I made the mistake of clicking on something that Michael Moore said on facebook–you can feel my compounding my own foolishness–and then reading the comments worldwide congratulating Moore for speaking the truth. Here is what he said:
With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA — I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) “interests.” The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do — and yet we don’t seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: “Why us? What is it about US?” Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won’t pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won’t consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” they’ve got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: “Guns don’t kill people — Americans kill people.” Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.
Now, I am actually strongly to the left on Michael Moore on both economics and culture. I have no problem with moderate gun control, although I wish people would quit cherrypicking countries were it has worked (Korea, Japan, Canada) and ignoring countries were it has not (Mexico, Russia). Or even cities in the US where moderate reforms worked (New York City) versus places where they did not (Washington, DC).
But here is the problem with what Michael Moore has said: Most of it is false.
1) “We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) ‘interests.'”
This is true in a sense, but completely superficial. Moore is trying to make it appear that the USA is uniquely violent in its history. This is false, no modern nation state that I can think of did not come into its modern incarnation except through war of conquest, imperialism, or national liberation. While the later may be justified, they are all violent.
2) “While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do”
This is so wrong, it is hard to believe it is not an out and out politically motivated lie. Do not believe me, looks look at what UNODC has to say on it:
|El Salvador||69.2||4,308||Americas||Central America|
|Ivory Coast||56.9||10,801||Africa||Western Africa|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||39.2||43||Americas||Caribbean|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||38.2||20||Americas||Caribbean|
|South Africa||31.8||15,940||Africa||Southern Africa|
|Trinidad and Tobago||31.3||407||Americas||Caribbean|
|Central African Republic||29.3||1,240||Africa||Middle Africa|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||22.9||25||Americas||Caribbean|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||21.7||13,558||Africa||Middle Africa|
|Equatorial Guinea||20.7||137||Africa||Middle Africa|
|Burkina Faso||18.0||2,876||Africa||Western Africa|
|North Korea||15.2||3,658||Asia||Eastern Asia|
|Sierra Leone||14.9||837||Africa||Western Africa|
|French Guiana||13.3||30||Americas||South America|
|Papua New Guinea||13.0||854||Oceania||Melanesia|
|Cape Verde||11.6||56||Africa||Western Africa|
|Costa Rica||10.0||474||Americas||Central America|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||8.7||3||Americas||Caribbean|
|British Virgin Islands||8.6||2||Americas||Caribbean|
|Antigua and Barbuda||6.8||6||Americas||Caribbean|
|United States||4.8||14,173||Americas||Northern America|
Whole regions of the world have more homicide than the US. How can it be number 1 in letting it citizens die in these kinds of ways?
But let’s limit it to OECD countries: Here the US is an outlier with some BIG exceptions which are Estonia and Mexico which the writer deliberately left out of the data set as well as Brazil and Russia, which the author does not acknowledge she left out. But accepting the death rates, this is still very misleading. According to the OECD safety index, the US is actually in good standing with the best on overall assaults. In fact, one of the safest countries in the OECD. It just if something DOES happen, you are more likely to die. Furthermore, the largest portion of the gun violence in the US is suicide. It accounts for about 60% of all gun-related deaths.
All this is a good argument for reasonable limits on handgun purchases; however, none of it implies that US has a unique culture of violence that worships guns.
So if we limit to mass shootings, are they getting worse?
Read the Daily Beast Covering the Department of Statistics. Mass shootings have been flat since the 70s.
Is the US alone in having Mass shootings? Which Moore does not state, but does imply.
. Sensible gun laws, affordable mental-health care, and reasonable security measures are all worthwhile, and would enhance the well being of millions of Americans. We shouldn’t, however, expect such efforts to take a big bite out of mass murder. Of course, a nibble or two would be reason enough.
Are mass shootings rare?
Despite what both Mother Jones and the Washington post say, yes. I agree with both Mother Jones on the number, it is 61 in 30 countries. I also agree that 1 is too many. However, Ezra Klein’s claim that 62 mass shootings make them not rare is pretty misleading. As Bloomberg reports:
The mass slaughters listed in the report caused the deaths of 547 people. Over the same three decades through 2012, that’s less than a tenth of 1 percent of the 559,347 people the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates were murdered in America.
