers are hard to come by. Levitt says mandatory sentence enhancements work. You’ll also hear about Geoffrey Canada‘s book Fist Stick Knife Gun, which might change the way you think about violence in general.