If you watch the news and are up on your political Twitters, you’ve probably heard that our country is going to shit. I’m not going to argue with that, as in many ways it probably is. But there’s been this growing perception that the US is becoming a more violent, dangerous place to live. Be it due to rampant gun ownership or the threat of terrorism, or, according to some, the constant menace of Florida alligators, many feel that the US isn’t the safest place to live anymore. I know my girlfriend (who is from Thailand) has expressed these feelings recently. When she does I just remind her that in Thailand you can run someone over with your car and if you have money you’ll get off scot-free. She doesn’t try to deny it.
Anyway, I have a couple thoughts on the issue of safety in the US, my goal being to rain on your rain.
Thought number one: the US is not becoming more dangerous.
But thanks to the ever-quickening reach and speed of all the various media, we now get 24-hour news cycles of bad news. Local deaths are no longer confined to local news paper and news stations; they spread across Twitter and the blogosphere like wildfire, if sensational or tragic enough.
Now there are other measures of “safety” aside from murder rates, but that’s one of the biggest metrics we have. Our conversations are usually centered on people being killed. Apropos of that, here are a couple of bullet points from the FBI’s website:
- In 2013, the estimated number of murders in the nation was 14,196. This was a 4.4 percent decrease from the 2012 estimate, a 7.8 percent decrease from the 2009 figure, and a 12.1 percent drop from the number in 2004.
- There were 4.5 murders per 100,000 people. The murder rate fell 5.1 percent in 2013 compared with the 2012 rate. The murder rate was down from the rates in 2009 (10.5 percent) and 2004 (18.3 percent). (See Tables 1 and 1A.)
Murder rates nationally have been on the decline for years. And others have written about this, but crime has been falling as gun ownership has risen in the US, incidentally.
Terrorism and mass shootings have contributed largely to the perception that things are getting worse, I think. There are a lot of facts to process, however. The 1990s have actually been the worse decade for mass shootings thus far in the US. I would argue that the rise of radical Islamist terrorism is the main driver of the recent surge in attacks. And that’s something that’s hardly confined to the US.
That brings me to thought number two: the US ain’t that bad, comparatively.
The CDC is missing homicide data for a lot of countries. But let’s look at an infographic map of the data we do have.
The US really ain’t really that much more pink than most of the rest of the world. Meaning we don’t really kill each other a whole lot more than people in other countries. There may be more gun deaths in the US than a majority of other nations, but surprise surprise that people find other ways to murder each other.
Unfortunately I don’t have the numbers to compare reptile-related deaths across countries. And I don’t mean to make light of recent tragedies; it certainly is sad to hear of children dying by an means.
But by its very nature and the nature of humanity, the world is not a safe place. This doesn’t mean we should be afraid to go out and live our lives, or keep our children cloistered away. Our world is no Barsoom, either; you’re not going to step outside and be gored by a horrible plant man or great white ape. But things do happen and people do die. At least in the US (in parts anyway) our God-given right to bear and use arms in self-defense is recognized and protected. For now, at least safety-wise, I’d say the US isn’t such a bad place to live.