The homicide rate in the US is 7 per 100,ooo varying a lot by region and county. The population was roughly 227,224,00 1 in 1980 and is estimated at 310,232,863 in 2010. Figuring that out per year, the percentage is something like 1 in 133 of being murdered. The chance you will be murdered in a mass shooting is less than .01 percent of that. I count that as rare.
I agree that the majority of the mass shooters are white men, but not disproportionately so like David Sirota suggested and Michael Moore has repeated on other occasions. In fact, Salon’s article on mass shooting by Andrew O’Hehir points out:
I’m not suggesting this is good news, but the stereotype that these kinds of shooters are invariably white men is less true than it used to be. In the last decade or so, almost every possible demographic has been represented: There have been two infamous campus shootings by Asian graduate students, one by a Native American teenager living on a Minnesota reservation, and a couple by African-Americans and Latinos. Overall, 43 of the 61 shooters in mass killings since 1982 have been white, which is only a little higher than the proportion of whites in the general population.
Sadly, the shooting in California this weekend follows the trend and also points out the increasing complicated notion of white identity. The man involved in his PUA-sounding, racist, hate-filled screed is clearly motivated by notions of both Asian and White supremacy, so it can’t be ruled out. However, he was bi-racial. As hispanics also increasingly identify white, it becomes clear that the social category of whiteness itself is changing in a way that makes even demarcating what does and does not account more difficult.
One can say that it is, however, almost all men committing this kind of violence.
Still, we don’t have evidence of a culture of violence that is unique to the US.
What about school shootings? Are they worse?
You will notice that the period around Columbine was actually a low point for school homicides. There was a spike in 2007 for reasons I do not understand. You will notice that like with mass shootings there is not a lot of sense to the numbers. The trend after 1998 is down, but with severe but brief spikes.
So if the net trend in school shootings is down, and mass shootings seem to randomly cluster, how do we have any idea what this is actually saying about violence?
To Moore’s next problem
3) “Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us.”
One, Moore’s wrong about it being 90%. At the most charitable reading, it is more like 70%.IF you approach a total ban, most polls put it at 20-30%. Here’s Gallup putting it at 27% in 2011 for an example. Still it does seem like the majority favor more restrictions on purchase and a national database. That brings me to two, how does it stand to reason that if a majority supports gun control, and congress is not responsive, how is that on the American people?
Like during the Roman Republic, where patronage made the Senate completely unresponsive to popular demand, the rich have a hugely disproportionate amount of influence.
A recent survey funded by the Russell Sage Foundation found that the policy preferences of the wealthy (average income over $1 million annually) vary widely from those of the general public. As Table 1 shows below, this survey found that the general public is more open than the wealthy to a variety of policies designed to reduce inequality and strengthen economic opportunity, including: raising the minimum wage, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, providing generous unemployment benefits, and directly creating jobs. For example, only 40 percent of the wealthy think the minimum wage should be high enough to prevent full-time workers from being in poverty while 78 percent of the general public holds this view. Affluent voters are also less supportive of labor unions and less likely to support laws that make it easier for workers to join unions—even as research shows that unions are crucial to enabling people to work their way into the middle class.
Representative Democracy, after all, is not particularly democratic, and, frankly, it never has been. Add to this low voter turn-out, highly motivated primary voters, and industry money. There is no evidence that getting a new round of politicians in. Furthermore, and this is unique to the US, there is no way to easily change the entire legislature over at once given that only 1/3 of the Senate is ever up for election at a time.
Sorry, Michael, that seems like victim blaming.
I know the moral outrage makes everyone feel good and feel good to agree with it in indignation or to denounce as a communist plot. Reality, however, supports none of that. Frankly, if you really wanted to get gun violence down, end the drug war, have a national gun registry, and work on unionization or some form of minimum income. Violence may be cultural, but culture has historical and material causes. You deal with the context instead of trying to shame people.
Also, for a person talking about how American fear is poisonous, Moore engages in a whole lot of fear-mongering.