Antony Davies & James Harrigan: Peduto, council should learn facts on gun violence
There are few forces as pernicious as politicians who feel the need to “do something,” but that’s what we have in Pittsburgh in the wake of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting.
Predictably, Pittsburgh’s mayor and city council have endorsed various restrictions on semi-automatic weapons. This is nothing but political posturing. Included in the restrictions are bans on a list of some, but not all, semi-automatic rifles. The models on the list are similar in appearance to the rifle the Tree of LIfe shooter used, though they function in precisely the same way as all other semi-automatic weapons. But to a politician, banning them is perfectly reasonable. It’s as if, concerned with deaths due to speeding, the mayor and city council decided to ban red cars, leaving all others on the road.
Calling this political posturing is the nicest thing we can say. A look at the data reveals why.
In 2017, the last year for which data are available, there were more than 15,000 murders in the United States. Of these, 403 were committed with rifles — not just “assault weapons,” but all rifles combined. These scary weapons are used so infrequently that 70 percent more Americans are murdered by hands, fists, and feet than with the weapons Pittsburgh’s politicians want to ban.
This is not news to gun owners, Mayor Bill Peduto, or the city council. The only people who are fooled by the proposed bans are people who know nothing about guns in the first place. And that’s just fine with politicians, because their goal isn’t to solve a “gun problem.” Their goal is to whip their supporters into a frenzy every election season. Anti-gun politicians garner votes in exchange for appearing to be “doing something.” Pro-gun politicians get votes in exchange for standing firm in defense of the Second Amendment. And campaign contributions keep right on flowing. Both sides benefit from keeping guns in the news.
How do we know? Because politicians continue to argue over guns despite the fact that violent crime in the United States has been falling like a stone for decades. According to the FBI, the violent crime rate in the United States today is down 50 percent versus 25 years ago. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it’s down almost 75 percent.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that Americans today are more than twice as likely to die as a result of “contact with a powered lawnmower” than from being shot with a rifle, and four times more likely to die falling out of trees.
What’s gone up is the reporting of violent crime. When shootings of any kind happen, nonstop media coverage ensues because shootings are unusual, and the unusual sells advertising time.
Peduto and Pittsburgh City Council are guilty of grandstanding of the most despicable kind: They are preying on people’s fears to advance their own careers. What they should be doing is telling the people of Pittsburgh that the city has been through a terrible ordeal that was the fault of a deranged person. If they really need to “do something,” they should start with learning the facts about gun violence in the United States. With those in hand, figuring out what policies might actually help would be a lot easier.
Antony Davies is associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. James Harrigan teaches in the department of Political Economy and Moral Science at the University of Arizona. They host the weekly podcast, Words & Numbers.