The Corner

Guns Don’t Kill Criminals, Criminals Kill Criminals

As a former crime-stats geek, I think this is fascinating. Everyone knew that criminals were more likely to be murdered than law-abiding citizens. But the numbers these days are staggering. In Baltimore 91 percent of murder victims have criminal records. The tendency was always there, but this appears to be a real spike. The percentage in Baltimore of criminal victims was 74% just a decade ago. From the USA Today story:

In Newark, where three young friends with no apparent links to crime were executed Aug. 4, roughly 85% of victims killed in the first six months of this year had criminal records, on par with the percentage in 2005 but up from 81% last year, police statistics show.

David Kennedy, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says the rise in criminals killing criminals has escaped policymakers’ attention.

“The notion that these (murders) are random bolts of lightning, which is the commonly held image, is not the reality,” says Kennedy, who has examined the backgrounds of murder suspects and victims in multiple U.S. cities. “It happens, but it doesn’t happen often.”

The slaying of truly innocent victims is so unusual in Baltimore that the chief prosecutor says the city has become dangerously numb to the carnage. “If we don’t put human faces on the victims, we will become desensitized,” State Attorney Patricia Jessamy says.

This helps explain why even though homicides have been creeping up in many places, crime remains such a small political issue compared to the 1980s and 1990s. Lots of people today forget — or were too young to realize — what an amazingly salient issue crime used to be in national politics. The Willie Horton ad (which I think was perfectly defensible, but you folks can debate that without me) is remembered today as purely an example of evil Republican racial politics. But what’s forgotten is that at least as salient as the race issue (and I would argue much more so) was the crime issue, which is why Horton’s face was beamed into peoples’ homes in the first place.

If, heaven forbid, murder rates of law-abiding citizens spikes again, you can be sure it’ll become political again.

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