Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Followup commentary on my last post

There has been some extended discussion over in the comments section at Aunt B's blog. Dolphin has replied to my commentary, so I have posted a response there. I'm posting his response and my followup below, for your reading pleasure.

UPDATE: dolphin has once again responded, and so have I. Additional entries added below.

dolphin wrote:

John the Texaner,

For not wanting to make a partisan argument, you sure are trying your best to do just that.

You ask why there are no Texan cities on the list? Good question, why not any New York cities, or Maine, or Virginia, or Illionois, or Maryland? The reason is simple. Because it’s a list of 15. There are over 10,000 cities in the US (according to the 2000 Census, a little outdated I know), so it’s obvious that ALOT more will be left off the list than included on it.

I think you’re dismissing the very logical conclusion of higher population = higher crime rate, while jumping to embrace conclusions that are far more dubious. You can’t simply dismiss the correlation between population and crime on the basis that the 6th highest population missed the list. I’m not suggesting that high population is THE factor that causes higher crime rates. I’m suggesting that it is a major one that interacts with a near infinity of other factors.

If a person who is willing to rob my house is walking down the street in the city and sees a 50″ HDtV sitting in my living room through my window, I’m likely to get robbed. On the other hand, if the exact same person is walking down my street in the country, they are far less likely to walk an acre and a half to my house just to see if there might be something inside they want to steal. I don’t think they care whether I am “dependent on government assistance in their everyday lives,” it’s a matter of convenience.

Then of course the question is whether that person would be walking down my street in the first time. If, for math simplicity, we assume that 10% of the population are potential criminals, then in a town of 1000, there are only 100 people who I’d have to worry about, where as I’d have to worry about 10,000 in a city of 100,000. And because of population density, I’d be even more likely to come in direct contact with 1 or more of those 100,000 in the city.

All of these make far more logical sense in explaining higher crime rates than wild speculation on people’s political views or attitudes towards the government.


John The Texaner wrote:


As I noted at the beginning of my post, I was exploring Jim's suggestion that the violent cities were democratic-leaning. They were. I left that argument where it ended.

I do admit that I didn't look at all the specific reasons for why Forbes listed the cities as "most violent", and it's likely an over crime/accident indicator they're looking at. Reviewing it now, the list includes both violent crimes and property crimes such as theft and larceny - which don't seem to me to be an accurate indicator of "danger" as applicable in this discussion.

As a note, you will never find Chicago on any of these lists. The reason for this is that Chicago does not report rape to the FBI, making it impossible to calculate a comparison to other US cities with regards to violent crime.

If we want to get more specific, we can look at murder rates per 100,000 as an indicator. Forbes has another list of most Murderous Cities, and it is a top 10 list. You can find the article here, and get a rundown of each city by clicking the "In Pictures: America's Most Murderous Cities" link.

Detriot (47.3) still tops the list by far, followed by Baltimore (43.3), New Orleans (37.6), Newark (37.4), St. Louis (37.2), Oakland (36.4), Washington (29.1), Cincinnati (28.8), Philadelphia (27.7), and Buffalo (26.4).

Still no Texas cities in there, but only one in the "South", being New Orleans.

I'm not dismissing that large cities tend to have higher rates of crime. In fact, I said that I do agree that it is a factor. I should have phrased it better. Correlation does not equal causation, and that was the specific point I was trying to make. While crime is higher in larger cities, there are plenty of large cities that lack the level of violent crime of smaller cities, so it is obvious that other factors come into play. I believe societal attitudes towards crime are a significant factor, and this was the point I was trying to make.

As for your HD TV example, you missed my point. In a society where criminals have little fear of resistance to the commission of crime, crime will flourish. If conditions exist that make a burglar or robber more likely to meet armed resistance, logically the risks to the criminal are higher and the criminal will be less likely to commit a high-risk crime.

Taking this instance of robbery as an example and the two cities I cited earlier - Houston and Philadelphia, let's compare statistics. I'm pulling these stats from the FBI crime statistics for 2007, which can be conveniently found on Wikipedia at Numbers are again per 100.000 in population.

Houston is a city of 2,169,544, with an instance of robbery of 529.

Philadelphia is a city of 1,435,533, with an instance of robbery of 715.

Despite its greater size and a significant influx of crime post-Katrina, Houston still comes in considerably lower than Philadelphia in robbery statistics.

I find it significant that a violent crime against a person is less likely in an environment where the possession of firearms for self-defense is considered the norm, as opposed to Philadelphia, where it is actively condemned by local authorities. The essence of my point here is not the guns, but the accepted societal norm of defending one's self, family, and home.

Guns are simply the best tools for accomplishing these aims when faced with criminal deadly force. They are tools of last resort, and an equalizer when push comes to shove in a life-threatening encounter.

