CHARLIE MITCHELL: Prosperity appears to dampen inclination to violent crimes

For 28 years, possession of a handgun in Chicago was a crime, akin to possession of marijuana or cocaine.
For 28 years, violent crimes, including those with handguns, increased in Chicago. The homicide rate there is now 2.7 times the national average.
To the logical mind, that says one of two things. Either (1) the rate of violence would have increased even more without the ban or (2) banning guns is a fool’s errand – treating a symptom rather than the source of violent crime.
When it comes to firearms restrictions, Mississippi may have the least in America.
Folks here, as everywhere, are subject to federal limitations such as waiting periods, background checks and limits on capacity and “punch.” The state has a law against felons possessing firearms and bans carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. Weapons can’t be taken into locations where prohibited by posting, such as school campuses, hospitals and malls – but otherwise pretty much anything goes.
Mississippi also has a high overall homicide rate. Killings (by all methods) took the lives of 8.1 per 100,000 residents in 2008, putting the state third behind only Louisiana (11.9) and Maryland (8.8). The national rate is 5.4 per 100,000.
Think about it. A city with a complete handgun ban (Chicago) has a high homicide rate and a state (Mississippi) with very liberal gun laws also has a high homicide rate.
Let’s dig deeper.
Inside Mississippi, homicide rates vary widely. The official rates for Southhaven, Oxford and Madison are 0.0, while the rates for Greenville are 4.2 times the national average and Jackson are 3.24 times the national average.
What we know about Southhaven, Oxford and Madison is that they are the state’s locales with the lowest unemployment, highest per-capita income and highest average education. What we know about Greenville and Jackson is that they are, well, struggling.
The correlation pans out across other Mississippi cities. The higher the “prosperity index,” the lower the rate of violent crime. Tupelo .37; Natchez 1.46; Greenwood 1.47, Vicksburg 1.49 and Gulfport 1.98.
So it seems that whether guns are outlawed has very little to do with crime and what matters most is whether people have jobs and opportunity.
Ending its session this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Chicago’s 28-year handgun ban unconstitutional. Not to be outdone, the Chicago city council quickly voted 45-0 to enact a “modified” law saying residents could have guns, but only in their homes (not their yards) and only if registered and if owners took training courses.
“Either we enact new and reasonable handgun laws in Chicago to protect our residents – as the council has done – or we do nothing and risk greater gun violence in our streets and in our homes,” trumpeted Mayor Richard Daley. Poppycock. The end-run of the Supreme Court decision was pure politics. The new law is as meaningless as the old one.
As many are aware, the court’s decision this month followed a similar ruling last year that applied only to Washington, D.C., which also had a decades-old firearms ban.
For what it’s worth, D.C.’s ban was in effect during the first Gulf War. Ben Best, who tallies causes of death, calculated that the chance of being murdered in Washington in 1990 was three times greater than the chance of an American soldier being killed in that war. That’s right. To walk Pennsylvania Avenue was statistically more dangerous than the march from Kuwait City to Baghdad.
The poverty and despair parallels can also be found at the state-to-state and international levels.
The safest states in America in 2003 in terms of homicide were Maine, South Dakota, New Hampshire and Iowa. There are no sharp differences between their gun laws and those of Nevada, which joined Louisiana, Mississippi and Maryland as “most dangerous.”
The world’s highest homicide rates were in Colombia, South Africa, Jamaica and Venezuela and the world’s lowest rates were in Slovenia, Austria, Sweden and Switzerland. Again, prosperity presents itself as a far more significant difference than the availability of a firearm.
Of course, it comes down to this: Elected officials, no matter how well-meaning, have only indirect power over the availability of jobs, the vigor of commerce or individual desire to achieve. What they can do – and choose to do – is cater to people’s fears by passing laws that appear to have some effect but, over time, prove to be nothing more than words on paper.
The statistics say a sure way to make our local streets and the whole world safer is to foster a growing sense of well-being among citizens. The other stuff is window-dressing at best, or, viewed cynically, a purposeful deception.
Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail cmitchell@vicksburgpost.com.

Charlie Mitchell