The powerful 2011 film “We Need to Talk About Kevin” captures all too realistically the coming of age of a suburban mass murderer: the brittle mother, the detached father, the indulgence of bad behavior, the therapeutic doping with mood-altering drugs, the increasing desperation of the parents.
Like Newtown’s real-life Adam Lanza, the fictional Kevin lives in a large home in an affluent New York suburb and climaxes his deranged young life by shooting and killing one of his parents and many of his classmates. The only difference is that Kevin uses a bow and arrow.
By using a rifle, Lanza allowed politicians and the media to ignore all the personal and cultural failings he shared with Kevin – and just about every other school shooter – and focus on the most superficial of all variables, the weapon.
No one in the media, of course, has proved more aggressively superficial than CNN’s Piers Morgan, the most regrettable British import since Mad Cow Disease.
Like most of his colleagues, Morgan chooses to know as little as he can about the root causes of murder in America and focuses on the anomalous cases like Aurora and Newtown.
The 12,000 or so Americans murdered each year who do not get shot by rifles and who would not watch CNN on a bet, he apparently could care less about. The elected officials whose constituents are most at risk have likewise remained indifferent to the mayhem and ignorant of the facts behind it.
In a popular YouTube video, the unnamed narrator, who posts as “Amidst the Noise,” explores some of those facts. He makes the inarguable case that since 1992 both the violent crime rate and the homicide rate in America have dropped by half: 757 per 100,000 to 386 per 100,000 for violent crime; and 9.3 per 100,000 to 4.7 per 100,000 for homicide.
Oddly enough, as the narrator notes, “No one is taking credit for [the decrease in crime].” One reason that no one takes credit is because the drop in crime parallels an increase in gun ownership and concealed-carry permits.
By contrast, the official violent crime rate in Morgan’s almost gun-free England is nearly four times as high as our own at 1,361 per 100,000. Gun-control advocates argue that these numbers are calculated differently, and they may well be, but they speak to a larger truth.
In my last visit to London this past May, I saw British police patrolling the neighborhood in pairs with “assault rifles” at the ready. You don’t see that in Manhattan.
To be sure, the homicide rate in England and Wales, roughly 1.3 per 100,000, is considerably lower than in the United States, but those numbers ignore the distribution of crime in America.
Living in Kansas City, Mo., I get to see that distribution play out on an almost daily basis. In the last five years, Kansas City has averaged 113 murders a year, or roughly 25 per 100,000 people, but these numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Close to 90 percent of Kansas City murders took place in three of six police patrol districts. Zooming in even closer, one zip code alone, in the one year analyzed by the Kansas City Star, accounted for more than 20 percent of the city’s murders.
Immediately across the state line is the most populous county in Kansas, the largely suburban Johnson County. Demographically, it is 82 percent non-Hispanic white, and in the 2012 election, it gave 58 percent of its vote to Romney.
Although statistics are hard to come by, guns are commonplace in Johnson County. Political candidates routinely host skeet shooting or pheasant hunting events, and at one fundraiser I attended in a rural part of the county, guests got to shoot the host’s .50-caliber machine gun. Many of my Kansas friends, if not most, have concealed-carry permits.
Yet for all the guns, over the course of the last nine years, the county’s 550,000 people have been averaging less than seven murders a year, a homicide rate of 1.2 per 100,000, almost exactly the same as Britain’s.
A resident of Kansas City’s most lethal zip code, 64130 by number, is roughly 80 times more likely to be murdered than a resident of Johnson County despite the fact that gun ownership is assuredly higher in Johnson County.
If I were to single out the one statistic that distinguishes life chances in the two communities, only miles apart, it would be this: 56 percent of all Johnson County households are two-parent families. In zip code 64130, that number is 7 percent.
The core reason for the murder differential is self-evident. About 50 or so years ago, encouraged by a marvelously perverse social welfare system, fatherless boys began to reach critical mass in just about every central city in America, Kansas City’s included.
With little extended family, less faith, few fathers and no effort at school to endear the young rapscallions to God, nation, married life, or meaningful civic duty, boys turned to the streets, and those streets turned into jungles.
In Kansas City, young black men account for more than two-thirds of all murders, both as victims and suspects, although they comprise less than one-tenth of the population.
Alas, our best citizens refuse to talk about any of this stuff lest they be accused of sounding racist or even “right wing.” They revert instead to the tried, true and superficial: jobs, dropout rates, demographic shifts, bad schools, the inevitable racism and that most reliable of chestnuts, guns.
“You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” said Rahm Emanuel all too sincerely. “And what I mean by that, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
Yeah, like boost your ratings.