As for your static example of 10% of the population to be flawed. While there is certainly a portion of the population that will be inclined to commit crimes, you completely ignore the social influence on the choice of an individual to pursue a life of crime. Where the personal risk and consequences of committing a crime are more severe, an individual would be less likely to pursue those paths. Were risk is low to an individual, the rewards may outweigh the possible risks involved, making criminal acts more attractive. If we want to talk in degrees of severity, one may find the low risk involved in petty theft more attractive than the high-risk robbery or burglary. When a population has been conditioned to offer no resistance to a criminal involved in a severe or violent crime, the low risk versus high reward in such an act transcends that of petty theft, and a criminal would be more inclined to commit the act.

To use recent international events as an example, we have a situation off the coast of Somalia where the violent act of piracy has gone almost completely unchecked. The risk in such a venture has become nearly zero, while the rewards of the crime are incredibly high. We have an environment where shipping companies and entire nations have written off the payment of huge ransoms as a part of doing business, and effectively encouraged Somali criminals to engage in acts of violent and organized crime. In the absence of risk and the presence of great reward, the crime of piracy has flourished.


dolphin wrote:

John, unless I’m severely misunderstanding you, you’re still basing your entire argument on speculation about people’s motivations, which you have no way of knowing. That and the fact that Houston doesn’t happen to appear on a few lists of 10-15 of 10,000+ cities.

Here’s your (apparent) assertions that I’d either outright dispute or at the very least argue that we need much more information before we could argue the validity of them:
1. Guns are the only way (or even the most effective way) one can defend oneself against a criminal.
2. There are a higher proportion of people who choose to pursue criminal activity in the city than in the country.
3. That there are a lower proportion of people willing to defend themselves in the city than in the country.
4. The notion that widespread gun ownership has a deterrent effect on crime.

And here’s the thing, I’m not a gun control proponent. Own all the guns you want, I’m just opposed to drawing really shakey conclusions on not enough information just because those conclusions might fit into your preconceived notions and agenda.



I'm basing nothing on motivations. I'm talking about social influence. I'll give you a very simple example:

A person may be motivated to break into my house and commit robbery or other heinous crimes against me and my loved ones. When I meet him with my shotgun ready to defend my family, I act to influence him to choose another path or pay the consequences of his choice to persist against me.

I chose Houston as an example because it is similar in size to Philadelphia, and provides a contrast in violent crime trends. I also chose it to provide a conservative example, knowing full well that Houston has a crime problem.. If I had wanted to make a drastic example with a closer population number, I would choose San Antonio instead. Here is a comparison of statistics between San Antonio and Philadelphia, with data taken from the FBI 2007 statistics that I referenced in my previous post.

San Antonio: 1,316,882
Philadelphia: 1,435,533

Murder (per 100.000):
San Antonio: 9
Philadelphia: 27

San Antonio: 186
Philadelphia: 715

I was being generous with my Houston comparison. Other large cities in Texas fare as well or better.

I'll address the assertions you claim I make individually.

1. As I have already stated above, my assertion is not that guns are the issue. The issue is when governmental restriction serves to influence public perception on the social acceptability of defensive force, deadly or otherwise. What I did say is that the gun is the absolute best and most efficient tool in a specific set of violent encounters where other options are unavailable or ineffective. When the government disarms law-abiding citizens, it sends a message that we cannot be trusted to protect ourselves against crime and must rely on the police (who have no duty to protect us).

2. If we are to go by your HDTV example in your earlier comment, then rural living provides less opportunity, less likely reward for effort, and less frequent incidence in crime. And yes, I am saying that both violent and property crime rates are higher in urban areas. The U.S. Burea of Justice agrees with me.

To quote specifically:
"Urban residents had the highest violent victimization rates, followed by suburban resident rates. Rural residents had the lowest rates."
"Urban households have historically been and continue to be the most vulnerable to property crime, burglary, motor vehicle theft and theft in the United States."

You can find the report I pulled that from at

3. That really depends on your city. If you want to go with your 10% criminal rule, obviously the cities with lower crime rates have fewer citizens who are willing to be victims. To more specifically address the assertion, it is not so much a matter of will than it is ability. As I've stated previously, rural populations are more self-sufficient by nature. The need for self-protection is a much more distinct reality, as police assistance is often immediately unavailable. City-dwellers (again, this varies depending on the city) have been conditioned to rely more exclusively on police response against crime - they are generally not as mentally prepared for the reality of a self-defense situation.

4. Yes, that is a correct assessment. The only modifier here is that owning a gun is not on its own an effective deterrent. To be truly effective, the gun owner needs to be proficient with the weapon and be willing and ready to use that weapon if the need arises.

For all your claims that my opinions are shaky conclusions and speculations, your own arguments in this thread have been based completely on supposition. You have yet to point out a single piece of data or study to support your position. Essentially, your side of the conversation has been "you're wrong, you make bad assumptions".

In effort to address your concerns, I've provided you with statistical data and my own observations as to why I think that data is significant. While these may be conclusions to fit into my preconceived notions, you've countered with your own conclusions with no data or even anecdotal evidence to back them up.

An agenda would imply that I have some specific goal in mind. I have no goal other than to live my life with liberty and in the pursuit of happiness. I'm flattered that you believe I have some sort of agenda, but in reality I'm just a guy in Texas who values his civil rights.

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