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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Crime most foul

That sounds really imposing when Hercule Poirot says it as portrayed by David Suchet. "Crime most foul" or "Murder most foul" - he says that a lot. Of course, the real crimes - murders included - are never resolved either with Hercule Poirot's amount of panache or within the average time allotted for an Agatha Christie TV series episode (somewhere between an hour and forty five minutes to two and a half hours). Not to mention the fact that a lot more crimes go unnoticed and unsolved in real life than in our favorite TV shows.

United States of America, being one of the largest countries in the world with the broadest TV coverage makes the news whenever something big happens. Or rather, "something big" is perceived as such because it is instantly trumpeted all over the world - for all to see and to react to their chosen levels of extreme. Case in point? The most recent shooting at a Sikh Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I don't think it took more than an hour for the news to circle the internet. As usual, American gun owners were bashed, as usual, there were fingers pointed at the US as the most violent country in the world, as usual, there was screaming and shouting and minimum fact checking, because who needs that? Facts are boring, and why bother in the midst of all this excitement of making assumptions and passing blame?

Let me make this perfectly clear - all crime is terrible. From the smallest picking of the pocket to genocide - it is all bad, because it is based on the presumption that one human being is somehow entitled to more than other human beings. Whether that "more" is a $10 bill, a stolen bag of groceries, or someone's life, or multiple lives - there is something at the core that is most foul.

It is, however, a different thing entirely when people extrapolate what happened in one small point of the world to an entire city, state, country, or an entire group of people. USA gets the brunt of it often, and the brunt is quite... well... brunty, because it is, as a country, constantly in the public eye of the world. US is like the world's Hollywood celebrity - everything it does gets recorded, reported and interpreted in a blink of an eye.

I don't like everything that goes on in the US, but I do want to share some figures collected by independent organizations, including those based in other countries, the countries that often criticized US policies, to dispel some common myths that arise routinely when tragedy strikes in the United States.

US is the most dangerous country in the world. People there are crazy! - False

The article about the countries with the highest murder rates in the world, release in October, 2011 following the publication of a report by Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, lists El Salvador, Iraq, Jamaica, Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Lesotho as the world's top ten hot spots. United States of America is not listed in the top 10, nor are any of its cities listed in the list of top 10 most dangerous cities in the world.

If we look at the homicide map of the world indicating the number of homicides per 100,000 population in 2010, the US is in the second lowest rate category. So, before berating the United States for its homicide record, perhaps you should consider the rest of the world and take a glance a bit to the south (Mexico) or slightly to the north-east (Greenland) to find places that have higher homicide rates. You may look up detailed homicide rates and how they have changed over the years here.

These mass shootings go on ALL THE TIME in America. They are the worst. No one in the world has that problem - False

Below is the list of the worst mass shootings that took place in the world over the last 46 years. These do not include war crimes, such as mass executions during the conflicts in Africa, in Indonesia, in Europe or in the Middle East (think Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, etc.). This also does not include shootings where the perpetrator clearly intended to kill more people, but the final death count was less than 5 (such as the Dawson College shooting in Montreal in 2006 or the Royal Oak, Michigan shooting in 1991)

August 5, 2012: Milwaukee, WI - USA - 7 killed, number of wounded not confirmed at this time

July 20, 2012: Aurora, CO - USA - 12 killed, 58 wounded

July 22, 2011: Oslo,Norway + youth camp, Norway - 77 killed, 242 wounded

June 2, 2010: Cumbria, UK - 12 killed, 11 wounded

Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood, TX: USA - 13 killed, 24 wounded

April 30, 2009: Baku, Azerbajan - 12 killed, several wounded (numbers not confirmed)

