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Shooting a hole in the debate over gun control

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POSTED May 9, 2013 12:55 a.m.

Here’s a little nugget for those embroiled in the debate over gun control: Young men kill.

It is a disturbing little fact that everyone seems to want to ignore.

The two latest studies released this week - one from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and the other from the private Pew Research Center - show gun-related homicides dropped 39 percent from 18,253 in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011. When those statistics are measured against population growth, gun homicides per 100,000 people plummeted 49 percent going from 7 in 1993 to 3.6 in 2010.

Non-fatal gun crimes plunged 70 percent. They went from 1.5 million in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011.

No one is going to argue that the drop in gun violence is sufficient. The reason why most of us believe it is on the upswing has everything to do with perception created courtesy of instant communication ranging from 24-hour cable TV news to social media.

The proliferation of the coverage of real violence - along with its make-believe cousin in the entertainment world - jades efforts to collectively find real solutions.

Peel back all of the fear and mongering and you’ll see something that is startling: The crime rate as a whole - and gun violence in general - is declining as the population ages.

Crime and murder is a young man’s game.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that between 1980 and 2008 65.5 percent of all offenders were between the ages of 18 and 34. The same age grouping represented 72.7 percent of those convicted of felony murder, 73.1 percent of sex-related murders, 76.4 percent of drug-related murders, 70.2 percent of gang-related murders, 60.7 percent of murders stemming from arguments, and 53.6 percent of workplace murders.

The same age grouping accounted for 53.1 percent of all victims.

Males, based on the Justice Department figures, were seven times more likely than females to commit murder in 2008.

Even more startling is the fact 47.4 percent of all homicide victims are black and 52.5 percent of the offenders are blacks between 1980 and 2008.  Whites account for 50.3 percent of the victims and 45.3 percent of the murderers. Other races accounted for 2.3 percent of the victims and 2.2 percent of the offenders.

And in 78.1 percent of the cases between 1980 and 2008 the murderer was a non-stranger with 49.4 percent being an acquaintance, 10 percent a spouse, 12.4 percent other family, and 6.3 percent boyfriend/girlfriend.

All of this, of course, is cold statistics. Put a face and name to a murder victim - especially one you know - and it doesn’t matter. It is one murder too many.

What it does underscore, though, is the way we are going about trying to further reduce violence might not be very effective at all.

It’s a given that young people have been prone to be the source of most killing - and victims of killing - through the ages.  Blame it on bravado, arrogance, out-of-control testosterone or whatever.  It’s magnified in the United States by what some would refer to as our gun culture. But the bottom line - as trite as it may sound - is guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

While it makes sense to keep guns out of the hands of the unbalanced, felons and such it still doesn’t address the underlying problem.

Guns have always been around and are arguably as accessible a century ago. Technology has made them more efficient, accurate, and deadly, no doubt about it. But is technology what prompts people to kill?

Values - one of the key building blocks of society - have declined steadily. While the original 10 Commandments are Biblical-based, if you take the fifth through 10th commandments they represent standards that society needs to avoid chaos.

We aren’t scoring very high on any of those six points. Perhaps we never have.

But societies where they pay more than just lip service to such a code of conduct there tends to be a much lower murder rate.

We can pass all of the gun laws we want, but until we get to the point where certain standards of behavior in society are ingrained and adults lead by example, how can we possibly expect young people to act any differently? All the laws in the world don’t matter if the underlying root of a problem isn’t addressed.

Instead of worrying about the dress or quirks of younger people or acting as if mentoring isn’t the concern of everyone, we should try connecting with and listening to young people.

In the long run, it is a much more effective way at reducing violence than spending energy and emotion on creating a law on a piece of paper that will be difficult at best to enforce.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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