March 10, 2009: Multiple locations,Alabama, USA - 10 killed, 0 wounded

Sept. 23, 2008: Kauhajoki, Finland - 10 killed, 0 wounded

Nov. 7, 2007: Tuusula, Finland - 8 killed, 1 wounded

April 16, 2007: Blacksburg, VA, USA - 32 killed, 25 wounded

April 26, 2002: Erfurt, Germany - 5 killed, 14 wounded

April 20, 1999: Littleton, CO, USA - 13 killed, 26 wounded

April 28, 1996: Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia - 35 killed, 23 wounded

March 13, 1996: Dunblane, Scotland, UK - 17 killed, 0 wounded

Oct. 16, 1991: Killeen, TX, USA - 23 killed, 20 wounded

June 18, 1990: Jacksonville, FL, USA - 10 killed, 4 wounded

Dec. 6, 1989: Montreal, Canada - 14 killed, 14 wounded

Aug. 19, 1987: Hungerford, UK - 17 killed, 15 wounded

Aug. 20, 1986: Edmond, Oklahoma, USA - 14 killed, 6 wounded

July 18, 1984: San Ysidro, CA, USA - 21 killed, 19 wounded

July 12, 1976: Fullerton, CA, USA - 7 killed, 2 wounded

Aug. 1, 1966: Austin, TX, USA - 16 killed, 31 wounded

It certainly does look bad for the US, doesn't it? 12 mass shootings in 46 years, compared to much lower numbers for other countries. Except, it's not obvious at all. To begin with, this works out to one big one every 3-4 years in the US - not every week as some would like to claim. Second, if we look at the populations of the countries involved, the picture becomes rather different.

For example, Finland 1.679% of America's population, shouldn't it also have the same percentage of mass shooting rate per year? It doesn't - its rate amounts to one sixth of America's rate. Or let's take the UK. It has one fifth of America's population, but one fourth of its mass shooting rate.

The last but not the least, the percentage of the population killed in a mass shooting over 46 years comes out to be the highest in Norway, followed by the UK, with the US being the third. Nor are the US shootings the worst. The Oslo and Port Arthur shootings have the highest numbers of people killed.

This does, however throw a wrench into yet another absolute statement so many people like to make: harsher gun laws mean less crime. - False.

If we look at the dates on the list above - the mass shootings in the US took place all over the country. Some of the states involved have very strict gun laws, some - very loose gun laws, and some fall in the middle. But they still had mass shootings. The jury is out to this day as to how exactly the gun laws fit into the formula that drives the rate for crimes committed specifically with the involvement of firearms. I like this article written by Guardian's Simon Rogers (yes, he is a Brit), overlapping US gun crime and gun law maps and arriving to some interesting conclusions that are far from straightforward.

The UK tried to mitigate by tightening its gun laws significantly following the 1987 Hungerford shooting. Sadly, this did not make it immune to the two massacres that followed, that were just as bad as the one that caused the changes in the gun laws in the first place.

The Aussies seem to be doing better, although their pre- and post-gun ban rates are still at odds, when one starts analyzing them by population, concentration of people in specific locations and economic factors. What can I tell you? It is never simple when we are talking about why some people want to kill other people. Pointing at one thing and saying, "This is the one! This will fix everything!" doesn't work.

It doesn't all begin or end with firearms, however. That is why I named this post Crime most foul - not Gun crime most foul. Almost 13,000 murders were committed in the United States in 2010. Of those, 67.52% were committed with firearms - a large figure, granted, however that still leaves 32.47%. That's still a lot of murders - performed by everything from brass knuckles to household objects to bare hands, all of them perfectly legal and available to anyone without a license, a test, or any form of state or federal registration. To those who say, "One death from a gun is one too many," how about "One death from a knife," or "One death from an axe," or "One death by strangulation"? What do you plan to do about those?

Approximately 1,600 women die in the United States every year due to injuries sustained as the result of domestic violence. A small sub-section of the murder total - small, that is, to people who never had to bury someone killed through domestic violence. It is a fact that 80-90% of deaths in those cases are by bare hands. (Side note: that is why self-defense-focused martial arts, such as aikido, teach choked defenses during the first or second class - especially to female students.) The rest are inflicted by beating with household objects, throwing the victim against hard surfaces, etc. Yes, there are domestic violence shootings too. But shootings do not constitute the majority of methods, by which these women die.

If one death is too many, what are we going to do about violent men who don't need guns to kill someone? Because clearly, they do exist. ...As do axe murderers, knifers, and mothers who drown their children in bath tubs. I have yet to hear anyone propose what should be done about those crime areas. Are they not terrible? Do they not make the news? Do they not reflect badly on our societies? Or are we going to focus only on crimes committed with a weapon we don't approve of?

Crime in the US is outrageous! They have the worst criminals in the world and they won't do anything about them. - False.

Yes, we have crime in the US. Yes, our law enforcement leaves much to be desired. There appears to be a small fraction of good cops who really are willing and eager to "serve and protect" and a vast multitude of others who couldn't be found in a bad area of town with a floodlight, especially when there is a crime in progress.

After murder, the crime considered severe enough for a death penalty is rape - at least it is in the United States. And yes, rape rates are high - which is why, incidentally, so many women opt to arm themselves with fire arms and other weapons. Having been sexually assaulted myself, I can testify - the United States is not the safest country in the world. But to be fair, I must say that it is also not the worst.

Here are the rape statistics by count (total per year) and by rate (number per 100,000 population). I wish I had more recent data, but this will have to do. So, as of 2009, the following countries were the worst 10 when it came to rape rates.

#1 - Lesotho - 91.6

#2 - Trinidad and Tobago - 58.4

#3 - Sweden - 53.2 (yes, that was Sweden you just saw)

#4 - Korea - 33.7

#5 - New Zealand - 30.9

#6 - United States - 28.6

#7 - Belgium - 26.3

#8 - Zimbabwe - 25.6

#9 - United Kingdom (England and Wales) - 24.1

#10 - United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) - 22.3

We have already established that the impact of stricter gun laws upon gun crimes is iffy at best. Judging by this list, the impact of stricter gun laws upon rape is even iffier.

Crime is the worst in the third world countries. And in the United States, of course. - False.

For starters, looking back at the top 10 rape list - I dare you to face a Swede and tell him that his country is third world. Or a New Zealander. Or a Belgian. Or a Brit. Go ahead - let me know how that works out for you.

No, I haven't forgotten our top 10 most dangerous countries and 10 most dangerous cities lists. I can see how so many might dismiss them as "hot spots" or "third world" or "barbaric". That, however, does not exempt the so-called "civilized world" from sporting a lousy crime record of its own.

If anyone bothered to look up crime statistics in Europe, the following unhappy picture would have faced them in 2009 - these are violent crime rates per 100,000 (here is a good definition of violent crime to clarify what would be included in these numbers).

United Kingdom - 2,034

Austria - 1,677

Sweden - 1,123

Belgium - 1,006

Finland - 738

Netherlands - 676

Luxembourg - 565

France - 504

The same year, elsewhere in the world, the violent crime rates were as follows:

United States - 466

Canada - 935

Australia - 92 (go Aussies!)

South Africa - 1,609

I don't know about anyone else, but that does not look great for Europe. And that was only 3 years ago. Unless any of these countries managed to bump down their violent crime rate by anywhere from 300 to 1,500 per 100,000 of population since then (which I doubt), Europe's violent crime record is far from stellar - guns or no guns. With fewer firearms involved, it appears that people outside of the US are simply finding other ways to commit aggravated assault, arson, assault and battery, domestic violence, hate crimes, homicide, manslaughter, mayhem, murder, terrorism and theft/larceny.

Today is a tough day for the United States that comes on the heels of another one that took place just recently. As tempted as you may be to lay blame and make generalized statements, this is the least appropriate time to do so. I suggest you check your facts, look in the mirror, and consider the problems in your own back yard.

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